Tuesday, February 17, 2004

A candid confession from the director of the state TV, VTV

Or how he is there for propaganda purposes

Tuesday 17, February 2004

People that have read some of my past posts will know that I admire Milagros Socorro as a journalist and columnist (Reconciliation, 10.05.2003). Last week she undertook what was likely going to be a thankless task, to interview the newly appointed head of the Venezuelan state TV, Vladimir Villegas, who was ambassador to Brazil until last fall. The interview hit the newspaper El Nacional on Sunday, one day after the dismal and incredibly biased coverage of the opposition march of last Saturday by VTV. When you read the interview you can understand why VTV has sunk so low. I have put the Spanish complete text in my documents section for those that can read Spanish and do not have access to EL Nacional web site which is paid service. Below I will only give a translation of choice excerpts.

First, to set the tone of the interview:

MS: I was referring to the governmental propaganda which is presented as information

VV: But information is one thing and propaganda is another. We cannot confuse them.

MS: They are confused in VTV.

VV: I could say that the propaganda of the opposition is included in the programming of the private broadcasters.

Then we move on to some more direct confrontation.

MS: In my newspaper...

VV: In the newspaper where you work…

MS: There are a few journalists and columnists who are chavista. How many journalists or talk show hosts in VTV are not chavista?

VV: I do not know. I have not asked anyone as to them belonging to the government or the opposition. Some I know them and I am aware of their position but I did not come in with the idea of performing a journalistic maccarthysm or to index anyone.

MS: When the VTV journalists perform their duties, how many of them express a critical regard or independence vis a vis the government?

VV: Our journalist express themselves according to our informational policies. In El Nacional journalist know which are the parameters of information and act accordingly. In VTV journalists know where they are working and what is the informative policy.

MS: I insist, in El Nacional there are chavista journalist and columnists, not chavista but in the center, and, because they know where they are working they say as they please.

VV: I do not know these journalists that say what they want in El Nacional.

MS: No? So Maripili Hernández does not write as she pleases?

VV: She is a columnist.

MS: I told you of journalists and columnists.

VV: I do not know whether the theme of this interview is EL Nacional but we can discuss a lot of things about this newspaper such as the informational line, the headlines, the manner in which some journalists include opinion in their reports. Yourself have frequently mentioned that the line is crossed that should separate information from opinion.

MS: Yes, I said so in El Nacional and not behind closed doors. How many VTV journalists may say that they criticize what is done in their work surroundings?

The exchange becomes quickly acrimonious and is interrupted. Eventually tempers cool down and the interview is continues.

Now the pearl of the interview!

VV: I came to VTV as a politician, not a journalist. [snip] I am going to be clear with you, we are in a fight. You were asking me for the informative equilibrium of VTV because you see the company as an isolated entity and that is not correct. [snip] The opposition media in general are asking VTV an equilibrium that they are very far from exhibiting. I am besieged here, that is the truth, against the permanent lies of 5 TV stations. Do not ask me for equilibrium in information when we are in the middle of a battle. In this battle neither myself or VTV is impartial. The station took sides. That VTV belongs to the state, so what! The signal of the commercial TV also belongs to the state and those who were given a concession supported and promoted the forces that tried to unseat the government and close this station signal which is effectively from the state. [snip] It is not a matter to justify myself, Milagros, it is about acting according to one's beliefs. You are asking me to behave like a journalist and to give you a good interview. You say that I defrauded you. The one in the wrong is you: you must interview me as a politician, as the president of a political institution.

My comments now. Mr. Villegas is of course acting with bad faith from his side of the ideological divide that rifts our country. The unaware reader might indeed think that poor Mr. Villegas is besieged. But Mr. Villegas forgets a few crucial things:

1. If VTV was closed briefly in April 2002 it had already been abandoned by its staff who run away as soon as they heard that Chavez had resigned. Nobody was there to wait for the "new administration", or even to pose as martyr for the freedom of the people. They run away ASAP. And the "new administration" did not even set up guard since when Carmona showed his first signs of weakness chavismo was able to re-activate VTV fast.

2. Chavez has done several actions against the private media that justify this one to feel as besieged as VTV seems to feel. Be it the menacing throngs that were sent one night at the early days of the general strike, or be it the seizure of the short-wave communication system of Globovision.

3. The journalists that are assaulted in the streets doing their job to gather news are 99% from private media and not the expected 83.4% if indeed there were 6 broadcasting system at war in Caracas. But perhaps VTV journalists are not assaulted because they do not bother to cover opposisiton events? "Opposition journalists" do risk their lives to go and cover chavista events even when they are frequently barred from covering these events, in particular if Chavez attends.

But more importantly. Mr Villegas fails to mention the hours and hours of cadenas that the private media must endure. He fails to mention that VTV is funded at taxpayer money. He fails to mention that opposition TV always complains that chavistas are reluctant to go to their talk shows unless something big happens. Etc…

Simply put, Vladimir Villegas is a self made victim of the chavista paranoia that exists now.

And of course we know now why VTV has stepped up its offensive by character assassination such as last Saturday.

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