There is a chilling situation in Venezuela right now, a veritable war on media being taken up by the Hugo Chavez regime. In the first wave of radio station closings, there are 34 stations; word from the Chavez government is that more than 200 will follow. In response to accusations of a politically fueled crackdown, the Reuters Venezuela Blog reports Chavez’s response as being:
“We haven’t closed any radio stations, we’ve applied the law,” Chavez said on state television. “We’ve recovered a bunch of stations that were outside the law, that now belong to the people and not the bourgeoisie.”
Chavez supporters say they are waging a “media war” against private news companies and have denounced in recent days what they say is a renewed offensive by privately owned domestic and international media to discredit Venezuela.
No matter which way you dice it or what kind of rhetoric is being offered, the closure of media outlets on the this scale is worrisome in the extreme and part of a pattern documented throughout the history of media as the beginning of repression. This is particularly true when applied to the most democratic and democratizing form of media: radio. The fact that new laws have begun appearing on the books that address “media crimes” I fear the worst. That is pretty close to the thought crime of George Orwell’s 1984.
No wonder people are marching in the streets in protest. Not only that, but a protest led and encouraged by their Mayor. Bloomberg describes the scene:
The marchers walked from the office of a radio network that lost licenses for some of its stations to the headquarters of Conatel, the country’s telecommunications regulator, the news channel reported.
The march was led by Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and Chacao municipal Mayor Emilio Grateron, who called on Venezuelans to keep up their demonstrations.
I have a feeling we are seeing something big happen here, and as always, radio and other media are an important aspect to watch. Not just what they broadcast, but also how their governments attempt to bring them to heel. There are many personalities on talk radio that I cannot stand on a personal level, that still would not make it right to silence them. When you see a concerted effort to squash dissenting opinions you know that trouble has arrived. Of course my view may be a bit slanted, I’m an American and our country was built on dissenting opinions.