Thursday, December 09, 2004

Self-censorship

It's official: the Venezuelan president has, as was expected, signed the gag law (official title: "Ley de Responsabilidad Social en Radio y Televisión") into effect. What's it all about? Under the guise of caring for more "socially responsible" TV and radio programming, the government formulated and passed a law defining in great detail which sorts of transmission are to be allowed and which will not be tolerated.

For instance, with few exceptions, all programmes must be transmitted in the Spanish language; advertising for alcohol, tobacco products, drugs, and games of chance (except for charity) is prohibited; images and sounds depicting violence or sexual content are regulated; every broadcaster has to make available 10 minutes of programming per day to the state; every unencrypted broadcaster must dedicate 1.5 hours of educational programming per day to children, plus 1.5 hours to adolescents; 60% of prime-time programming has to be produced within Venezuela, as must all advertising; radio stations that play music have to play at least 3 hours of Venezuelan music plus 1 hour of Latin American music per day; all stations must play the Venezuelan national anthem daily, and must mention the authors, melody, and lyrics.

The new law provides for savage sanctions against broadcasters found in violation of its articles. This is the case especially for article 29, which is the scorpion's tail: an all-purpose paragraph that can be applied almost at will by a partisan regulator. It determines that any broadcaster promoting, apologising for or inciting to war, changes in the public order or crimes; threatening the security of the state; or broadcasting anonymous messages can be taken off the air for 72 hours. High fines are also imposed and the broadcasting license can be revoked for up to five years. Obviously, Chávez and his pack will have few qualms about interpreting any criticism of their conduct as threatening the security of the state.

As was to be expected, Venezuelan media have begun censoring themselves rather than run the risk of simply being eliminated. Miguel Octavio, in his excellent blog The Devil's Excrement, describes how this process became visible yesterday: Globovision, which to date has been the premier source of live news for many Venezuelans, did not broadcast violent unrest in the centre of Caracas that left several people injured as street vendors confronted the police. Obviously, the news images would have shown violence, which is prohibited between 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.; so rather than risk the wrath of the powers that be, Globovision kept mum. (The news still spread through the Internet and newspapers, though, which are not regulated by the new law. Any bets on how long it will take before this loophole is closed?)

Obviously, what is happening here is very serious indeed. International organizations ranging from Human Rights Watch ("This legislation severely threatens press freedom in Venezuela," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Its vaguely worded restrictions and heavy penalties are a recipe for self-censorship by the press and arbitrariness by government authorities.") to the Inter American Press Association ("What is under discussion is the right of all citizens to be duly informed and not only about what the government wants them to know, as happens in Cuba.") to Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Without Borders said it was "extremely concerned" by a "vaguely-termed" new law about the "social responsibility" of the Venezuelan media that "might be used against those that did not agree with the government.") have criticised the new law, as has Spain's foreign minister Moratinos.

The situation is not pretty. At the moment Venezuelans' hopes rest on the Internet (those that have access to it) and newspapers (as long as they remain relatively free -- we'll ignore threats against and attacks on journalists for the moment). I predict a strong resurge of irony in the months ahead, something like the church service scene in Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life".

4 Comments:

Blogger John said...

My prediction regarding a rise in the popularity of irony did not take long to become reality: on 12 December, Manuel Caballero published La nueva historia de Venezuela (The New History of Venezuela) in El Universal. For those not closely acquainted with Venezuelan history, just keep in mind that the author is being ironic and you should assume that the opposite of everything he says is true. Here's Miguel Octavio's English-language translation of the text -- enjoy!

---

The New History of Venezuela (According to the regulations established in the Bolivarian laws recently approved or on their way to being approved) by Manuel Caballero

Venezuela was not discovered, like the racist and colonialist Spaniards want to pretend in 1498, but on February 4th. 1992 (1), that day, General Hugo Chavez Frías (Who due to the intrigue of the Puntofijismo (2), had barely been allowed to reach the level of lieutenant colonel) covered himself with glory fighting to the last drop of blood in the battle of the Military Museum (3). Despite his heroics, when he noticed that his mates in rebellion had surrendered and that only he continued to fight without fear, he accepted to surrender to an Army which he had practically annihilated.

An obscure caudillejo.-

From that day, we stopped being called Venezuelans. Despite the unanimity of the people who wanted that we become “chavianos”, the ingenious modesty of the new father of the country proposed that we be called “Bolivarianos”. Giving up the glory that corresponded to him to an obscure caudillejo of our indigenous past that of course, did not even come up to the legs of the semi God from Sabaneta.

Despite the shameless fraud of the puntofijismo, that named a National Electoral Council composed only of members of their parties so that they would completely fulfill their task of blocking the popular victory moving voters, manipulating voting machines and even nationalizing tourists and giving results between midnight and the time the cocks sing, the people won, electing the Father of the New Country. Who, to the shame of his cheating enemies, rushed to name a new independent electoral board, impartial, clean, without fears and without reproach. A Board like Venezuelan history had never known, which opposed in most emphatic fashion all of the intents of the Governments to take advantage of its power.

Added to the DRAE (Diccionario de la Real Academia Española).-

That CNE was presided by an academic of the Language (4)(it is to him that we owe the incorporation, accepted by the DRAE, among others the word “tramparencia”(5) and the verbal forms “tabanos” (we were) and “ibanos” (we were going)) and a psychiatrist (6) without hate, nor complexes, as well as a pinch hitter brought directly from Sicily to complete the Trifecta of the CNE (acronym that designates the “Cosa Nostra” Electoral).

Since then, he has been able to develop in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela the only “pretty, pretty and pretty” revolution (That is the way erudite William Lara calls it with sweetness in his voice) that has veer been produced in the universe world since the inferior Paleolithic until our days.

Since our purpose is historic and not political, and besides because the space that our patriotic laws give us is quite limited, we will refer to only one aspect of this process: the deformation of history by the fascist and coupsters terrorists of the media. To begin with the manipulation that has made Carlos Ilich Ramirez (The Jackal), the equivalent of our own Mother Theresa of Calcutta, as a ferocious assassin and blood drinker.

Twelve Protesters.-

But perhaps the most shameless terrorist conspiracy of the visual media took place on April 11th. 2002. That day, approximately (being generous) one dozen people marched, armed to the teeth and with the aid of the fascist and terrorist Metropolitan police directed by members of criminal organizations called the “no Tupamaros” (7) , “no-Carapiacas”(7), “no-hooded ones”, they attempted to take over the Miraflores Palace, to which, with a fluid and rich language that made him look like a preacher, General Lucas Rincon, announced urbi et orbi that given that the squalid march had started shooting against some kids that were being given classes at a nursery school located at Puente Llaguno, Generalissimo Hugo Chávez Frías had NOT been asked to resign, which he did NOT accept.

The Great Humanitarian.-

Believe it or not, the fascist, coupsters and terrorist media, suppressed the two negatives from the speech of the great humanist Lucas Rincon, to make believe that Marshal Hugo Chávez Frías had surrendered, repeating the feat of February 4th. 1992. Thanks God that approximately two hundred million Venezuelans (moderate calculation) met in front of the Palace to proclaim their fidelity to the Unique Chief, while opposition mobs devoted themselves to stealing and looting. From then on, the media have not given any break in their job of deformation. We will end with one example, small but emblematic, in Carabobo, a General with round and healthy face, tried to liberate himself from a bothersome and apoplectic abdominal inflammation, like any human being does, but the fart took a wrong turn and that is how the media transformed that healthy practice in a burp to say the General was ignoring good manners. Thanks God that the people, without fraud and manipulation, elected him Governor, and now he can take all of the lactic charcoal that the budget will allow.

And here is the lesson for today kids. Go home and may God and Marshal Chavez bless you.

---

(1) Date of the Chavez coup

(2) Puntofijismo: After the Perez Jimenez Dictatorship, all parties agreed to certain ground rules. The pact was signed at the city of Punto Fijo.

(3) In the 1992 coup attempt Chavez was the only leader not to achieve his military objective and stayed in the Military Museum until he surrendered/ That Museum is not even close to the Presidential Palace.

(4) This refers to the current President of the CNE, Francisco Carrasquero, who has difficulties pronouncing many words.

(5) A mixture of tricks and transparency in Spanish.

(6) This refers to CNE Director Jorge Rodriguez.

(7) Armed Urban guerrila groups that support Chavez

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