Friday, July 25, 2003

July 24, 2003

One privileges that Venezuelan rulers have enjoyed since the beginning of the television age is the “cadena”. That is, for supposedly important reasons the President can commandeer the entire broadcast signals, TV and Radio, for a discretionary amount of time to communicate some important message to the Nation. This could go from military parade on National holidays, to declarations on the sate of the economy or the reception of foreign dignitaries. Chavez has used and abused this privilege with the flimsy excuse that the private media sabotage the transmission of his message for the betterment of the people. [Chavez and the media ]

But what happened the other day was perhaps a little bit too much.

Last Friday there was the swearing in of the newly “elected” (euphemism for mostly named) directory of Chavez ruling party. Well, this apparently deserved a cadena, just as if George W. Bush would force all the TV and radio signals of the US for an hour to transmit the swearing in ceremony of the Republican committee that would organize his re-election effort. Although this particular case was rather inappropriate, it was not the worst offense of the sort from Chavez. Unfortunately it coincided with a natural disaster at rush hour in Caracas, disaster that the TV networks could not transmit because of this political act taking place.

Due to particularly heavy rains, and possibly a blocked drainage canal, a stream of water erupted on the main thoroughfare in Caracas, pushing and piling up around a hundred cars, and even drowning one of the car drivers that could not manage to leave his car. … A freak accident by all standards, drowning inside your car in a city highway.

The controversy was huge since the networks and radio could not report and thus not fulfill their mission of information to make people avoid the area. Without mentioning help in warning the rescue crews. Eventually the “cadena” seems to have been interrupted, but the controversy has not stopped, with the information minister lamely stating a few misrepresentations that have been quickly debunked. The same official also said that once the media duly report the governmental generated information, cadenas would cease. Imagine that!

The statistics, so far this year, show more than 100 cadenas since January with more than half of them by Chavez himself, for a total of broadcasting time passing the 100 hours! And as usual there is no compensation for the media loss of advertisement revenue.

So goes the freedom of information in Venezuela, still going on but every day increasingly menaced, either cutting media airtime, or their revenues. Eventually one or two will go bankrupt and, after that, the other ones might behave more to the wishes of Chavez. Or so chavistas would seem to hope.

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