Sunday, May 04, 2003

CHAVEZ AND THE MEDIA
May 4, 2003

In the well crafted defense/propaganda of Chavez on the international front, there is a leitmotiv: the Venezuelan media have ganged up on him and broadcast endless attacks. This line is particularly upheld by certain European leftist papers such as the ineffable Le Monde Diplomatique, the monthly paper for the “gauche caviar” (“the caviar-eating leftists”).

There is indeed some truth in that Chavez has “suffered” quite a blistering onslaught from the media, though Chavez and his followers forget, conveniently, to mention that in the first months of his tenure the press in general was quite favorable with the possible exception of El Universal, the only constant critical voice, though not the most strident by far. They also forget to mention that the verbal attacks to the media by Chavez have resulted in countless street attacks to journalists from the chastised media, explaining perhaps why the media has sped up its defection from the chavista cause.

But close scrutiny of the situation, as always, shows that the actual reality is possibly quite different from the reported reality.

El Universal publishes today a recount of all the “cadenas” through the Chavez tenure. By law governments in Venezuela are allowed to commandeer all the media to emit important messages to the nation. Upon a few minutes notice, all media must surrender their signal to the one from the state owned TV and radio. Thus for a given amount of time, at the government discretion, the same message is transmitted all through the country by all TV and radio stations, be them local or national. Only cable TV escapes this.

In previous administrations, “cadenas” were used sparingly, on state holidays, for institutional messages or to announce some public interest services such at school start. Or to announce some important policy changes, the reception of a particular important visitor, etc… Perhaps the total was an average of once a month for up to 30 minutes. During president Caldera first term, he had a weekly “cadena” address of 30 minutes. But its scheduled format was not as disruptive as the “cadena” that can break in at any time.

Well, all records have been broken by Chavez. According to El Universal reporting on the numbers provided by AGB panamericana (a ratings company) Chavez or his ministers have made “cadenas” for a total of 428 hours since 1999 in little more than 4 years. Caldera talked for 130 hours in 5 years! And the pace in 2003 has increased considerably to the point that by April 30 “cadenas” had covered 56.5 hours compared to the 1999 total of 67.6 hours, the lowest “cadena” year so far in Chavez rule.

What does this mean?

Chavez ,and on occasion a minister, talks for an average of 1.8 hours a week on enforced broadcasting. In 2003 the pace has reached 3.3 hours a week!. These 1.8 hours are actually 0.8 hours on PRIME TIME! And the Prime Time portion in 2003 is 1.7 hours weekly so far. Without, of course, any compensation to the private networks and radio stations for lost advertisement revenue.

To give further dimension to this abuse one must realize that the “cadenas” are broadcast by the state TV (VTV) and 4, FOUR, national networks plus all radio stations. In other words Chavez gets a 5 times multiplying factor. And the local networks are not included.

Of course this forced coverage is in addition to the normal news reported by the networks. More damningly, there is a weekly TV address on state TV, 147 emissions so far at an average of 3 to 4 hours, at taxpayer expense, without any question session for the press and media. That is, no accounting! Chavez perorates all what he wants, says any inanity or accusation he seems fit to say and no journalist is allowed to ask him for evidence or explanations. If these addresses are not anymore on “cadena” (they were in the first shows) they still make a significant portion of the nightly news and talk shows.

Next time you hear Chavez complaining that he does not get a fair hearing from the media in Venezuela, think twice before feeling sorry for him. He gets plenty of coverage to transmit his unedited speeches through ALL networks.

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