Freedom of press in a polarized nation

By Iraxis Bello (for Safe Democracy)

Iraxis Bello believes that above and beyond the legality of Hugo Chavez‘s decision to close down the private channel Radio Caracas Television, what is taking place in Venezuela is an affront on the plurality of opinion and the liberty of the press.

Iraxis Bello is a journalist with a degree from the Central University of Venezuela. She works for the international section of the newspaper “El Universal”, and has ample experience in the coverage of political and social events for a wide variety of media. She is finishing her Master’s in International Relations and Communication at the Complutense University in Madrid.

THE DECISION NOT TO RENEW A LICENSE for a private TV station is hardly a novelty in a country like Venezuela. Government has control over the distribution of broadcasting licenses, and can choose freely whether or not renew them.

Yet, the National Commission of Telecommunications‘ (CONATEL) decision on May 28th to shut down the privately owned, national TV station, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), after 53 years of transmission, constitutes one more addition to a long list of governmental encroachments into the recreation, education, and leisure of the Venezuelan people in the name of the Bolivarian Revolution.

The government in Venezuela has slowly dismantled and assimilated the private media in order to create new public spaces for the discussion of ideas. Yet, in reducing and conditioning the public debate to serve the needs of the current government, Chavez’s administration is attacking the plurality of communication that is essential to the service of the citizenry and the protection of freedom. From the rest of the private television stations, like Venevision (whose license was renewed a few days ago) and Televen, little to nothing has been heard about the governmental attacks on plurality. These television stations have adapted their programs in order to avoid the same fate as RCTV. The fate of Globovision (a channel with 24-hour nonstop information) remains uncertain.

It was a political error for the Chavez administration to close down the oldest and most widely watched TV station merely because of RCTV’s open opposition to the Chavez regime. Closing the station down because it posed a threat to the regime could prove to be counterproductive to Chavez’s bid for the consolidation of power, regardless of the legality or illegality of CONATEL’s decision. What is legal, after all, is not necessarily what is moral.

Hours before closing down the station, President Hugo Chavez announced: What will take place tomorrow will be completely normal. A broadcasting license will expire and we will not renew it. Other licenses we will renew, but this one we will not (