May 30 2007

RCTV Taken Off the Air in Venezuela

| the entire program

RCTV demonstratorsGUEST: Gregory Wilpert, editor of

Earlier in the week Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez refused to renew the license for the TV station Radio Caracas Television, known as RCTV) VHF. RCTV was the nation’s oldest private broadcaster, operating since 1953 and had a record of airing mostly right wing view points. During the two-day coup against Chavez in 2002, RCTV, along with four major privately-owned television channels openly supported the opposition government. Now, the Chavez government has threatened to crack down on another privately owned broadcaster, Globovision, accusing it of inciting an assassination attempt on the president. There have been several continuous days of demonstrations against Chavez’s RCTV decision, which in turn have incited counter demonstrations from Chavez supporters. During a visit to Finland, Chilean President Michele Bachelet expressed concern over Chavez’s decision.

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Rough Transcript:

Kolhatkar: First, can you explain Chavez’s decision. From your perspective, why has he chosen not to renew RCTV’s license?

Wilpert: Well, I think the main reason really is that RCTV has been essentially conspiring against the government, since Chavez got elected. And this was most visible when it, I think, actually participated, not just supported, but actually participated in the 2002 coup attempt and then also in the shutdown of the country’s all-important oil industry from December 2002 to January 2003. Certainly, Chavez has not forgotten that and believes that RCTV would be very capable and willing to do something like that again. And, since their license expired on May 27th, he figured that this would be a good time not to renew their license.

Kolhatkar: What about the accusation against Globovision that, in fact I understand that even CNN is being accused of this, that these two stations were inciting or encouraging Chavez’s assassination?

Wilpert: Well, the way I see it is that here, people are very much on edge. And people, I think, in the government, have been very concerned about the possibility of other destabilization attempts. There have been a lot of rumors going around that there would be attempts to assassinate the president or to cause some kind of disturbances and violence. And so, they have been very nervous and I think they overreacted in those two cases. That is in the case of Globovision they, I think, misinterpreted something that was easily misinterpretable, though, which was an image of Pope John Paul being assassinated to the tune of “Have faith, this is not over”, implying that this is something that will happen to Chavez. Now, just looking at that by itself would look like that might be kind of a subliminal message or something like that. But, actually, I think what they were doing, was showing archival footage from RCTV, which coincidentally coincided with the music that they usually put on for the transition to a commercial break. So, anyways, the government is, I think, overreacting in this case. I don’t think anything will come of the case that they have taken to the Attorney General. I rather doubt there will be any action on that. And, same thing with CNN. In one case, CNN used footage from Mexico, claiming it was Venezuela…

Kolhatkar: Anti-Chavez protests. Right? They basically showed demonstrations from Mexico, making it seem as though they were anti-Chavez protests in Venezuela.

Wilpert: Right. And CNN already apologized for that, saying that this was a mistake, unintentional. And then, the other case was that they juxtaposed an image of Chavez with some Al-Qaeda leader, and they basically said this was just a coincidence that they had two reports, one right after the other, and that it didn’t have anything to do with trying to discredit Chavez. But, be it as it may, it might have been intentional or unintentional, I think, the bottom line again is rather weak. And I doubt that anything much will come from it.

Kolhatkar: What is replacing RCTV now is a state television station, and main stream coverage here in the United States has been accusing that television station that replaced RCTV of not having any coverage of the demonstrations in the recent days against Chavez’s decision over RCTV.

Wilpert: Well, the new station is really a bare-boned operation. The idea of that station is to use, almost exclusively, independent producers. So that means they don’t have their own studios. They don’t even have any of their own camera equipment, nothing. So there is practically no way they could have covered this. And they don’t even have a news program, yet. So they only have programs that they are buying from independent national producers in Venezuela, which tend to be some soap operas or cooking programs or sports programs, and stuff like that, but no live coverage or news coverage of any sort. And they said that they will start news coverage but it will be later this week.

Now, is there an intention by the Chavez government to open up some of the space to independent and community broadcasters?

Wilpert: Yes, definitely. Actually, the idea is to make it a channel exclusively of independent national programming. That is, they will open up a public bidding process for the programming that is supposed to be completely transparent, and they would choose amongst community broadcasters and independent national producers for which programs to use for this new channel.

Kolhatkar: Now, is there any, you know, there has been a long history of the United States supporting anti-Chavez movements in Venezuela. Does RCTV, or any of the other privately owned major television stations in Venezuela, do they get any sort of funding, of support, from the United States, either government support or private corporate support?

Wilpert: Well, there is certainly various commercial agreements between RCTV and US companies, but that’s, I think, fairly normal. But, what has recently been revealed is that the United States government has been trying to influence journalists in Venezuela by having them participate in courses, which would be like several weeks, and they gave them very generous stipends to participate in these courses. And the document that has been declassified revealed that these courses were specifically for influencing their coverage and making it more favorable in terms of covering US foreign policy more favorably. And many of the country’s top opposition journalists were actually on the list of people who received money from the US State Department for these courses.

Kolhatkar: Let’s talk also about the demonstrations that are taking place in Venezuela, and I understand a lot of these are student demonstrations. And, it’s not easy from the United States to get a perspective on these demonstrations. Most of the mainstream media coverage simply, you know, talks about them as five, six days of continuous demonstrations, but doesn’t give an idea of the size, or the motivation or even, for example, counter demonstrations. Can you tell us exactly what’s been going on on the streets?

Wilpert: Well yes, about last week, a number of demonstrations were started. They started very big last week with the opposition protesting the non-renewal of RCTV’s license. And then, a counter demonstration of Chavez supporters that I would say was probably about equal in size, that is, maybe, anywhere between five and ten thousand participants each. And then, on Monday morning, when RCTV went off the air, there were many decentralized protests that tended to be very small and then students started participating as well. Now, there has been a lot of controversy around these student protests, because, at least the student leaders that support the government, which are quite substantial, have been saying that many of these cases, they are not even real university students who have been going into the universities to cause trouble. And then, there were various efforts to block streets by these protesters, but, like I said, they tended to be fairly small. And there was various street battles, I think around 10 or 15, between 10 and 15 students and police officers were wounded in these fights, but today, everything is quite calm. And I think things have basically calmed and returned to normal.

Kolhatkar: When you say small, are you talking about a few hundred, few thousand?

Wilpert: Yeah.

Kolhatkar: Just a few hundred.

Wilpert: Yeah.

Kolhatkar: So, let’s also talk about the implications overall, Greg, about what this move means. I mean, there have been, over the past few years, particularly right after the coup, the coup d’état against Chavez, he was sort of lorded for having been quite, you know, having really held back from cracking down on these privately owned channels. Does this move against RCTV signal a different direction for Chavez in being more assertive against the opposition?

Wilpert: No, I don’t’ really think so. I mean, this was really the mildest move that Chavez could have taken. I mean, you really could have held the media owners responsible for acts of treason, essentially. For having supported or actually participated in the coup attempt and nothing of this sort happened. And now that the license is up for renewal, which was a 20 year license, so you have to think 20 years, in theory. You know, it is just, this was the easiest thing Chavez could do. And you know, according to Venezuelan law, the renewal of a broadcast license is really up to the executive and in fact at the executive’s discretion, and so it didn’t require any kind of hearings or a trial or anything like that. And so this was really the easiest thing for Chavez to do at this time, not to renew that license. But the other TV stations, and they’re still, you know, Globovision is also very opposition-oriented, they still are broadcasting without any problems or interference, despite the threats or warning that they received the other day. And actually, they have become even more oppositional than before, I think. This whole incident about RCTV has radicalized Globovision, I think. You know, and so, despite what many people in the main stream media say, there is certainly full freedom of the press here. I mean, you know, there is all kinds of people talking about Venezuela being a dictatorship and they are doing this on public television, you know, over the airwaves. And see, you know, it’s kind of a contradiction.

Special thanks to Claudia Greyeyes for transcribing this interview

One response so far

One Response to “RCTV Taken Off the Air in Venezuela”

  1. Figs!on 13 Jul 2007 at 1:39 pm

    ok, i’m from venezuela and all I can Tell you is that RCTV is NOT conspiring against the goverment, all it’s doing is expressing it’s opinion, is that wrong? :S if they don’t like it then they don’t like it and the’re in their right to expres it.. plus the hole thing it’s about the president not liking RCTV’s programs and opinion, I say if you don’t like that, then don’t wacht it, it’s your decision .. not His. Over here We Venezuelans feel insulted because hes telling us What to watch, and thats a violation of our human rights or your telling me that its ok to shut down every other opinion different to yours?