Friday, June 25, 2004

Another Day, Another Lie 

There are certain things about Venezuela that are difficult to appreciate from outside the country. Foremost amongst them is the nature of the Venezuelan mass media. Most readers are probably aware that virtually all commercialVenezuelan mass media strongly oppose President Hugo Chavez. However, people in the United States and other western countries are likely to think the above simply means that the Venezuelan media is editorially opposed to President Chavez and maybe even slightly slant the news against him but still function as media in that they report events in as truthfull manner as possible and make some attempt to tell all sides to a story. However, in Venezuela, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Venezuelan mass media does not have as its purpose to simply relate facts, to inform, and to illuminate. Rather, it has one purpose to which everything else is secondary – removing President Chavez from power. As Miguel Otero, the publisher of El Nacional, told Juan Forero during a PBS interview “we have to get rid of Chavez”.

To this end, they will publish anything which will reflect poorly on Chavez and completely ignore anything that reflects positively on his administration. Worse still, to do this they often outright lie by making up events which have never happened, falsifying what people have said or done, and make up statistics which are completely false. At this point most residents of advanced countries probably think I am exagerating: “Surely they don’t just lie, they don’t just make up facts” they are probably thinking to themselves. Unfortunately, they do.

Lets take an example from todays edition (as I write this, Saturday June ,2004) of one of the principal Venezuelan papers, El Universal. An article entitled “Statistics, cases, and comparisons”( http://www.eluniversal.com/2004/06/19/apo_art_19102B.shtml) by Chelo Goiricelaya appeared which was to give examples of corruption and wasting of funds under the Chavez government. In one part of the article it is asserted that Venezuela’s debt has increased dramatically. To support that assertion the article states that Venezuela’s foriegn debt was $14 billion in 1998 and increased to $21.4 billion in 2002.

Immediately the $14 billion figure struct me as not being plausible as I don’t believe Venezuela’s foriegn debt has been that low since the early 1980’s. So being curious I checked and found that according to the Venezuelan Finance Ministry (http://www.mf.gov.ve/)Venezuela’s foreign debt in 1998 as $23.4 billion. So there you have it – the $14 billion number given in the article is completely false. And rather than the foreign debt going up by 50% between 1998 and 2002, as El Universal attempts to show, the foreign debt actually decreased during that period.

Worse still, the above example is anything but an isolated incident. Anyone who pays close attention to the Venezuelan media will note numerous similiar lies and distortions on a daily basis. In fact, attentive readers will note several other lies/distortions within the very same article. While it would be an interesting excercise to try to catelog all of the lies of the Venezuelan media it would be an overwhelming task that would require the efforts of dozens of people.

For what the anti-Chavez propoganda of the Venezuelan media lacks in accuracy and sophistication it makes up for in shear volume. Again, for those outside Venezuela it may be difficult to comprehend but the anti-Chavez propaganda is unrelenting and neverending- it literally goes on 24 hours a day 7 days a week and pervades all aspects of life in Venezuela.

The forms that this can take would actually be amusing if not for the serious effects they have. For example, all commercial TV stations have a heavy dose of anti-Chavez news programs. But they don’t leave it at that. Even when sporting events or soap operas are broadcast they often run tickers along the bottom of the screen with anti-Chavez messages. Approximately a third of all commericals on these networks are not commercials for products but political adverstisements – all of them being anti-Chavez (one has to wonder who pays for all this).

The evening after a recent opposition rally in Caracas, Venezuela’s 24 hour news network, Globovision, broadcast hours of footage of the rally all to the sounds of anti-Chavez salsa music. Somehow, we are to believe, this constituted news.

It is even hard to escape to propoganda barrage through other activities. For example, when you go to the movies in Venezuela they often don’t show previews of upcoming movies as they do in the United States. Rather they show, you guessed it, anti-Chavez commercials. Before seeing the movie “Troy” in a theater in Maracaibo I was treated to anti-Chavez commercials by El Universal and the opposition NGO Sumate.

Given all this it is really amazing that Chavez manages to keep an approval rating of between 30% and 50% depending on which polls you read. One has to wonder what it would be if the media was not so completely onesided, and yes, dishonest.

But more important even than its impact on the current political situation the media has abdicated its role as an independent watchdog and objective source of information. All societies, to function normally, must have an honest, even if biased, media that can be relied on to supply factual and accurate information. By so openly tossing its hat into the political arena the Venezuelan media has denied the Venezuelan public access to such information. It will probably be many years before there is once again credible media in Venezuela.


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