Thursday, June 11, 2009

Media in Venezuela; nobody seems to get the reality

If I am able on rare occasions to praise a post from Francisco Toro, I must this time suspend briefly my self imposed rule not to discuss negatively my fellow bloggers and point how particularly naïve a post of his is: The Pundit.

The premise of the latest post from Quico, visiting Venezuela after many years of absence, is to meet with local media folks so as to catch up on the actual Venezuelan mood and what he has missed. And also to look for help to a project of his. “The Pundit” of said post who welcomes Quico to some bar where he is an habitué is apparently someone with a media show of sorts. The conclusion is that the Venezuelan media sucks and we can almost read in between lines that they had it coming, even if they make sure we know they deplore it. Many things might sound right but are in fact dead wrong.

For one thing in the XXI century, in an age of media speed and feeding frenzy, all private media in the world behaves more or less as the Venezuelan does. True, a case can be made that the Venezuelan media, in particular in 2001 and 2002 might have behaved worse that its peers elsewhere, but that is really irrelevant. We could start by pointing out that if private media bias can become insufferable, public media bias in places with no checks and balances is even more insufferable. For example, what has FOX being doing during the last US presidential election, and today? What about the extraordinary forgiveness by the Liberal media on the gaps of Obama's resume? Just to name a recent and well documented example.

The exercise that The Pundit gives in front of what we must call a naïve Quico is simply abuse. After all, The Pundit seems not only to live off well of a system he decries privately so strongly, but we do not get any sense of his own personal engagement, risk taking, at making things better. In other words there is absolutely nothing endearing in The Pundit, only personal agenda and vanity and we are forced to forgive Quico for not probing further since on his own admission he was seeking funds for his project.

The most galling part of this Quico interview of sorts is not the obvious points I made above. More can be noted, but for me the worse is the lack of understanding from each part on how the media works today in Venezuela, besides the already well known scarecrows duly and conveniently mentioned. Apparently in their arrogance, all in the media, from chavismo to characters such as The Pundit have a deficient knowledge of the function of what remote controls are for. If people in Venezuela watch Globovision or VTV it is because they actually want to watch it, the more so if they do it through a cable subscription which carries at the very least a couple of dozen of broadcast channels. Complaining that it is a scheme, that people allow themselves to be manipulated by such media misses the fact that the decried manipulation is eagerly sought by most.

I do detect an intellectual arrogance in the discussion of Quico and The Pundit about the type of media that should exist that I detect equally well in chavista reasoning when it pretends to impose on us its “hegemonia comunicacional” picked up in some Marxist treaty that I cannot be bothered to look for. It is the “we know what is best for you”. Maybe they do, but it does not work that way. The Pundit or Chavez are upset about the screams of people protesting against abuse of power and poor public services that seem to be in an endless loop at Globovision, which leads to the constant editorializing, but that is the reality of the country and that is what people want to watch when they watch the news. Maybe not in some Caracas effete circles where for snobbish reasons or political ones Globovision is pooh-poohed routinely but in the country side of Venezuela or in the dilapidated hills of Caracas people want to see their lives reflected.

Any media measurement, that I have been made aware of, shows consistently that the state communicational apparatus ranks well below the rest of the media in viewers. VTV, the flagship propaganda of Chavez media floats around a 5%, the other well below. Globovision by itself, with an open market limited to Caracas and Valencia only, often beats VTV which is available in all of the country. And if Venevision whose owner, very capitalist Cisneros, had no problem reach an arrangement with Chavez has good ratings it does not get them from its nightly news.

It is true that historically the media in Venezuela had chosen its political candidate. Chavez himself was given plenty or air time, way more than he deserved, and was all but flatly endorsed by newspapers that today are its most strident and even unreasonable opponents, such as El Nacional. At least El Universal has had the merit to oppose Chavez since 1992 and as such has a record of consistency and integrity unmatched by any other media or newspaper of Venezuela. But that historical awareness is not today’s problem. At all times the opposition had access to all the media, more or less perhaps, more or less favorably perhaps, but access at least through paid advertisement. The objective since 2003 is that any political opposition has as little access as possible while through cadenas the power has an overwhelming presence.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a barrio inhabitant at, say, Caucaguita which I mentioned in this blog. They might turn on to Globovision to get a perverse weather forecast of which are the most dangerous areas of Caracas. But they are also subjected to hours and hours of Chavez cadenas filled up with relentless accusations and excuses. These people are simply not prepared to resist such a brutal aggression and find it simpler to keep voting for Chavez instead of starting questioning why is that Chavez still keeps them in the same misery after a decade. True, through free aspirin at a Barrio Adentro, some subsidized food at Mercal, their material well being might have improved some. But “well beings” qualified otherwise than material have not benefited at all. And yet, for all Chavez effort, his popular base is eroding at Caucaguita, slowly but surely.

Does that erosion come from The Pundit show? From Globovision nightly news? From the reality in the streets? The Pundit and Quico do not know what is going on in Caucaguita inhabitants mind. If they understood what I wrote above the tenor of Quico’s post would be very different and way more substantive. But they can find some comfort in that not even VTV understands today the Caucaguita mind.

For all its vices and our disgust at the debasing in news perhaps the harsh truth is that Caucaguita inhabitants liked to watch RCTV nightly news, liked to watch its tawdry game shows, liked to watch its silly novellas and like to watch Globovision today even if they might be forced to play it at low volume in their slums so that their chavista neighbor does not harass them the next day. But chavismo does understand one thing, that people must be deprived from watching what they want to watch, taste and intellectuality not being a consideration whatsoever when it is decided what is suitable watching.

Politics cannot be limited to a given blog, to a given newspaper, to a given media empire. All may have an effect at their local reach, but only local even for a brutal Chavez cadena of hours. It is disheartening to read the waste of time that the meeting between Quico and The Pundit was because when we read such stuff we understand that Chavez has still many happy days left for him at Miraflores. They say that Chavez has played with the media at will but they do not realize that he has played with them both equally well.

-The end-

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