How the “serious media” around the world is helping the reactionary oligarchy in Venezuela

In the recent period we have been bombarded by a barrage of media coverage claiming that Venezuela under Chavez is moving towards some form of dictatorship. Behind all this lies their desire to see an end to the revolution unfolding in Venezuela.

The Bolivarian government's decision not to renew RCTV's broadcasting license has been seized by the Venezuelan opposition as an opportunity to undermine and destabilise the government of Hugo Chávez.

Every time a "guarimba" has been staged, the counter-revolutionary opposition has always tried to claim the support of important sectors of society. For instance, the star role played by the corrupt leaders of the trade union confederation, CTV, in the months leading to the coup of April 2002, and during the coup itself, allowed the international media to sell the image of a Chávez isolated in power; of someone whose "authoritarian style" had equally enraged workers and bosses.

In the same way, the bosses' lock-out and sabotage of the oil industry of December 2002-January 2003 was sold as a "workers' strike", even if the opposite was true. Workers around the country actively opposed the bosses' lock-out, and as happened in Puerto La Cruz, the oil workers organised themselves against the CTV bureaucracy and, occupying oil refineries and wells, operated them under their democratic control for up to 60 days, thus breaking the counter-revolutionary sabotage.

Back then the opposition claimed that the Venezuelan working class opposed the revolutionary process. As it turned out, that Venezuelan working class on whose behalf the CTV leaders spoke were in reality the managers and bosses, and the workers found their own voice in the new revolutionary trade union confederation, the UNT. The CTV emptied out and the opposition could no longer claim the support of the Venezuelan working class, something which it never had.

In the same way, the opposition is claiming now that the Venezuelan students are against the revolutionary process, in general, and against the closure of RCTV, in particular. In the last days of May and in June 2007, the children of those who in April 2002 set up the "coordinating committee for democracy and liberty", which in actual fact established the short-lived police dictatorship of Carmona Estanga, have come out onto the streets to protest against the closure of RCTV and defend "freedom of expression" and "civil liberties".

That these students, mainly from private universities and affluent families, do not represent the Venezuelan student movement was clearly demonstrated during their "performance" at the national assembly[i]. Students from different universities, both against and in favour of the government's decision on RCTV, were invited to speak at the National Assembly. Opposition students spoke but refused to participate in any debate and walked out. They are cubs sent by the wolves to do the job that their grownups cannot do any more.

Now, as then, the counter-revolutionary manoeuvres of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie have found a friendly hand in the "serious media" around the world. In Britain, for instance, we have been bombarded in the "serious" media with headlines such as "Caracas erupts in violence over Chávez TV takeover", "Chávez takes on CNN after closing TV station"[ii], "A show of intolerance", "Venezuelans protests as private TV stations goes off the air"[iii], "Riots in Venezuela as TV station is pulled off the air", "Second Venezuela TV is under fire"[iv], "Protests at Chávez's TV clampdown"[v], "Chávez silences critical TV stations - and robs the people of their soap operas", "Police stop protests as anti-Chávez TV channel taken off air", "Chávez attacks another private TV channel" or "Chávez forced to deny dictatorship accusation"[vi]

As has become customary, all these pieces of "fine journalism", some blunter and some more subtle, offer us an invariable picture[vii]; we are told that Chávez has taken an authoritarian path in "his socialist revolution", and this "his" is very important, because - according to our very "free, independent and critical" press - nobody else in the country shares "his" socialist ideas, not even a single person of those 63% of Venezuelans who voted for him in December 3, 2006.

Chávez, according to our "free" press, is suppressing dissent and crushing free speech by clamping down on "private" or "independent media". There is neither freedom of expression nor freedom of the press in Venezuela; and if these existed they would be in danger of being crushed or, at the very least, as The Guardian's Rory Carroll[viii] fears, "robust, critical and independent journalism will not be tolerated".

As proof of this alleged media hegemony on the part of Chávez, Carroll writes, "Look for news about the student protesters and you find private channels ignoring or playing them down".

If this were true - which it is not - one could not help wondering what could be proven by the fact that Rory Carroll has chosen to completely ignore the huge demonstration that on June 2 gathered hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans in support of the government's decision.[ix]

However, it is not only in the "independent" and "private" media in Britain and around the world where we can see concern for the "state of freedom of expression and the press" in Venezuela. This is also shared by other very "independent" organisations devoted to defending "independent" journalism and civil liberties, like Reporters sans Frontiers, the leadership of the International Federation of Journalists or Human Rights Watch.

Thus, Reporters sans Frontiers has issued several press releases under such headlines as "Appeal to President Chávez in the name of media pluralism", "Fine against opposition daily Tal Cual looks like a political sanction", "International community urged to defence of Venezuela's media after closure of RCTV", "After closing RCTV, Chávez goes on the offensive against sole remaining opposition TV Station".

The IFJ leadership, and particularly its general secretary Aidan White, seem to follow the same line and have also issued a number of press releases on the RCTV case; "IFJ issues new warning about Venezuela media closure threat" and "IFJ condemns "catastrophe for pluralism as Chávez threatens 2,000 media jobs"[x] Human Rights Watch also issued a press release on May 22, 2007 under the heading: "Venezuela: TV shutdown harms Free Expression".

Alarming reports on Venezuela by these "independent" organisations are not news. Just as in the battlefield battering artillery announces the immediacy of a ground offensive, a battery of reports denouncing "Chávez's authoritarian drive" precedes every counter-revolutionary offensive.

Thus, for instance, on March 15, 2002 the IFJ produced a press release under the following heading "IFJ condemns "vicious" presidential campaign against the media in Venezuela". And on April 12, 2002, the day after the coup, the IFJ issued a new press release whose heading read: "journalists condemn Chávez ‘contempt for democracy' following TV takeover and killing of journalist".

In it Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, stated:

"The fall of the Government and military involvement in an interim administration is no cause for cheering among democrats, but the contempt for democracy shown by the Chavez regime has generated such a wave of popular opposition that the fall of this administration was all but inevitable.

"We insist that the fall of Chavez does not mean the loss of democratic rights, but that there will be a swift return to democratic conditions and the preservation of media independence."

There is no need to comment on the role that the media corporations played in the plotting and staging of the coup, entire volumes have been written on this. To see the level of cynicism in Aidan White's statements suffice it to say that these comments were made in the middle of a repressive wave that left dozens of people killed on the streets, all victims of this new "provisional government."

The International Federation of Journalists is an organisation that belongs to the hundreds of thousands of journalists that are members of it through their national journalists' unions. It is about time that a serious debate on Venezuela was opened up in this body. Many of its member organisations have adopted precisely the opposite position in relation to Venezuela: one of support for the achievements of the revolution and opposition to the monopoly domination of the media, and the role that media owners played in sabotaging the democratically expressed will of the majority.

Again, in the months leading up to the coup, Reporters sans Frontiers issued the following press releases: "President's supporters besiege daily ‘El Nacional' offices" (14/01/02), "Bomb explodes in from of daily's offices" (05/02/02), "RSF denounces the government ‘improper use' of requisitioning air time" (10/04/02) and, finally, on April 19, 2002, "Chávez criticises the media for ‘supporting' the coup", although the finest example of its labour of disinformation came a bit later, in April 2003, with the report "Venezuela: caught between an authoritarian president and intolerant media".[xi]

"Restore rule of law, protect human rights" read the heading of the press release produced by Human Rights Watch on April 12, 2002, in the aftermath of the coup in Venezuela. In it José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division, said, "We call upon the transitional authorities in Venezuela to restore the country's democratic institutions as soon as possible and to guarantee that the human rights of Venezuelans will not be violated, regardless of their political beliefs or affiliations".

What would you think if Mr Vivanco had come up with such a statement in the aftermath of the military coup against Salvador Allende in Chile 1973? Can you imagine Human Rights Watch recognising the "transitional authorities" in Chile and calling on Pinochet "to restore the country's democratic institutions as soon as possible and to guarantee that the human rights of Chileans will not be violated, regardless of their political beliefs or affiliations"?

Isn't all this truly revolting? Well, do not worry too much, because maybe after ten, fifteen or twenty years', once the police dictatorship of Carmona Estanga had drowned the revolutionary movement in blood and its reign of terror could be replaced by a modest and manageable bourgeois democracy, Human Rights Watch could always decide to include in its annual film festival some nice documentary about the horrors of such a dictatorship to raise our awareness about the issue and also their own profile as the "good boys".

As the revolution advances, especially as it starts making inroads into the rights of private property over the means of production, and also into the means of mass media production, attacks on the Venezuelan revolutionary process from our "free" and "independent" press and other no less "free" and "independent" organisations like HRW and RSF will increase in frequency and virulence. Their aim is nothing less, nothing more than the reproduction of a violent system of subjugation and exploitation under the cover of "protecting the human rights of people around the world"[xii].

[i] See "Who is pulling the strings? Behind Venezuelan student rebellion" by George Ciccariello-Maher, published on CounterPunch and accessible at

[ii] Published on The Times on Lines on May 28 and 29, respectively.

[iii] Published on the Independent on Line Edition on May 30 and 29, respectively.

[iv] On; published on May 29.

[v] Published in the on line edition of Financial Times,, on May 31.

[vi] Articles by Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent, published on on May 23,

[vii] The complete agreement on the issue speaks volumes about the pluralism of our media.

[viii] In "This is media war", published on on June 4, 2007.

[ix] Since June 2, 2007, when the demonstration in favour of the government's decision took place, Rory Carroll has published three articles on the RCTV issue: "This is media war", published on June 4, ""Chávez forced to deny dictatorship accusation", published on June 7, and "Flares and medallions lived again in Chávez's socialist TV", published on June 9. Rory Carroll has written almost 2,000 words on the issue since June 2, in every occasion he always finds space to remind us of "almost daily street protests and accusations that free speech is being eroded", however he has not mentioned at all the huge demonstration that on June 2 gathered hundred of thousands of Venezuelans in favour of the government's decision.

[x] Accessible on

[xi] All documents are accessible on

[xii] From Human Rights Watch's declaration of principles; accessible on