Friday, May 25, 2007

It is not what you do, but how you do it. 

One thing that I’ve always liked about Spanish language television is that its soap operas, called telenovelas or just novelas, mercifully end after a few months. They are not like the North American variety that often drag on for decades, even outliving a good share of their audience.

And true to form, the “novela” that the RCTV case has become is about to mercifully end this weekend. Of course, like a good novela it is having a somewhat climatic ending with all sorts of pronouncements, and rallies, and other assorted goings on. Of course, the outcome is already known – just as in novelas the good, but poor, girl almost always wins so to in RCTVs novela we can rest assured the good guys will win and RCTV will be off the air come Sunday night.

Given the all but certain outcome I’ve been having a hard time getting excited about this. But there is one angle I found sort of interesting – the reaction of various “human rights” organizations to RCTV's license not being renewed. Interestingly, between Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International it seems to be sort of a split decision.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the Venezuelan government for not renewing the license saying among other things:

Washington, DC, May 22, 2007)—The Venezuelan government’s politically motivated decision not to renew a television broadcasting license is a serious setback for freedom of expression in Venezuela, Human Rights Watch said today. The decision will shut down Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), the country’s oldest private channel, when its license expires on May 27, 2007.
President Hugo Chávez has repeatedly threatened to cancel RCTV’s license ever since he accused it of supporting an April 2002 coup attempt. On December 28, 2006, he announced during a military ceremony that the order not to renew the channel’s 20-year license had already been drafted.

“President Hugo Chávez is misusing the state’s regulatory authority to punish a media outlet for its criticism of the government,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The move to shut down RCTV is a serious blow to freedom of expression in Venezuela.”

I have to say, I think this whole “freedom of expression” tact that some take shows how little they’ve ever really thought about this. If you have to have a broadcast license for your “freedom of expression” to be respected then only .000000001% of the population enjoys freedom of expression. I don’t own a TV station so I guess I don’t, what I write on this blog notwithstanding.

Personally, I think if ensuring freedom of expression was something they wanted to promote then private ownership would be banned. How does having media owned by a tiny handful of rich people allow for “freedom of expression”? Obviously it doesn’t, unless of course you think freedom of expression should apply only to billionaires or Fortune 500 corporations. I think if Human Rights Watch wants to promote “freedom of expression” then they should back some sort of truly democratically controlled public media.

Almost as funny, they criticize the government because they are taking this action without convicting RCTV of any crime. That is silly, they aren’t putting anyone in jail. They are simply not renewing a concession. When giving out a concession a government is free to pick who it wants – just for example that one contractor built the new bridge to Caracas doesn’t mean they are automatically get picked to build the next bridge.

The government is free to pick who it thinks is best and it is quite understandable to me that they wouldn’t want to pick a broadcaster who ran commercial after commercial calling on people not to pay taxes and handed their airwaves over to rebellious military officers during a coup so that they could direct the coup via TV. Do you think if it turns out that the contractor that is building the new viaduct makes it intentionally defective so that it collapses and embarrasses the government they will get future contracts to build bridges? As the saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on..."

Be all that as it may, Human Rights Watch is free to think the non-renewal is wrong if they want.

Amnesty International on the other hand seems to think differently. While I haven’t read what they have specifically said about the RCTV case I thought this similar case from last year was was revealing:

Israeli air raids on 22 July hit several transmission stations used by Lebanese television and radio stations. These included Future TV, New TV, and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBCI), none of which had any links with Hizbullah, as well as the Hizbullah-backed al-Manar TV. They were also used by mobile phone networks. One LBCI official, Suleyman Shidiac, Chief Engineer at the relay station at Fatqa in the Kesrwan mountains north-east of Beirut, was killed and two others were injured.

Israeli forces have repeatedly targeted Hizbullah’s al-Manar television station, for example with three strikes in as many days from 14 July. The transmitters and relay stations of several other Lebanese television stations have also been attacked. According to the IDF: "Al Manar has for many years served as the main tool for propaganda and incitement by Hezbollah, and has also helped the organization recruit people into its ranks. Hezbollah operates undisturbed from within Lebanon, and constitutes a severe terrorist threat to the people of Israel and to IDF soldiers." An IDF official told Amnesty International delegates that al-Manar was being used for military communications, but failed to provide any evidence to support this claim when questioned.

The fact that al-Manar television broadcasts propaganda in support of Hizbullah’s attacks against Israel does not render it a legitimate military objective. Only if the television station were being used to transmit orders to Hizbullah fighters or for other clearly military purposes could it be considered to be making "an effective contribution to military action". [emphasis mine -ow] Even then, Israel would need to take required precautions in attacking it and choose a manner aimed to avoid harm to civilians. Amnesty International is not aware of claims by Israel that the other stations were performing military functions.

This is interesting. If we take this as a precedent while it may not be ok for the Venezuelan government revoke a broadcast license it would seem that in the case of RCTV it would be ok if they bombed it off the air given RCTV’s use of its airwaves “to transmit orders” during the coup.

And of course there is plenty more historical precedent for this. The U.S. bombed Serb TV off the air (with lots of hapless Serbs inside when they did it too!). And as we speak, U.S. troops and their Iraqi puppets are busy trying to chase down and “put an end” to an Iraqi TV station.

So maybe this is one of those unfortunate situations where form trumps substance. Its not that RCTV being taken off the air that is problematic – it is the way it is being done. Hopefully the Venezuelan government will reconsider the way it is going about this and those Russian built fighter bombers will yet proof useful.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?