Hugo Chavez has, rightly or wrongly, become something of a cult figure amongst those who enjoy watching Bush squirm with a thorn in his side. However, whilst we can all take pleasure in Bush’s misfortune, judging Chavez and his premiereship in Venezuela objectively is something quite separate.
It has been Venezuela’s media that has been making the world media as of late. Thousands took to the streets yesterday to protest the enforced closure of Venezuela’s oldest and most-watched TV station, Radio Caracas TV. It has been replaced by a state-endorsed station, TVES, which supports Chavez’s socialist revolution.
In an emotional close to the station’s broadcast the staff chanted “freedom” and spent their final moments on air in silent prayer, before signing out with the national anthem. Prior to this, presenters and crew alike highlighted their plight by sealing their mouths with tape in protest at an attack on their freedom of speech.
Supporters of Chavez have been vocal, also demonstrating publically by setting off fireworks and allegedly discharging firearms.
Chavez cited his reasons for closing down RCTV, claiming it “became a threat to the country so I decided not to renew the licence because it’s my responsibility.” RCTV had been critical of Chavez’s regime. He claimed they were heavily involved with a coup attempt five years ago, which almost removed him from power. Indeed several TV channels did support attempts to remove Chavez and many in the media feel he has never forgiven those involved.
“This has exposed the abusive, arbitrary and autocratic nature of Chavez’s government, a government that fears free thought, that fears opinion and fears criticism,” said Marcel Granier, chief of RCTV. TVES has commenced transmission with a classical music selection and government trailers.
This comes on a background of sweeping changes Chavez has made to Venezuela. He has intiated nationalisation and politicisation of power, the judiciary and telecommunication; RCTV is merely a small plan of the grand plan.
Pollster Datanalisis found almost 70 percent of Venezuelans opposed the shut-down, but most cited the loss of their favorite soap operas rather than concerns about limits on freedom of expression.
Among the Chavez supporters swigging beer and dancing in the streets of central Caracas, some thought the president should go further and shut down the few remaining opposition networks, such as Globovision.
“They all participated in the coup and incited violence,” said shopkeeper Jose Quijada, 58, wearing the hallmark red T-shirt of Chavez supporters.
But Wilmer Granadillo, a cameraman doing his last shift at RCTV, said: “It is sad, so sad. This was my second home.”
RCTV will continue to be available on cable, vastly reducing its audience. They were undoubtedly childish at the time of the attempted coup in 2002 – they played cartoons instead of broadcasting widespread crowds of Chavez supporters – but when can freedom of speech be curtailed?
Update: Reporters Without Borders calls for the international community to support RCTV.
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Filed in: Civil liberties,Current affairs,Media,The World