The curse it is cast
A number of British personalities, including journalist John Pilger wrote the Guardian to announce their support for Chavez's shutdown of opposition TV stations. "We believe that the decision of the Venezuelan government not to renew the broadcasting licence of RCTV when it expires on May 27 ... is legitimate given that RCTV has used its access to the public airwaves to repeatedly call for the overthrow of the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chávez." It is signed by:
Colin Burgon MP
Dr Julia Buxton
Jon Cruddas MP
Billy Hayes General secretary, CWU
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead LSE
Rod Stoneman Executive producer, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Mostly Water, arguing the case for Chavez highlights the Venezuelan President's meekness:
What is truly amazing is that it has taken five years for the Chavez administration to take action in any way against media that helped carry out this coup. Certainly, if the same thing happened in the United States, it wouldn't be tolerated. Just ask Aaron Burr or Timothy McVeigh what happens when folks plot against the existing, elected government. The fact is.you don't get away with it, you get punished, and pretty severely. Getting their broadcasting licenses renewed would be the least of their problems.
That five-year inaction apparently includes Chavez failing to file any charges or win any convictions against RCTV. We are told RCTV is guilty -- and they might well be -- without ever being told who pronounced the guilt. But we know what Chavez is willing to go to court for. The Venezuelan government "filed charges against local network Globovision for what they said was indirectly encouraging Chavez's murder by airing footage of the 1981 assassination attempt on the late pope John Paul II. 'In my view, this television network, in this specific part of its programming, committed the offense of incitement to assassination, against the Venezuelan head of state," [Information Minister William] Lara said."
The Washington Post gives another example of what it takes to get charges filed against you in Venezuela these days.
In an interview with Colombia's Caracol Radio on Thursday, Roy Chaderton, a former Venezuelan foreign minister who serves as a special envoy, argued that RCTV remained a danger to Chávez's government. Noting that the station recently aired "Feast of the Goat," a film based on the novel by Mario Vargas Llosa about a tyrannical dictator and the uprising against him, Chaderton said the intention was to "cultivate" the idea of assassinating Chávez as a solution to Venezuela's problems.
If running a dramatization of Mario Vargas Llosa is enough to get hauled into court, it is truly marvelous that Chavez never filed charges against the RCTV owners for sedition. The idea that Chavez simply forbore to act against RCTV for 5 years out of his saintly patience seems slightly hard to accept because if he did not close the station in 2002 when it supposedly presented a clear and present danger to the Venezuelan government why should they close the station in 2007? And what exactly did the crime of 'abetting a coup' mean in 2002? Bart Jones, the foreign correspondent of the AP, explains his understanding of the term.
RCTV's most infamous effort to topple Chavez came during the April 11, 2002, coup attempt against him. For two days before the putsch, RCTV preempted regular programming and ran wall-to-wall coverage of a general strike aimed at ousting Chavez. A stream of commentators spewed nonstop vitriolic attacks against him — while permitting no response from the government.
Then RCTV ran nonstop ads encouraging people to attend a march on April 11 aimed at toppling Chavez and broadcast blanket coverage of the event. When the march ended in violence, RCTV and Globovision ran manipulated video blaming Chavez supporters for scores of deaths and injuries.
After military rebels overthrew Chavez and he disappeared from public view for two days, RCTV's biased coverage edged fully into sedition. Thousands of Chavez supporters took to the streets to demand his return, but none of that appeared on RCTV or other television stations. RCTV News Director Andres Izarra later testified at National Assembly hearings on the coup attempt that he received an order from superiors at the station: "Zero pro-Chavez" ... On April 13, 2002, Granier and other media moguls met in the Miraflores palace to pledge support to the country's coup-installed dictator, Pedro Carmona, who had eliminated the Supreme Court, the National Assembly and the Constitution."
But if we exclude the supposed pledge of support by RCTV owner Granier for Pedro Carmona, the charge against the station amounts to biased coverage, something the AP has occasionally been accused of itself.
There is a surprising similarity in the tone taken by Chavez's defenders. Insurrection.com says "yet, no one went to prison for endangering the country’s social and economic stability," and ends with an eerie reiteration of Mostly Water's lines. "What is truly amazing is that it has taken five years for the Chavez administration to take action in any way against media that helped carry out this coup. Certainly, if the same thing happened in the United States, it wouldn’t be tolerated. Just ask Aaron Burr or Timothy McVeigh what happens when folks plot against the existing, elected government."
Even Bart Jones of the AP closes with a similar rhetorical flourish. "Would a network that aided and abetted a coup against the government be allowed to operate in the United States? The U.S. government probably would have shut down RCTV within five minutes after a failed coup attempt — and thrown its owners in jail. Chavez's government allowed it to continue operating for five years, and then declined to renew its 20-year license to use the public airwaves. It can still broadcast on cable or via satellite dish." All make the same basic point about Chavez's touching forebearance. Maybe they just see things the same way.
My own personal opinion is that anyone would have to be a fool or on the Left not to recognize an incipient tyrant in Hugo Chavez. That does not necessarily mean that his opponents, like the owners of RCTV are honest or upstanding men. They may very well be thugs. That doesn't change the fact that Hugo Chavez is a thug as well. But it seems clear to me that the Left's criteria for judging fascisms is entirely partisan. Although they use such words as "democratically elected" or "legitimate" to justify Chavez, none of these words are really operative, except as protective coloration. What matters is that he is "their guy". He is their thug. Principle, clearly on the Left and possibly among conservatives too, runs a far second to belief.
Even Jimmy Carter may now have come to believe that in Chavez, he may have gotten more than it bargained for. "The Carter Center, which has observed past elections here, said it is concerned that 'non-renewal of broadcast concessions for political reasons will have a chilling effect on free speech.' 'A plurality of opinions should be protected,' it said. 'The right of dissent must be fiercely defended by every democratic government.'" Poor Jimmy. It's always a shock to those who think they are driving events to realize that they are, as they say, the last to know.
All over the world, in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, Africa, Asia and even in Western Europe people are being forced by crisis to choose their sides. The century widely expected to contain no greater peril than the Y2K bug is already forcing people to discover what civilians in Iraq know already: that you can be left hanging in the middle like Jimmy carter. We are left with choices between evils without the leadership to create space for maneuver.