Saturday, October 04, 2003

STRAINING BELIEF
Friday 3, October 2003

Late in the morning a commission from CONATEL (FCC equivalent in the US, the board that supervises how the media wavelengths are distributed and used) showed up at Globovision gates. Globovision is Venezuela's CNN type network.

The reason? Globovision was using "fraudulently" a given Micro Wave Frequency. The punishment? Just take away all the equipment that allows Globovision to do live reporting all across the country.

This is rather clever for the Chavez administration that has been threatening for ages to shut down the private media. If Globovision has no Micro Waves, then it looses any purpose even if the main signal is still on!

Now, let's think about this for a minute. Globovision has already been audited, sued and what not by the government trying to block, or at least disrupt its functions. Without any real success. Suddenly, after more than 4 years in office the Chavez administration discovers that for 10 years Globovision has been using a share of the radial spectrum "illegally". Let's assume for the sake of the argument that this is true. Then the conclusion: it speaks volume about the inefficacy of Venezuelan public administration. And even worse of the Chavez appointees that took 3 years to figure out what should have been figured out in a few days after the master barked his first attacks on Globovision.

But it is irrelevant whether Globovision broke the law. Any explanation will sound hollow at best. The point is that the Chavez administration has finally decided to take seriously the offensive against the media that it cannot allow to go unchecked when a perilous recall election looms. The kindest word that can be said is that it was a trial balloon, to see what the public and international reactions would be, at a time where perhaps the administration feels like it has a few cards in hand.

Well, they have not been disappointed.

The public reaction was great. Quickly a few hundred people showed at the gates of Globovision in spite of a strong shower. In other places within Caracas streets were blocked, pans were banged. And this happened in many a provincial city (not in San Felipe but we are behind the times in general although the governor at a local meeting used the event to whip up fervor). The ordeal lasted a few hours while the seizure acts were written up and signed by the various lawyers.

Meanwhile the other private networks gave extensive support and live coverage that Globovision could not give, in particular of yet another distasteful display of the National Guard, tear gas and all.

The US State department and the OAS among other foreign observers promptly expressed "preoccupation". Of course they cannot outright condemn the action since they must be certain of the legalities of what really happened. Still, Chavez has been served notice that he better come up with a good story. This really means that Venezuela is watched closely and that responses to attacks on liberties will not go unnoticed and unchecked.

Are today events reassuring in an odd way? We will see. Meanwhile Globovision tonight is struggling along, with only the phone lines as their "live" coverage. And the other Networks are probably wondering who's next. What is more certain is that a public opinion that seemed to be lacking spirit since the invalidation of February 2 recall petition probably got a shot in the arm today. We will see if that is good too.

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