Radical media, politics and culture.

Bart Jones, "Hugo v. RCTV"

Venezuela's Oldest Private TV Network Played Major Role in Failed
2002 Coup

Bart Jones, Los Angeles Times

BART JONES spent eight years in Venezuela, mainly as a foreign
correspondent for the Associated Press, and is the author of the
forthcoming book Hugo! The Hugo Chavez Story.

May 30, 2007

VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chavez's refusal to renew the license of
Radio Caracas Television might seem to justify fears that Chavez is
crushing free speech and eliminating any voices critical of him.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect
Journalists and members of the European Parliament, the U.S. Senate
and even Chile's Congress have denounced the closure of RCTV,
Venezuela's oldest private television network. Chavez's detractors
got more ammunition Tuesday when the president included another
opposition network, Globovision, among the "enemies of the homeland."

But the case of RCTV — like most things involving Chavez — has been
caught up in a web of misinformation. While one side of the story is
getting headlines around the world, the other is barely heard.The demise of RCTV is indeed a sad event in some ways for
Venezuelans. Founded in 1953, it was an institution in the country,
having produced the long-running political satire program "Radio
Rochela" and the blisteringly realistic nighttime soap opera "Por
Estas Calles." It was RCTV that broadcast the first live-from-
satellite images in Venezuela when it showed Neil Armstrong walking
on the moon in 1969.

But after Chavez was elected president in 1998, RCTV shifted to
another endeavor: ousting a democratically elected leader from
office. Controlled by members of the country's fabulously wealthy
oligarchy including RCTV chief Marcel Granier, it saw Chavez and his
"Bolivarian Revolution" on behalf of Venezuela's majority poor as a

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

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, nothing
related to Chavez or his supporters…. The idea was to create a
climate of transition and to start to promote the dawn of a new
country." While the streets of Caracas burned with rage, RCTV ran
cartoons, soap operas and old movies such as "Pretty Woman." 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.

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.

Granier and others should not be seen as free-speech martyrs. Radio,
TV and newspapers remain uncensored, unfettered and unthreatened by
the government. Most Venezuelan media are still controlled by the old
oligarchy and are staunchly anti-Chavez.

If Granier had not decided to try to oust the country's president,
Venezuelans might still be able to look forward to more broadcasts of
"Radio Rochela."