The "Distorters Without Borders"
The Two Roberts, Cox and Menard: Threats to Press Freedom
Venezuela: "The Show Must Go On!"
IAPA: Complicit in 1973 Coup in Chile
By Thierry Deronne
Reporting from Venezuela
October 4, 2002
A SEPTEMBER DAWN, 2002, IN THE VENEZUELAN COUNTRYSIDE: From a white vehicle that passes by a parking lot, some “unknown persons” throw four molotov cocktails. On the other side, someone puts out the fires right away: no victim, no damage. It’s just that the parking lot belongs to a regional affiliate of the commercial TV chain, “Globovision.” 1 And that the “attack” happens a few hours from the official visit to the region by President Hugo Chávez: and at the precise moment when a tripartite delegation of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Carter Foundation and the PNUD are investigating the issue of freedom of speech in Venezuela.
Next, Globovision denounces, with grand visual spectacle, a “Bolshevist attack with grenades.” It broadcasts archival footage of a car-bomb attempt against a Venezuelan president, decades ago. The editor of the daily El Nacional, Miguel Enrique Otero2, without waiting for any investigation, confirms: “The government has created para-governmental squads to act against the media and journalists,” and, “Chavez’s speech is responsible for the aggressions.”3. El Nacional’s front page displays an immediate letter from Robert Ménard, director of Reporters Without Borders, who demands that the Venezuelan government put an end to violence against the press.
A week later, when the OAS has left the country, the daily El Nacional resumes its campaign of aggressions against the Community Media4. This time, the target is the Community Radio station of Antimano. The reporter mentions a poster on the wall of the studio as proof of its Chavista nature, and criticizes the fact that the radio station says that there was a coup d’etat in Venezuela. El Nacional denounces the “illegality” of this radio station and 100 Community Media outlets in the entire country. Some weeks ago, the radio station in El Nacional’s target was victim of harassment by security forces in the hands of the Anti-Chavez opposition. Its members were liberated after the Community Media movement took to the streets.
In reality, El Nacional, a key newspaper in the organization of the coup, rejects, with any type of argument it can conjure, the possibility of pluralism of information in Venezuela. Its reporter quotes Miguel Ángel Martínez, president of the private-sector Chamber of Radio Industries, who denounces the “illegality” of the Community Radio stations. Martínez, in the name of the Chamber, publicly signed the decree of the short-lived coup d’etat last April. Later, in a public assembly on the tourist island of Margarita, he asked his affiliates to interfere with the frequencies of Community Media broadcasters when the next coup comes.
From July to August 2002, Paul-émile Dupret, a development advisor to the European Parliament, who videotaped a citizen demonstration together with a team from Community station Catie TV, and later Nicolas Burlaud, a member of the pirate TV station Primitivi de Marseille in Italy, and Alessandro Bombassei, of an independent Italian radio station, are peppered with rubber bullets by the Metropolitan Police who work for a ferocious Chávez opponent, Mayor Alfredo Peña. Dupret receives no less than 40 bullet wounds, one just a few centimeters from his eye.
When a Congressman named Barreto asked a journalist from Globovision why his station was silent about the Bombassei case, the reporter responded: “What is an Italian journalist doing here in Venezuela?” A little bit later, Globovision characterizes the Italian (who videotaped the police shooting with real bullets and with every intent to kill5) as “political advisor to Catia TV and the Community Media.” When Ángel Palacios, independent producer and author of a documentary about the assault on the Cuban Embassy by the pro-coup forces, broadcast by the only public TV station, a commercial radio spokesman twice urged his listeners to go to Palacios’ house, noting his address. His wife and daughter had to hide, as Palacios testified before the OAS on September 14. Add to this the constant surprise visits by unknown persons to all the Community Media stations to “be able to see the studio.”6
About this campaign of aggressions, there is not a single protest waged by “Reporters Without Borders” to the elite owners of the large commercial media7.
Why does “Reporters Without Borders” look the other way when the economic and media elite organize a coup d’etat and opposition police forces attack journalists from Community Media? First, because it appears to think that the only repressive entities are national governments, as if we were still living in the 19th century. From here, it seems that the “Reporters” group has a free-market ideology. But if “Reporters Without Borders” has toed the line of the pro-coup media, it is probably and above all because it allows them to continue denouncing a president that it has defined from the beginning as “a future Castro-like dictator.”8 The silence of “Reporters Without Borders” over the fundamental role of the large commercial media in the repression against Community Media during the April 2002 coup d’etat was the subject of a detailed analysis by Maurice Lemoine of Le Monde Diplomatique 9. Lemoine, a specialist in Latin America who has traveled the region for more than thirty years, and whose journalistic rigor is difficult to contest, is not the only journalist who has analyzed the strange attitude of “Reporters Without Borders.” Alberto Giordano, a journalist with Narco News (www.narconews.com) has investigated the case of Nicolás Rivera, a Community Radio journalist, who continues today in the general population of a prison. Giordano has formulated a long series of public questions to “Reporters Without Borders,” without any responses from their Ivory Tower.
“Reporters Without Borders” says it is worried about Chavez’s “threats of fiscal audits” of the large Venezuelan media chains. The “Reporters” group is probably referring to the millions of dollars taken from the country through the industrial production of TV dramas whose tapes are sold “by the pound” by a Panamanian intermediary… but later are sold as “intellectual works” in Miami. For the first time, a government not totally identified with these large companies dares to hold them accountable to the immense social needs of the country. At these heights, no commercial media outlet has been sanctioned for fiscal fraud or for its participation in a coup d’etat.
“We only defend freedom of speech, we’re not interested in the content by the media outlets,” repeats the “Reporters” group.
Even when those media outlets call for repression against independent media or popular organizations? Would it be so out of place to ask “Reporters Without Borders” to investigate with a minimum of seriousness the active complicity of those “media” with repressive forces, local police or paramilitary groups, and their direct involvement in numerous and persistent Human Rights violations, not only against the Community Media?
In September, our Community TV station, Teletambores, has produced various reports about the struggle for land in the state of Yaracuy. The farmers complain of harassment, torture, numerous assassinations and “disappearances” committed by local police in service of the opposition that is opposed to a moderate agrarian reform proposed by President Chávez. Some of these reports were broadcast by VTV, the only public television station, and a while later by Zalea TV in Paris, that defends, in France, the Freedom of Audiovisual Speech. The farmers bitterly complain that none of the large commercial media has reported the repression. Clearly, the media falls silent when there are massive assassinations of farmers… because its owners belong to the same economic groups as the plantation owners. Even worse: those “media” outlets widely justify the bloody repression by calling the farmers without land who are planting on the first acres resulting from the agrarian reform “terrorists,” and, “invaders trained by the Cubans,” etcetera.
The disproportion between the public show by these “media” outlets in the cases of very opportune “attacks” and their hiding of massive Human Rights violations is impressive.
If the Community Media has one vital task, it is to reinvent the idea of information, because the commercial, monopolistic TV stations – sub-copies of United States television – have destroyed that very concept. It’s as if no International Convention of Journalism ever existed. It’s “anchors” interrupt their brief news items during the programs to sell all kinds of products – shampoo, fashion clothes, miracle creams – without any type of transition. The “news reporters” are reduced to parrot a unilateral and obsessive form of political propaganda. They are absolutely racist (you won’t see a black anchorperson, for example) when the population is, in a large part, of African origin. What’s more, they’ve always looked with scorn upon the popular neighborhoods where 80-percent of the population lives, describing them as the ultimate bastions of hell, of vice, of delinquency, and calling for an iron fist against their inhabitants.
It’s an old trick of History that private-sector communication businesses pass themselves off as “information media.” This permits them to invoke “freedom of speech” when they see their economic interests threatened. From there, their fevered search for international and “super-objective” allies. The “super-objectivity” displayed by the letters authored by “Reporters Without Borders” gives the campaign by the commercial media great efficiency in circulating around the world, for example, among other Human Rights organizations who believe “Reporters Without Borders” without question.
“Reporters Without Borders” did not exist when Armand Mattelard analyzed the alliance between the large comercial media with the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA, an organization of large Latin American newspaper companies) to topple the Allende government in Chile in 197310. “The judicial investigation of the administration of the daily El Mercurio, accused of fiscal irregularities, has served as an excuse to denounce supposed coercive measures against the ‘free press’… The message emitted by the upper-class Chilean daily then repeats IAPA’s report, backed now by the authority conferred by the fact that it was reproduced abroad. We are witnessing the tautology of the IAPA. It’s campaign results to be no more than a giant biting of its own tail.”
Thierry Deronne graduated from the Hautes Etudes Institute in Social communications, Brussells, 1985. An independent journalist and correspondent of Zalea TV in Paris, he is a co-founder of the Community TV station Teletambores in Maracay, on Channel 40 UHF.
1. Globovisión is one of the multinational corporations that played a central role in the “media coup d’etat” against the Venezuelan president in April 2002. The commercial TV stations don’t hesitate to fabricate evidence at any hour. From this came the report of the “pro-Chavez ambush”, the fruit of the manipulation of selective editing of video, as it demonstrated a synchronized report to characterize persons who defended their lives against various snipers placed by the pro-coup forces atop office buildings as “Chavist assassins.” This version, broadcast widely around the world, was used as the basis for the statement by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer’s statement that “Chávez ordered the shooting of the people.”
2. Otero is famous for his editorial celebrating a coup d’etat as a victory for democracy.
3. El Nacional, April 14, 2002.
4. Article published at http://www.el-nacional.com/l&f/ediciones/2002/09/22/ph1s1.htm
5. Watch the video at http://www.antiescualidos.com/indexnew.html
6. The same United States Embassy regularly calls the Community Media stations to ask “when can we visit?”
7. ... when José Miguel Vivanco, who came to Venezuela on a mission in the name of Human Rights Watch, didn’t hesitate to criticize the commercial media severely.
8. “Reporters Without Borders” declares: “Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela and a great admirer of Fidel Castro, raised concern with his inflammatory statements against the media and observers wondered if the former soldier and author of a failed coup in 1992 would turn into a dictator. The verbal threats of previous years grew in 2001 to include new kinds of intimidation such as a threat to withdraw a TV station’s broadcasting licence, the threat of a tax inspection and a supreme court ruling that would curb press freedom. ” The Reporters group receives most of its financing from the European Union. “He who pays the orchestra chooses the music.” Presided over by Spain and very conscious of the oil interests of Spanish banks, the European Union avoided condemning the coup d’etat of April, contradicting its democratic slogans.
9. Lemoine’s article can be read at http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2002/08/LEMOINE/16761 .
10. Mattelard, Armand. “Communication and Mass Culture” Diógenes Publishers, México, 1976.
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