TV concession argument reveals totalitarian goal of the Chavez administration

January 5, 2007

The Government continues on its path to turning Venezuela into a totalitarian state by barring free speech, limiting dissent and threatening those that dare speak in order to create fear so that others don’t speak out. Free speech is not simply whether people say or not certain things publicly, but whether they fear saying it or not. And in Venezuela there is a lot of fear even if I am able, for now (por ahora!) to write these words.

The Radio Caracas Television case is the latest and most blatant example of how freedom of speech is being threatened by te autocrat Hugo Cahvez. The concession will not be renewed simply because Chavez does not like dissent or criticism. RCTV has been critical of the Government repeatedly, that is what freedom of speech is all about, It is not a matter of RCTV opposing or not the Government, it is a matter that one of the roles the media plays in any democracy is to criticize what is wrong with a Government, not for the sake of being critical, but in the hope that someone with responsibility will react to the criticism and change whatever is not working or is not being done properly.

But autocrats do not like to be criticized, they think they are perfect and attempts to point out what is wrong are considered destabilizing and threatening to the Constitutional order. It is a movie that has been seen too often in Latin America and is being repeated today in Venezuela. People protest, bridges fall down and people’s rights are violated, but the press and the media remain silent about these events, because they are afraid of the reaction against them by the Government.

The RCTV case is emblematic of what is to come. The President himself decided that the concession will not be renewed, bypassing the rule of law and denying the company that owns the concession their right to due process. Hugo Chavez calls the owners of the TV station or those that run it coup mongers, but no court of judicial instance has ever accused those that work there of conspiring, participating or inciting others to overthrow the Government. It is even unclear whether the measure is aimed at the President of RCTV, Marcel Granier, the owners of the company or the just the company itself.

But day after day, Government officials other than Chavez come on TV to ether ratify or back the measure against the TV station. Each one uses his or her own reason, ignoring the laws and/or the institutions that are supposed to enforce them. The Minister of Information accused RCTV the other day of violating the Social Responsibility Law, the so called “muzzle” Bill that was approved by this Government to limit freedom of speech and contain criticism. But now that Chavez won by a large percentage the recent Presidential election, even form is being bypassed, a very worrisome sign of what is to come.

TV station RCTV has never been charged with violating the Social Responsibility Law. The institution responsible for enforcing that law is CONATEL, the telecom regulator, which has yet to ever charge, least of all find guilty the broadcast company RCTV of violations of the law. If it did, RCTV would have to the right to due process and defend itself of the accusations, which has not happened either. The rule of law has been bypassed and a capricious decision has been made. RCTV is guilty in the absence of due process and let it be a warning to other TV stations that dare criticize the incompetent revolution or its leader.

Not content with this, other Government officials, curiously former military like Chavez, hold a press conference no only to back Chavez’ decision, which may be interpreted as sucking up to the big boss, but to ask him to go further and establish “exhaustive controls for the radio and print media”, proposing that newspapers also need to have a concession under the control of the Government. Talk about fascists minds and attitudes!

Thus, freedom of speech is not just being threatened in Venezuela. Freedom of speech and the right to dissent are being squashed by totalitarian-minded men who would think nothing of repression and human rights violations if and when it was needed. Thus, quietly, Venezuela, once a beacon of true democracy and freedom of speech in Latin America has fallen under the control of a militaristic cadre that can not tolerate differences of opinion and wants to suppress dissent.

If RCTV’s concession is not renewed, it would be only the second time in Latin America’s recent history that a TV station has had its concession revoked. The previous one, by Dictator Fujimori in Peru, was eventually turned over by international courts after Fujimori was overthrown, but unless Venezuelans rise to defend their rights of “free and plural communication, to opportune, truthful and uncensored information and freedom of belief” guaranteed in Articles 58 and 59 of its Constitution, no amount of international outcry will stop a Government that seems determined to withhold those same rights from “the people” and rub out enemies and critics when it’s convenient.

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