The Murdoch commentariat, ever-concerned with the welfare of Latin Americans, has decided to train its investigative eye upon the recent decision by the Venezualan government. The Venezualan government has decided not to renew the broadcasting license of the anti-government stations, RCTV and Globovision.
Our good-hearted friends in the employ of Murdoch have, in their humanitarian-inspired shrieking, taken quite an interest in Venezualan president Hugo Chavez, and his supporters, in Australia and elsewhere. Like a semi-retarded seaside caricaturist, who only knows how to draw one cartoon, Tim Bleh seems to blog about Chavez every other day. Matters Venezualan have also been getting the cartoon treatment from Andrew Bolt, well-known for his bleeding-heart sympathies for the downtrodden. And you know a third-world country is getting 'dangerous', and a democratically-elected leader, 'dictatorial', when this unholy trinity is rounded out by some 'fair and balanced' attention by Uncle Rupert's megaphone, Faux News.
Naturally, these champions of Latin American freedom don't feel that Venezuala's neighbour, Colombia, is worthy of the same attention, despite Columbia, (a country that receives more US 'aid' than any other in Latin America) having a horrific modern history. These history includes the mass murder of unionists, 'extrajudicial executions' of civilians, collaboration between military and paramilitary groups and drug cartels (courtesy of US cash), and the murders of indigenous community leaders. Perhaps the deafening silence that we hear from these News Ltd friends of freedom is not so surprising; dead unionists, US support for military, and the suppression of minority groups sounds like a rightard's wet dream.
It doesn't take a Rhodes scholar to realise the reason Venezuala is targeted for incessant criticism and disinformation. It is much the same reason that criticism of the US or Israel is shouted down, and 'human rights' is utterly ignored in places such as Colombia or Uzbekistan. Anything remotely resembling 'progressive' politics is subject to condemnation and apocalyptic murmurings. Even a blue-blooded Tory of grazier origins, such as Malcolm Fraser, is derided as a 'leftist' nowadays.
In any case, the fact of Venezuala losing some its anti-government media has received enormous attention. My point in this post is not to defend the dubious manoeuverings of Chavez, but merely to demonstrate that the hysterical rantings of the above 'commentators' has its more measured obverse.
Against the absolute freedom of speech argued for by Chomsky, I personally lean towards the 'freedom needs limits' approach of Žižek. It is obvious that freedom of speech is an inherent requirement of any democracy. Speech, however, is also an act, albeit one that is usually more tepid than 'direct action'. I see no essential reason why the right to shout 'fire' in a crowded theatre, or the right to incite violence against Jews, Muslims or gays ought to be accorded the same privilege as other speech. Nonetheless, there are likewise good reasons for 'anti-government' media to be allowed to exist, given that almost all we directly know of a government is via such media.
(As an aside - these issues are perversely distorted by the lens of ideology. The Flat Earthists scream for the ABC to air The Great Global Warming Swindle, in the interests of 'balance'. Given the status that these sorts of hired hacks have, 'balance' would be best served by airing such things at a rate of one per thousand, and only then, to satisfy the demands of propagandists and cranks.)
Stepping outside of the Murdoch echo-chamber, a number of views contrary to the Blair/Bolt/Fox bile have come to my attention. For instance, Richard Gott of The Guardian provides some facts of the case not available in Australia's media (or even blogosphere):
The debate in Venezuela has less to do with the alleged absence of freedom
of expression than with a perennially tricky issue locally referred to as
"exclusion", a shorthand term for "race" and "racism". RCTV was not just a
politically reactionary organisation which supported the 2002 coup attempt
against a democratically elected government - it was also a white supremacist
channel. Its staff and presenters, in a country largely of black and indigenous
descent, were uniformly white, as were the protagonists of its soap operas and
the advertisements it carried. It was "colonial" television, reflecting the
desires and ambitions of an external power.
The coup of 2002, the content of RCTV's programming, and the interests thereby served, are typically excluded from the facile gibberings of groupthink hacks such as BlairBolt. Gregory Wilpert described Venezuala's situation, in terms of the media, eloquently:
As far as world public opinion is concerned, as reflected in the
international media, the pronouncements of freedom of expression groups, and of
miscellaneous governments, Venezuela has finally taken the ultimate step to
prove its opposition right: that Venezuela is heading towards a dictatorship.
Judging by these pronouncements, freedom of speech is becoming ever more
restricted in Venezuela as a result of the non-renewal of the broadcast license
of the oppositional TV network RCTV. With RCTV going off the air at midnight of
May 27th, the country’s most powerful opposition voice has supposedly been
It is generally taken for granted that any silencing of opposition
voices is anti-freedom of speech. But is an opposition voice really being
silenced? Is this the correct metaphor? Is the director of RCTV, Marcel Granier,
actually being silenced? No, a better metaphor is that the megaphone that
Granier (and others) used for the exercise of his free speech is being returned
to its actual owners – a megaphone that he had borrowed, but never owned. Not
only that, he is still allowed to use a smaller megaphone (cable &
Whilst protests are floridly depicted on Fox, (and never degraded with 'rent-a-crowd' accusations as they are here), nobody bothers to report that a number of signatories from across Latin America actually support the Venezualan government's decision in the name of democracy, not against it. Even Australia's Guy Rundle, in Crikey, was able to temper the prevailing histrionic, hypocritical imbecility with a few oft-forgotten facts:
Both Matthew Weston and David Lodge (yesterday, comments), in criticising
Jenny Haines for defending the record of Hugo Chavez, argue that Chavez has more
or less abolished free media. This is utterly incorrect. 85% of Venezuelan media
remains in private hands -- a higher proportion than the UK, France or
Australian broadcast TV for that matter. Chavez may be doing a lot from the
executive, but that is what presidential government is about -- and the process
is backed by a solid parliamentary majority. Comparisons to Stalin and Hitler
are hysterical -- Venezuela is a social-democratic, mixed economy (with less
public ownership than Scandinavia), a fair electoral system and a free
This is a country whose elections were subject to international scrutiny, and found to be fair. There are no evidence of human rights abuses in Venezuala, and all of the world's superpowers (and many of their proxies) have demonstrated far more sustained and egregious contempt for human life. Still, as BlairBolt will tell you, better some dead unionists than a democratically-elected 'leftist'. Think of the television.