Nobody should shed any tears over the refusal of the Venezuelan state to renew the license of the RCTV television station.
The howls of outrage from the right over ‘freedom of speech’ ignore the role the station played in April 2002, when it helped to launch a violent coup against democratically elected president Hugo Chavez.
RCTV helped mobilise supporters of the coup in the streets, falsely claiming that Chavez’s supporters were shooting at opposition demonstrators.
The role of the media in precipitating the failed coup was brilliantly exposed in the documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, which showed how RCTV and other private television stations manipulated footage.
RCTV interviewed coup plotters and broadcasted a fabricated resignation letter from Chavez. Far from supporting journalistic freedom, the station suppressed reports of the mobilisations of the poor that defeated the coup and restored Chavez to power.
Chavez is far from being an all-powerful dictator. He has faced countless elections – and his current two thirds approval rating, measured by independent polling companies, would make George Bush and Gordon Brown blush.
There is, however, a question posed by the closure of RCTV. What shape should broadcasting take in Venezuela, in the context of the greatest flourishing of grassroots democracy in the world today?
The choice should not be posed as one between a privately run corporate media and a state controlled media run from the top down.
Instead, the community based radio stations – some of which were born out of revulsion at the role of the media in 2002 – can provide a genuine alternative.
A media based on this model can respond to the rapidly changing needs of the movement from below, while rallying Chavez supporters against moves by the right wing.
This would be the kind of media that best fits with Chavez’s declarations of his support for a ‘socialism of the 21st century’.
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