The international media’s coverage of Venezuela comes down to caricatures that have been spread by Venezuela’s opposition.
A reporter from one of the largest international media outlets contacted me recently because she was considering doing a story about how Venezuela’s TV networks have covered the protests that have raged since April 4. The quote I gave her (who knows if any of it will be used or if the story is ever written) stated the following:
The protests and the leading opposition leaders’ take on the protests are being extensively covered on the largest private networks: Venevision, Televen, Globovision. If people abroad sampled Venezuela’s TV media directly, as opposing to judging it by what is said about it by the international media and some big NGOs, they’d be shocked to find the opposition constantly denouncing the government and even making very thinly veiled appeals to the military to oust Maduro.
There are valid free speech concerns raised by the censoring of foreign outlets in Venezuela. However, there are also grave free speech concerns raised by the international media’s lopsidedly hostile coverage of Venezuela for the past 15 years. It speaks volumes about that coverage that Bernie Sanders’ campaign, for example, would call Hugo Chavez a “dead communist dictator.” That could never have happened if there had been remotely balanced coverage over the past 15 years.
One of the big NGOs I had in mind, Human Rights Watch (HRW), inadvertently illustrated my point about the international media’s coverage by listing a deluge of newspaper editorials from around the word on its website that all reinforce the U.S. government/HRW view on Venezuela. The international media’s coverage of Venezuela comes down to caricatures that have been spread by Venezuela’s opposition. The editorials HRW listed have titles like “Maduro’s dictatorship,” “Maduro’s Venezuela becomes a dictatorship,” “Venezuela is officially a dictatorship,” “Venezuela’s descent into dictatorship,” and so on. Good luck finding a dissenting view in any significant U.S. newspaper, never mind a TV network. The same applies to Canada, the U.K. and numerous Latin American countries with right-wing governments.
In contrast, let’s consider an op-ed that just appeared in one of Venezuela’s leading newspapers: El Universal. The New York Times’ Venezuela reporter Nick Casey claimed last year that El Universal “tows a largely pro-government line” – I suspect without ever reading the newspaper.
The oped from May 14 that caught my eye was one by Luis Vicente Leon, who is one of the more moderate opposition people who are all over Venezuela’s TV and print media. He is head of the polling firm Datanalisis which has been widely cited in the international media for many years. His piece sought to explain why opposition protests are dominated by middle and upper class participants. He claims the poorest Venezuelans aren’t protesting because they are afraid of pro-government gangs and because they fear disruption of government food deliveries known by their acronym in Spanish: CLAP. He accuses the government of “assassinating 40 of its adversaries” and of “creating a huge fuss if one of their own is scratched.” There have been 11 pro government people murdered so far in protest-related violence in cases that strongly implicate anti-government protesters or snipers. Another four people have been killed as a result of the extremely unsafe conditions created in the streets by opposition protests. Eight people who died from electrocution while trying to loot a bakery have also been counted as protest-related deaths. That accounts for over half of the 44 protest-related deaths. Five of the deaths have been strongly linked to the security forces and have led to arrest and indictments of police officers, but Luis Vicente Leon, in one of Venezuela’s largest newspapers, accuses the government of assassinating 40 people.
Over the past two months, Luis Vicente Leon has appeared on the major private Venezuelan networks Globovision, Televen, Venevision as he has for years.
In a lengthy interview on Globovision on May 2 he argued that Maduro’s initiative to convene a constituent assembly to revise the Venezuelan constitution is a plot to stay in power without the support of voters. He said, ominously, that Maduro faces “infinite costs” if he loses the next presidential election and that the constitution is his “worst enemy.” At the end of a long interview on Televen, he clarified the “infinite costs” even further by explaining that some within the opposition want to not only defeat the government at the polls but totally criminalize it. He says he is not in favor of “infinite costs,” but he increasingly depicts the government as criminal and whitewashes opposition violence.
Aside from citing NGOs hostile to the government who portray the opposition as being shut out of the media, Venezuela’s media landscape has also been distorted by amplifying the voices of disgruntled journalists (who hate the government of course) or by otherwise echoing their complaints (not enough “live” coverage of protests, not enough “in studio” interviews with opposite people etc..) – anything to distract from the fact that people like Luis Vicente Leon, and others even more aggressive, have always had all kinds of media access. Combine that with countless editorials calling Venezuela a dictatorship and it really becomes impossible for most people to know better unless they undertake a research project.
President Maduro vowed on May 12 that “in 2018, rain or thunder, there will be presidential elections in Venezuela. Temer does not govern here. Here the revolution governs.”
Temer is the unelected president of Brazil who took power after the elected president, Dilma Rousseff, was ousted in a parliamentary coup. Temer has floated the idea of not holding presidential elections until 2020. Brazil’s prosecutors are trying to throw the front-runner, former president Lula de Silva, in jail. Don’t bother looking for long list of editorials from around the world denouncing Brazil as a dictatorship even though, for tactical reasons, Lula was once lauded as part of the “good left” in Latin America.
Contrary to much fantasy, the Venezuelan media will never let Maduro forget his recent vow. The “international community” (the US government and whoever is corrupt enough to play along) do indeed seek to impose “infinite costs” on political movements, leaders, and democracies that it doesn’t like. The western media is a powerful weapon that it uses to impose those costs.