[Media Watch] Reply to Peter Preston of The Observer

On January 7, a dreadful article on Venezuela appeared in The Observer, titled Mr Chavez and the death of freedom, by Peter Preston. Here we publish some replies from HoV members debunking the lies expressed in the article.

On January 7, a dreadful article on Venezuela appeared in The Observer, titled Mr Chavez and the death of freedom, by Peter Preston. Here we publish some replies from HoV members debunking the lies expressed in the article. The Observer refused to print these replies in their paper. This is the second time that The Guardian/The Observer is spreading misinformation about the Venezuelan revolution in such a shameful way (see the reply to Phil Gunson). We encourage our readers to condemn this fact and to demand a right of reply in the pages of The Observer. Please send politely worded letters to Peter Preston at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. including your email, postal address and daytime contact number.

It's disappointing to hear about Peter Preston's "dilemma" ("Mr Chávez and the death of freedom," January 7) but even more so to see the framing of Venezuela's deadly propaganda war distorted beyond all recognition.

The reason that television channel RCTV will not have its terrestrial broadcasting license renewed in March is because it blatantly participated in the April 2002 coup, which cost many lives. (The channel will be free, however, to broadcast on the country's cable network.)

It is testament to Chávez's "tolerance in a democracy" that the station was not shut down sooner and its coup-mongering executives jailed.

There is no government repression of the media in Venezuela. Aidan White and the IFJ may have recorded 700 incidents of harassment, intimidation and violence in the last four years, but neither Preston nor White say how many of these, if any, the state is responsible for.

It's worth remembering that, at the time of the coup, the IFJ actually blamed Chávez for his own ouster, with White writing on April 12 - while the democratically elected president was being held at gunpoint - that "the contempt for democracy shown by the Chávez regime has generated such a wave of popular opposition that the fall of this administration was all but inevitable." White obviously didn't count on the people turning out in force to demand their leader back.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear is correct to support the tremendous gains made by the Venezuelan workers simply because that is what his members have overwhelmingly voted for.

Campaigns such as ours are grateful for this support, though it's unfair to suggest that he's "raised money" for us or that we are one of Chávez's "causes." Our organisation is financed entirely by its own members, of which Dear is one. Together, we are committed to defending the peaceful and democratic revolution in Venezuela. Freedom of the press, which has been massively democratised since Chávez came to power, plays a vital role in that.

It is the Venezuelan oligarchs and their backers in Washington who are trying to bring about the "death of freedom," not Mr Chávez.

Charley Allan, Hands Off Venezuela press officer and NUJ member 

It seems that Peter Preston with his article “Mr Chavez and the death of freedom”, which appeared on last Sunday’s Observer, is the last one to join in the effort to discredit the NUJ General Secretary, Jeremy Dear, and the NUJ Conference majority for its policy of solidarity with the democratic institutions of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

After Phil Gunson’s and others’ powder proved to be wet, here comes Mr Preston with new ammunition: the Venezuelan president decision of not renewing the broadcasting license to Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) once it expires this spring.

The reason for this decision, in the eyes of Mr Preston, is that Chavez does not like RCTV editorial line. Were this the real reason for such a decision, Preston would be right in seeing it as an attack on the freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Venezuela

However, Preston does not offer any evidence that would support his point. This is not surprising, for to present such evidence would be as hard as to find WMDS in Iraq.

If we ask Mr Preston on what he has based such a categorical judgement he would say that on the “700 incidents of harassment, intimidation and violence against the media in the last four years alone” that the FIJ has recorded in Venezuela, which he charges along with Aidan White on 'Chavez's violent rhetoric' against media owners”.

Mr Preston, this way, echoes the media variant of the one and only argument of the Venezuelan opposition, which is best expressed on the following transcription of one of the adverts played on private media during the bosses lock-out of December 2002.

“There is only one person responsible for so much abuse, impunity, anarchy, and lack of governance; only one responsible for the violation of the constitution; of financing the circles of terror created in the shadow of his government; to give away our petroleum; for politicising our armed forces; for disrespecting our institutions; for the division of Venezuela: for the hate amongst brothers”.

We all know who that person is, obviously. However, in spite of the best efforts of Mr Preston it seems to me that President Chávez’s decision has a rather more prosaic and legalistic nature than the mythological tale that Mr Preston has attempted.

Article 58 of the Bolivarian constitution states: Communications are free and plural, and involve the duties and responsibilities indicated by law. Everyone has the right to timely, truthful and impartial information, without censorship, in accordance with the principles of this Constitution, as well as the right to reply and corrections when they are directly affected by inaccurate or offensive information. Children and adolescents have the right to receive adequate information for purposes of their overall development.

These duties and responsibilities on the part of TV and Radio Stations are further regulated in the Law of Civil Responsibility for Television and Radio Stations.

RCTV has constantly and flagrantly breached the terms and conditions under which it had been granted by the Venezuelan State the use of Venezuelan radio-electric spectrum. That is the reason why the Venezuelan President, in compliance with the laws and the constitution of the Bolivarian Republic, will not renew RCTV’s broadcasting terrestrial license, though RCTV will be free to broadcast on the country’s cable network.

RCTV has operated in a constant breach of the law by using its license to incite violence, call for the violent overthrow of the President of the Republic and, at times, his assassination, deceive or broadcasting violent images at times when infants are watching TV.

All these practices reach their peak at those moments when the class struggle in Venezuela is more open, as in the bosses lock-out of December 2002, although the gravest of these acts, which Mr Preston prefers not to mention it in his limpid characterization of RCTV as simply "the country’s second biggest media company", is the pivotal role that RCTV played in the instigation, planning and execution of the coup that ousted Chávez in April 2002 and which, in its short life, decreed the dissolution of all of Venezuela’s democratic institutions, including the National Assembley, the Supreme Court, the Public Defender’s Office, the Attorney General, the Constitution, changed the name of the country back to Republic of Venezuela and initiated a harsh repression of political opponents. .

This extreme is amply documented and was made of public domain when, intoxicated by their brief but brilliant success, Napoleón Bravo in Venevision’s 24 hours congratulated himself and the private media, included RCTV, for their  success in ousting President Chávez before going onto explaining  in detail how the operation was mounted and executed.

Pablo Roldan

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