February 16, 2007

Chavez -- no need to worry yet

"Chavez’s decision not to renew RCTV’s license is not exactly akin to George W. Bush shutting down CBS or NBC because they ran a few stories critical of him. If RCTV were operating in the United States, it’s doubtful that its actions would last more than a few minutes with the FCC.

"RCTV is not exactly your average television station. In April 2002, it promoted and participated in a coup against Chavez in which a democratically elected president was overthrown by military rebels and disappeared for two days until large street protests and a counter-coup returned him to power. For two days before the coup, RCTV suspended all regular programming and commercials and ran blanket coverage of a general strike aimed at ousting Chavez. Then it ran non-stop ads encouraging people to attend a massive anti-Chavez march on April 11, 2002, and provided wall-to-wall coverage of the event itself with nary a pro-Chavez voice in sight.

"When the protest ended in violence and military rebels overthrew the president, RCTV along with other networks imposed a news blackout banning all coverage of pro-Chavez demonstrators in the streets demanding his return. Andres Izarra, a news director at RCTV, was given the order by superiors: no Chavistas on the screen. He quit in disgust and later joined the Chavez government.

"On April 13, 2002, after the coup-installed president Pedro Carmona eliminated the Supreme Court and the National Assembly and nullified the constitution, media barons, including RCTV’s main owner, Marcel Granier, met with Carmona in the presidential palace and, according to reports, pledged their support to his regime. While the streets of Caracas literally burned with rage over Chavez’s ouster, the television networks ran Hollywood movies like Pretty Woman. [One should also note our own New York Times' promotion of the coup. --Ed.]

"Likewise, Chavez is not creating a single-party state as widely reported but is melding together an amorphous array of parties that support him. He is not outlawing opposition parties. He has no need to, as he showed when he glided to a record landslide victory in the Dec. 5 presidential vote by a 63-37 percent margin in a free and fair election. Chavez also is not nationalizing the entire economy without compensation to companies, as Castro did in the early days of the Cuban Revolution, but rather is buying back a few key strategic utilities such as the CANTV telecommunications company or taking a majority government share in four oil projects."