By Salim Lamrani. Translated for Axis of Logic by Scott Campbell and revised by Les Blough, members of Tlaxcala
On May 29, 2009, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published an open letter to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in which the association denounced that Globovisión, a “privately-owned news channel” was “being hounded by the government and the administration.” According to the Paris-based organization, Globovisión “has been targeted by official proceedings that could lead to it being taken off air for 72 hours” for “quoting statistics produced by the US Geological Institute [about the earthquake on May 4, 2009].”1
The Venezuelan authorities accused the channel “of having broken Article 29 of the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (Resorte Law) which punishes media that ‘promote, justify or incite war; promote, justify or incite disruption of public order’”. RSF asks: “In what way does reporting on an earthquake, however poorly, fit within this definition of an offence?”2
Presented in this way, the matter could surprise international public opinion. But, to the contrary of what RSF states, the reality is otherwise and has been carefully side-stepped by this French agency in “defense of freedom of the press.”
Globovisión against democracy
Since 1998, Globovisión has not stopped opposing the democratic government of Hugo Chávez. In April of 2002, the television channel actively participated in Pedro Carmona Estanga’s coup d’état. In any country in the world, Globovisión would have been closed and its directors sentenced to long prison terms. But the Supreme Court, at the time controlled by the opposition, refused to recognize the reality of the coup and limited itself to proclaiming a “power vacuum” to explain the coup.
Later, the station increased its calls for insurrection.3 In May 2007, Globovisión was guilty of calling for the assassination of President Chávez, manipulating images, and sending subliminal messages. During a broadcast of the program Aló, Cuidadano, while it aired an interview with Marcel Granier, director of the RCTV channel - which strongly criticizes Chávez - the station simultaneously showed images of the May 1981 attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. Globovisión could not explain why it showed images of the assassination attempt on a program dealing with the rejection of RCTV’s broadcast license.4 Several semiotics experts were categorical as to the reason: “It is to incite the assassination of the president.”5 In France, such behavior would have landed the journalists and directors of the station behind bars.
The journalists of Globovisión, as well as show hosts, also increased their use of defamatory expressions about the government, using terms such as “dictatorship” and “tyranny”, with the goal of justifying the calls for civil disobedience and acts of violence, something unimaginable in the West.6
The earthquake affair
On May 4, 2009, an earthquake hit the state of Miranda at 4:40 in the morning, followed by three aftershocks (4:50, 6:23 and 6:24) without causing any injury. At 5:25, the Minister of the Interior and Justice, Tarek El Aissami, stated that the quake had been felt in several places. “We are receiving reports of the effects. We are, through Funvisis [the Venezuelan Seismological Research Foundation], determining the epicenter and magnitude. We want to state that, up to now, we have no reports of any type of material or structural damage. We want to make a plea for calm. We have ordered the immediate deployment of police patrols to protect those who have left their houses,” he declared.7 At 5:44, El Aissami made public a second report that stated he had spoken with the president and Vice President Ramón Carrizález, and emphasized that Chávez had ordered the deployment of the Bolivarian National Guard in order to guarantee the security of the people.7
For his part, Francisco Garcés, president of Funvisis, at 5:40 reported that two earthquakes had hit the capital, Caracas, as well as the metropolitan area, and asked the media to ask the people to remain calm. At 6:05, the Minister of Public Works and Housing, Diosdado Cabello, indicated that the metro, the railroad, and the airport were functioning perfectly well. Héctor Navarro, Minister of Education, also underscored that schools and universities had not been affected by the earthquake and were open. Jesús Mantilla, Minister of Health, reported the normal functioning of the country’s hospitals. At 6:47, the Minister of Telecommunications and Information Technology, Socorro Hernández, communicated to the people that the telecommunications network had not been affected. For his part, Alejandro Hitcher, president of Hidrocapital, explained that the water system was functioning normally. At 7, Blanco Ekhout, Minister of Communication and Information, noted that all state bodies had been on alert since the beginning of the quake. Jacqueline Faría, head of the capital district government, as well as Rafael Ramírez, Minister of Energy and Petroleum, kept the people informed regarding the status of their respective areas of oversight.8
Nonetheless, at 5:20 in the morning, or just about 40 minutes after the first shakings of the earth, the director of Globovisíon, Alberto Federico Ravell, hastily sought to personally intervene live on his station in order to - after providing incorrect information about the earthquake based on information coming from the…United States - directly attack the government, to accuse it of negligence and to transmit a message of fear and terror.
“It distresses us deeply but we are unable to find anyone, we are unable to find any authority in order to ask them for precise information, exact information…What we have to do is to wait, and above all to wait for what our authorities report, for them to give some precise information, for them to give some verifiable information about what is happening at this moment because we don’t have anyone coming forward. We called Funvisis but the call was dropped, we haven’t been able to communicate with the fire department. Mayor [Gerardo] Blay is not reporting if there is any damage in his region.”9
At this moment in the conversation, the Globovisión presenter interrupted his director to remind him of one thing. “Director, we just finished having a new telephone conversation with the director of Funvisis and he just informed us that at the time he was driving and because of that it was impossible for him to pass on information. However, he reaffirmed to us that as soon as he finishes driving he will get in touch with us and we will be able to go on the air live with him to get the best information.”10
Far from heeding this appeal to reason, Ravell took advantage of the opportunity to stigmatize the authorities yet again:
“The official media, for all the propaganda they produce, should at this moment be informing the populace of what is happening so that we don’t have to be here going to the meteorological service in the United States in order to report to the people that there was an earthquake.”11
Tarek El Aissami denounced “the stingy attitude and irresponsible use of the media.” Ravell, instead of broadcasting a message of tranquility, used a natural catastrophe for political ends and “to plant fear in the population,” according to Cabello, Minister of Public Works.12 What would happen in France if the director of the private station TF1 had attacked the government of Nicolas Sarkozy with the same virulence, forty minutes after the beginning of the floods that happened in 2008, accusing it of abandoning the victims to their fates?
The disinformation of Reporters Without Borders
Immediately, RSF carefully censored these events and tried to turn a serious outrage of journalistic ethics and a serious failure of the responsibilities of the media into a violation of the freedom of the press. In reference to the coup d’état in 2002, the Parisian organization recognizes that “Legal proceedings along with debate about the approach of some privately owned media during these events, was not without cause at the time,” but feigns ignorance as to the continued and illegal behavior of Globovisión to ask: “But on what content do you base an accusation more than seven years later?”13
Finally, RSF affirms that “Globovisión is the sole broadcast media with a voice strongly critical of your government…In other Latin American countries, where your counterparts face hostile media or those considered to be so, the state response has not taken such an extreme form. Never has the leader’s lone voice so dominated almost the entire television sector.” This is a three-sided lie: the entity that Robert Ménard presides over is trying to make us believe that the behavior of Globovisión is part of some Latin American tendency, that the Chávez government is attacking the station because of the station’s criticism against it, and that the rest of the television stations in the country are at the orders of the Bolivarian leader.14
Once more, it is easy to disprove the claims of RSF. On the one hand, not one Latin American media outlet has called for the toppling of an elected president like Globovisión has done. On the other hand, it is enough to look at the private stations, which occupy more than 80% of the media space in the country, to see that criticism against the authorities is acerbic and constant. Finally, any serious analyst knows with scientific certainty that no other country on the American continent can brag about the availability of freedom of expression and of the press similar to that which exists in Venezuela. So, for RSF, the media has to incite insurrection and the falling of the established order, as Globovisión does, in order to not be considered flunkies by those in power.
Since the election of Hugo Chávez to the presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, RSF has taken a position in favor of the anti-democratic and coupist opposition and has not ceased to defend their interests on the international level. In this way, during the coup d’état on April 11, 2002, RSF did not denounce the leading role of the private media opposed to the democratically elected president. Worse still, on April 12, 2002, RSF published an article that spread without any reservations the coupist version of events and tried to convince international public opinion that Chávez had resigned:
Chávez, held in the presidential palace, reportedly signed his resignation under army pressure and was taken to Fort Tiuna, the capital’s main military base. Immediately afterwards, Fedecámaras president Pedro Carmona announced he would head an interim government, saying he had been chosen by "agreement" among civil society groups and the armed forces leadership.15 [Translator’s note: Neither the French nor Spanish versions of RSF’s statement use the word “reportedly” when referring to Chávez’s resignation.]
RSF is not an organization that defends freedom of the press, but is an obscure entity with a political agenda precisely commissioned to discredit through all possible means the progressive governments in the world that find themselves on the United States’ blacklist. It’s not surprising when one finds out that Washington provides substantial finances to the organization through the National Endowment for Democracy, a front organization of the CIA, according to the New York Times.16
1 Reporters Without Borders, “Open letter to President Hugo Chavez to protest about official hounding of Globovisión”, May 29, 2009. (Site consulted June 2, 2009).
3 Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Periodistas coinciden en que Globovisión es promotor de protestas de oposición», 29 de mayo de 2007.
4 Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Ministro Lara denunció que medios de oposición incitan a magnicidio», 27 de mayo de 2007.
5 Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «CNN miente sobre Venezuela y Globovisión incita al magnicidio», 28 de mayo de 2007.
6 Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Globovisión continúa con la instigación a la desestabilización», 29 de mayo de 2007.
7 Luigino Bracci Roa, «Fuerte temblor sacudió región central del país esta madrugada sin causar daños», Yvke Mundial, 4 de mayo de 2009. (sitio consultado el 15 de junio de 2009).
9 Globovisión, « ¿Quién sintió el temblor primero? ¿Los chavistas o los opositores? », 4 de mayo de 2009. (sitio consultado el 2 de junio de 2009).
13 Reporteros Sin Fronteras, «Persecución gubernamental contra el canal Globovisión: carta abierta al Presidente Hugo Chávez», op. cit.
15 Reporters Without Borders, “Media in the eye of the storm: one journalist killed, three wounded and several TV stations briefly off the air”, April 12, 2002. (Site consulted November 13, 2006).
16 Salim Lamrani, Cuba. Ce que les médias ne vous diront jamais (Paris: Editions Estrella, 2009).
Salim Lamrani is professor in charge of courses at the Paris Descartes University and at the University of Marne la Vallée and a French journalist, specializing in relations between Cuba and the United States. He has published, among others, Doble Moral. Cuba, la Unión Europea y los derechos humanos (Hondarriaba: Editorial Hiru, 2008). His new book is called Cuba. Ce que les médias ne vous diront jamais (Paris: Editions Estrella, 2009) with a prologue by Nelson Mandela.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Source in Spanish: Rebelión
Spanish version revised by Caty R.
Translated into English for Axis of Logic by Scott Campbell and revised by Les Blough, Editor, Axis of Logic.
SEE HIS BIO AND ADDITIONAL TRANSLATIONS, REPORTS AND ESSAYS BY SCOTT CAMPBELL