Hugo Chavez Versus RCTV


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Published on Wednesday, May 30, 2007 by The Los Angeles Times
Hugo Chavez Versus RCTV

Venezuela¹s Oldest Private TV Network Played A Major Role In A failed 2002 Coup.

by Bart Jones

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez¹s refusal to renew the license of Radio Caracas
Television might seem to justify fears that Chavez is crushing free speech and 
eliminating any voices critical of him.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists 
and members of the European Parliament, the U.S. Senate and even Chile¹s 
Congress have denounced the closure of RCTV, Venezuela¹s oldest private 
television network. Chavez¹s detractors got more ammunition Tuesday when the 
president included another opposition network, Globovision, among the ³enemies 
of the homeland.²

But the case of RCTV ‹ like most things involving Chavez ‹ has been caught up in
a web of misinformation. While one side of the story is getting headlines around
the world, the other is barely heard.

The demise of RCTV is indeed a sad event in some ways for Venezuelans. Founded 
in 1953, it was an institution in the country, having produced the long-running 
political satire program ³Radio Rochela² and the blisteringly realistic 
nighttime soap opera ³Por Estas Calles.² It was RCTV that broadcast the first 
live-from-satellite images in Venezuela when it showed Neil Armstrong walking on
the moon in 1969.

But after Chavez was elected president in 1998, RCTV shifted to another 
endeavor: ousting a democratically elected leader from office. Controlled by 
members of the country¹s fabulously wealthy oligarchy including RCTV chief 
Marcel Granier, it saw Chavez and his ³Bolivarian Revolution² on behalf of 
Venezuela¹s majority poor as a threat.

RCTV¹s most infamous effort to topple Chavez came during the April 11, 2002, 
coup attempt against him. For two days before the putsch, RCTV preempted regular
programming and ran wall-to-wall coverage of a general strike aimed at ousting 
Chavez. A stream of commentators spewed nonstop vitriolic attacks against him ‹ 
while permitting no response from the government.

Then RCTV ran nonstop ads encouraging people to attend a march on April 11 aimed
at toppling Chavez and broadcast blanket coverage of the event. When the march 
ended in violence, RCTV and Globovision ran manipulated video blaming Chavez 
supporters for scores of deaths and injuries.

After military rebels overthrew Chavez and he disappeared from public view for 
two days, RCTV¹s biased coverage edged fully into sedition. Thousands of Chavez 
supporters took to the streets to demand his return, but none of that appeared 
on RCTV or other television stations. RCTV News Director Andres Izarra later 
testified at National Assembly hearings on the coup attempt that he received an 
order from superiors at the station: ³Zero pro-Chavez, nothing related to Chavez
or his supportersŠ. The idea was to create a climate of transition and to start 
to promote the dawn of a new country.² While the streets of Caracas burned with 
rage, RCTV ran cartoons, soap operas and old movies such as ³Pretty Woman.² On 
April 13, 2002, Granier and other media moguls met in the Miraflores palace to 
pledge support to the country¹s coup-installed dictator, Pedro Carmona, who had 
eliminated the Supreme Court, the National Assembly and the Constitution.

Would a network that aided and abetted a coup against the government be allowed 
to operate in the United States? The U.S. government probably would have shut 
down RCTV within five minutes after a failed coup attempt ‹ and thrown its 
owners in jail. Chavez¹s government allowed it to continue operating for five 
years, and then declined to renew its 20-year license to use the public 
airwaves. It can still broadcast on cable or via satellite dish.

Granier and others should not be seen as free-speech martyrs. Radio, TV and 
newspapers remain uncensored, unfettered and unthreatened by the government. 
Most Venezuelan media are still controlled by the old oligarchy and are 
staunchly anti-Chavez.

If Granier had not decided to try to oust the country¹s president, Venezuelans 
might still be able to look forward to more broadcasts of ³Radio Rochela.²

Bart Jones spent eight years in Venezuela, mainly as a foreign correspondent for
the Associated Press, and is the author of the forthcoming book ³Hugo! The Hugo 
Chavez Story, From Mud Hut to Perpetual²

© 2007 The Los Angeles Times

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