I was at a small social gathering when through twitter we learned that Leopoldo Castillo, the anchor for 12 years of Alo Ciudadano, was quitting. Thus ended the party. Thus died the last independent talk show on Venezuelan TV, and I dare say Globovision. As of tonight there is no TV network in Venezuela that has a critical view of the regime: all are either outright propaganda or neutered journalism that passes as little as possible unfavorable news for the regime. If any. Now, to get a more complete view of the news in Venezuela, the real news, the real problems, you need to read more than one newspaper, you need to scour through Internet, and if you are lucky you live in a town that has still some semi independent radio stations (independent radio stations seem to be rare these days, and only in major centers). But TV is out.
I did not like many of the Globovison features and it had been quite a while that I only watched Alo Ciudadano, as the only place in Venezuela where news were actually discussed in depth and the only TV in Venezuela where viewers could place a call and speak their mind. If many of the calls were exasperating, they did at least reflect the mood of the country opposition. Even chavistas had to call El Ciudadano because there is no place of the state media where you can call and complain.
But I never shared the rather effete and cavalier attitude of some pages that criticized Globovision as not following journalism standards of their liking. The fact was that very early under Chavez tenure Globovison was holding a war journalism. Not only its journalists had to hit the streets with helmets and gas masks, but the judicial system was sending fine after fine. Failing to understand this and making allocations for the output of the network was, for me, intellectual cowardice. (1)
Eventually the owners sensing that the regime would drive Globovison to bankruptcy decided to sell (after the RCTV closure that drew international condemnation the regime knew better than closing networks outright). I am not one to condemn the Zuloaga family for selling. First, I am sure that they did not get as much as they would have got for it if Venezuela were a more "normal" country. Second, with or without the Zuloaga family at the helm, the journalists of Globovision were doomed to lose their jobs sooner than later. I am even willing to say that the Zuloagas thought that they were getting a reprieve of at least one year for their personnel. It did not last 3 months. Any clear minded observer of Venezuela knew that the regime could not afford a critical voice anymore now that Chavez was gone and that the economy was going to the dogs. The question was not if, it was when.
The 'when' thus came in two parts.
First, it was the selling of the network to some rather new money working in insurance companies, as if that was a credential to own and direct the most famous network of Venezuela. We all suspected that the real buyers were others and that Cordero and co. were only front men. Who in Venezuela today would throw good money at a TV network who will see its share plummet once its editorial line would be changed? This could only be dirty money thrown at a network for some form of laundering operation while the regime would get rid of its best critics.
The second part came in installments. Buenas Noches was the first talk show to go. Even though it was a lousy and strident show it did not leave for its quality but for censorship reasons. Next were Yo Prometo. Soon, the tone of the news became less critical of the regime though in spite of doomsayers Globovision still did show what others would not. Early this morning Chuo Torrealba headlines round up announced that it was it was his last appearance. But the unexpected came tonight with Alo Ciudadano that even pessimists like me though would last until December. And as a staff protest about the fast speed to self censorship the nightly news was boycotted by journalists leaving Globovison with the rebroadcast of a Colombian network on its screen.
Why that sudden finishing off? Because do not be fooled, without Alo Ciudadano Globovison will become an irrelevant network. The reason why the regime decided to finish off Globovison is very simple: things are about to get so bad that they simply have to try to silence as many news outlets as possible. In the century of social networks it is a lost cause for them, but when you are desperate...... At least whomever truly bought Globovision will own the concession and can use it for the internecine chavista warfare. I, for one, could not care less to watch those.
To end this post: for those who criticized from the opposition Globovision and for those who could not be bothered in defending the last pulpit we had, now let's see what you are going to do. And for those who salivate at the potential of getting the viewers and revenue share of Globovision, wait, your turn to be closed or bought out for peanuts will come. Totalitarianism is inexorable.
1) Yet another example of ignorance and misinterpretation on Globovision comes from the AFP release of today, in Spanish, sorry. At the end they write that the new management was allowing government officials to visit again. This is untrue, shoddy journalism. El Ciudadano in particular got tired of exhibiting the many invitations he sent to public officials that often would not even be courteously declined. The reason why they did not come is that Leopoldo Castillo would not censor the incoming phone calls. And chavista officials do not like to be held accountable.