Taking advantage of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez' state visit to France on November 19 and 20, 2007, Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) published a letter addressed to French president Nicolas Sarkozy in which they denounce “some disturbing tendencies of [Chávez'] regime [and] his behavior on the international scene.” The Paris-based organization – which adopts a political position from the start by referring to a democratically elected government with the pejorative and stigmatizing term “regime” – thus continues the disinformation campaign it has undertaken against Venezuela (1).
“Very rarely has an elected head of state placed so many obstacles in the way of freedom of speech during his mandate”, asserts Robert Ménard, the association's general secretary for the past 22 years.
"The [Venezuelan] president [has silenced] any critical or dissident voice [and has eliminated] [...] progressively any form of counterbalance to power, particularly that of the press” (2).
Thus, according to RSF, freedom of speech does not exist in Venezuela and the opposition has no media available to express its disagreement with the government's policies.
There is a relatively simple way to investigate the veracity of the claims made by the French entity in “defense of press freedom”. It would suffice to have a look at the Venezuelan press and measure the space devoted to criticism of Chávez and his policies. The El Universal daily opines that the constitutional reform subject to a popular referendum on December 2, 2007*, contains a number of “aspects perilous to freedom of the press” and has no qualms in calling the Bolivarian government a “totalitarian [...] regime [...]”. (3)
The same newspaper accuses Chávez of scaring away foreign investors; it emphasizes “the risk of investing in Venezuela” because of government policies (4); it publishes a long interview with Julio Borges, national coordinator of the opposition party Primero Justicia who claims that “Chávez wants to put the country into a straightjacket [...] incompatible with the Venezuelan people's culture of freedom” (5), stating that the Bolivarian project “has failed” (6), accusing the government of repression and of violation of “the autonomy of the universities” (7), lashes out at Chávez because of his “immorality” (8); echoes a campaign that seeks to put the nation's president on trial for “a conspiracy against the republican system and usurpation of power” (9), and publishes Robert Ménard's open letter to Nicolas Sarkozy (10). And all this was in the November 20, 2007 edition alone.
For its part, the daily El Nacional accuses the authorities of repressing students (11), offers generous column space to the opponents of the constitutional reform (12) and evokes suspicions about alleged fraud to occur during the December 2007 referendum (13). In their editions of November 19 and 20, 2007, the newspaper Tal Cual denounces attacks on “freedom of expression” (14), virulently attacks the constitutional reform (15) – because it would suspend “constitutional continuity” (16)– branding the reform a “coup d'état” (17), calls for “a No vote to preserve democracy” (18) and accuses Chávez of “playing at being the hero” in the issue of the Columbian hostages (19). In addition, the newspaper decries “the dangerous alliance” between Venezuela and Iran (20).
The daily El Mundo inveighs against the violence of the authorities (21), complains about inflation and holds the government responsible for it (22), insists that the reform poses a danger to the Venezuelan people (23) and condemns the rapprochement with Iran (24). The newspaper El Tiempo speaks out against the shortage of some food products (25) and the health hazards found in some parts of the country (26). The TV channel Globovisión accuses the government of political repression (27) and affirms that the reform is a “crime against freedom of expression”, quoting the Inter American Press Association (28). On the other hand, the TV channel Venevisión – repeating the words of the Venezuelan chamber of commerce Fedecámaras (29) and claiming that the referendum would undoubtedly be tarnished by “fraud” (30)– admonishes its audience to reject the constitutional project for being adverse to “democratic values.”
This brief overview of the Venezuelan press, limited to the editions of November 19 and 20, 2007, shows the extent to which Robert Ménard’s claims are nothing but disinformation. The majority of the country's private press, representing 80% of the media, is characterized by an extreme vehemence – often to the edge of fanaticism – against President Chávez. To accuse Chávez of posing an obstacle to “freedom of speech” borders on the absurd. Any specialist on Venezuela worth their salt can testify to the freedom seen in the media, a freedom that would be unacceptable in the “fatherland of human rights” of France (it is ironic to see Ménard appealing to Nicolas Sarkozy whose control over the French media is astounding, to protect freedom of expression). Any empirical analysis, even a superficial one, leads to that conclusion. Consequently, RSF is not credible when bandying about untruths such as this, which can, in any case, be easily disproven.
RSF goes further, saying that “RCTV, the nation's oldest and most popular TV channel, has been excluded from the open signal broadcast spectrum at the orders of Hugo Chávez and “even against the opinion of a great part of his own supporters, while disregarding Inter American legal principles” (31). Here, we are faced with a tremendous lie. In the first place, RCTV is a TV channel that had overtly supported the coup d'état launched against president Chávez in April 2002 –a detail that seems to be negligible in the eyes of RSF, who does not deign to recall it – without having to take the consequences (it is pointless to ask what would have happened to a French TV channel supporting a coup d'état against Nicolas Sarkozy).
Moreover, we are dealing with the most heavily sanctioned TV channel of Venezuelan history due to infringements of the law (but only once under the Chávez government). (32) Finally, RCTV has not been excluded from the open signal airwaves “at the orders of Hugo Chávez”. The license of the channel had expired on May 28, 2007 and the national telecommunications commission of Venezuela (CONATEL)) –and not Chávez– in view of RCTV’s track record decided not to renew the license and open the frequency to another channel, a decision that was in perfectly in accordance with Venezuelan legislation. (33)
On the other hand, and contrary to the claims of RSF, the decision was backed by immense popular support as shown by the demonstrations of several hundred thousand of people between May 27 and June 2, 2007. (34) Moreover, the president had suggested subjecting the decision on TV license renewals to a popular referendum. Ultimately, the decision taken was perfectly legal under both article 156 of the Venezuelan Constitution and with article 108 of the Law on Telecommunications, articles that give the government the power to regulate access to the open signal broadcast spectrum. (35) Since he was elected president, Chávez has never closed a single media outlet. Since 1998, only two outlets temporarily stopped broadcasting. These were Canal 8 and Catia TV, which were closed between April 11 and 13, 2002, by coup regime, whose actions were hailed by RCTV.
Every year and all over the world, the authorities decide not to renew numerous concessions, though without arousing the indignation of RSF. The French organization never expressed their opinion on the cases of the Spanish TV channels TV Laciana in 2004, TV Católica in 2005 and Tele-Asturias in 2006, whose concessions were not renewed. The same thing happened to the British channels One TV, Actionworld and StarDate TV 24 in 2006 and with Look for Love 2 in 2007. (36)
RSF also denounces “the degree of control exercised by the Venezuelan head of state on the media landscape” (37) Once again, this is a monumental lie. As for the VHF broadcast spectrum, in 2000 there were 19 private TV channels and 1 public channel. In 2006, the number increased to 20 private channels as against a lone public channel. Since May 28, 2007, there are 19 private and two public TV channels, Venezolana de Televisión and Tves, which replaced RCTV in the open signal channels on the public airwaves. As for the UHF broadcast spectrum, in 2000 existed 28 private and two public channels. In 2006, there were 44 private and 6 public channels. As for AM radio stations, in 2000 and 2006 there were 36 public stations compared to 143 private stations. There were 3 public FM stations compared to 365 private stations in 2000. In 2006 the number went up to 440 private and 10 public radio stations. (38) Thus, RSF is deceiving the public.
RSF opposed a draft law that seeks to limit foreign financing of non-governmental organizations. As a matter of fact, the United States, which backed the 2002 coup d'état, is now funding a number of organizations in the opposition. The lawyer Eva Golinger revealed the names of the persons sponsored by Washington. To Ménard, however, this decision constitutes implementation of “an veritable lockstep on civil society and its components”. (39) Does he think for one minute that France would accept an opposition -which, by the way, had been responsible for a coup d'état - funded by a foreign power? Paragraph 411-4 of the French Penal Code is eloquent in this regard:
“The act of sharing intelligence with a foreign power, an enterprise or organization that is foreign or under foreign control or with its agents, with the aim of provoking hostilities or acts of aggression against France, shall be punished with thirty years of criminal detention and a fine of € 450,000. The same penalties shall apply to the act of providing to a foreign power, an enterprise or organization that is foreign or under foreign control or its agents, the means to undertake hostilities or realize acts of aggression against France.”
Finally, Robert Ménard emphasizes that his “offers to engage in dialogue had met with the accusation that is as grotesque as it is unwarranted, that our organization is working on behalf of US intelligence, and would organize another coup d'état”. (40) How could it be otherwise when we know that RSF supported the coup d'état of April 2002? Need we recall the statement published by RSF on April 12, 2002?:
“Locked in the presidential palace, Hugo Chávez signed his resignation during the night due to the pressure exerted by the military. After that, he was taken to Fort Tiuna, the main military base of Caracas, where he is being kept under arrest. Immediately thereafter, Pedro Carmona, president of [the chamber of commerce] Fedecámaras, announced that he would lead a new transition government. He affirmed that his name was the result of a ‘consensus’ reached between the Venezuelan civil society and the leadership of the Armed Forces”. (41)
The truth is that Chávez never “signed his resignation”, yet RSF took up this version of the coup plotters unreservedly and tried to convince international public opinion that Pedro Carmona was the new legitimate president.
And how could it be otherwise when we know that RSF is being funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) (42)? What is the NED? According to the New York Times, “The National Endowment for Democracy, created 15 years ago to do in the open what the Central Intelligence Agency has done surreptitiously for decades, spends $30 million a year to support things like political parties, labor unions, dissident movements and the news media in dozens of countries [...]”. (43) According to Allen Weistein, who helped approve the legislation establishing NED, “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA”. (44) Thus, RSF receives financial resources from a CIA front and cannot be impartial.
Robert Ménard and his organization are not credible when they claim to be exclusively interested in “freedom of the press”. The truth is that they unquestionably work for a political agenda and are engaged in a fierce crusade against the democratic and popular government of Hugo Chávez. It is about time for Reporters Without Borders to take off the mask and show their true face to the light of day.
(1) Reporteros sin Fronteras, “Reporteros sin Fronteras escribe a Nicolas Sarkozy en la víspera de la entrevista con su homólogo venezolano Hugo Chávez”; Reporters Without Borders write to Nicolas Sarkozy shortly before the meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez. November 19th, 2007. http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24427 (consulted on November 19th, 2007).
(3) Vivián Castillo, “SIP ratifica validez de su último informe sobre Venezuela”; IAPA ratifies the validity of its latest report on Venezuela. El Universal, 20 November 20th, 2007.
(4) Víctor Salmerón, “La inversión extranjera cae a tan sólo 317 millones de dólares”; Foreign investment plummeting to a mere $317 million. El Universal, November 20th, 2007.
(5) Elvia Gómez, “‘Hugo Chávez quiere ponerle al país un zapato apretado’’”; Hugo Chávez seeks to straightjacket the county. El Universal, November 20th, 2007.
(6) Ana María Pérez, “Alcalde de Santa Teresa se pronunció en contra de reforma”; Santa Teresa's mayor speaks out against the reform. El Universal, November 20th, 2007.
(7) Zuma López, “Detenido decano y tres alumnos de UPEL Táchira”; Imprisoned: Dean and three pupils of the UPEL of the State of Táchia. El Universal, November 20th, 2007.
(8) El Universal, “MAS llama a abstencionista a votar por unidad del país”; MAS calls upon abstentionist to vote for the sake of the country's unity. November 20th, 2007.
(9) El Universal, “Breves políticos”; Political news in brief. November 20th, 2007.
(10) El Universal, “RSF criticó a Chávez en carta abierta a Sarkozy”; RSF criticizes Chávez in open letter to Sarkozy. November 20th, 2007.
(11) Eleonora Delgado & Simón González, “Órganos de seguridad de Táchira reprimen a estudiantes”; Táchira state security repressing students. El Nacional, November 19th, 2007.
(12) El Nacional, “Ismael García conduce programa contra la reforma en Globovisión”; Ismael García conducts program against the reform in Globovisión. November 18th, 2007; El Nacional, “Borges: La oposición tiene grandes posibilidades de ganar referéndum”; Borges: There is a strong possibility the opposition will win the referendum. November 18th, 2007.
(13) El Nacional, “Opositores desconfían de la imparcialidad del ente comicial”; Opposition members distrust impartiality of the electoral authority. November 16th, 2007.
(14) Patricia Clarembaux, “Miente, que algo queda”; Lie, and something will stick. Tal Cual, November 20th, 2007.
(15) Ramón Sahmkow, “El 112, el artículo de la reforma en el que ser rico es malo”; Article 112, the article of the reform in which being rich is bad. Tal Cual, November 20th, 2007.
(16) Tal Cual, “‘Miedo a la reforma llega al chavismo’, según Martínez”; ‘Fear of the reform reaches Chavez supporters’, according to Martínez. November 19th, 2007.
(17) Tal Cual, “Baduel habla esta vez hacia el mundo”; This time, Baduel speaks to the world. November 19th, 2007.
(18) Tal Cual, “Votar No para preservar la democracia”; Vote No to preserve democracy. November 19th, 2007.
(19) Tal Cual, “Uribe da plazo a Chávez para que siga jugando al héroe”; Uribe grants Chávez a some time to play at being a hero. November 20th, 2007.
(20) Tal Cual, “La alianza peligrosa”; A dangerous alliance. November 19th, 2007.
(21) El Mundo, “Batalla a tiros en Sabana Grande”; Shoot-out in Sabana Grande. November 20th, 2007.
(22) El Mundo, “Cotización del dólar no oficial continúa con tendencia alcista”; Unofficial dollar exchange rate continues upward trend. November 20th, 2007.
(23) El Mundo, La independencia de los poderes es fundamental para ser consejeros ”; Independence of powers is fundamental for being counselors. November 20th, 2007.
(24) El Mundo, “Chávez y Ahmadineyad juntos y revueltos ”; Chávez and Ahmadineyad united and mischievous. November 20th, 2007.
(25) K. Jurado & K. Irigoyen, “El pollo también escasea en los supermercados de la zona ”; Chicken too is becoming scarce in supermarkets of the zone. El Tiempo, November 20th, 2007.
(26) El Tiempo, “¿Y las autoridades sanitarias?”; And where are the health authorities? November 20th, 2007.
(27) JDG, “Policía del municipio Junín del Estado Táchira detubo a director-decano de la UPEL ”; Police of the Junín municipality of the State of Táchira detained director-dean of the UPEL. Globovisión, November 19th, 2007.
(28) AQB, “SIP: reforma constitucional amenaza libertad de expresión en Venezuela”; IAPA: Constitutional reform threatens freedom of expression in Venezuela. Globovisión, November 19th, 2007.
(29) Venevisión, “Fedecámaras reitera su rechazo a la reforma constitucional y pide la postergación del referendo”; The Venezuelan chamber of commerce (Fedecámaras) reiterates its disapproval of the constitutional reforms and asks for postponing the referendum. November 19th, 2007.
(30) Venevisión, “Copei considra que la oposición debe unirse para cuidar los votos el 2D ”; Copei believes the opposition needs to unite in order to keep an eye on the votes on December 2. November 19th, 2007.
(31) Reporteros sin Fronteras, “Reporteros sin Fronteras escribe a Nicolas Sarkozy en la víspera de la entrevista con su homólogo venezolano Hugo Chávez”; Reporters Without Borders write to Nicolas Sarkozy shortly before the meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez. op. cit.
(32) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, “RCTV ha sido el canal más sancionado en Venezuela”; RCTV is the most sanctioned TV channel in Venezuela. March 29th, 2007.
(33) Lamia Oulalou, “Chávez bâillonne la télé d’opposition ”, Le Figaro, May 26th, 2007.
(34) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, “Hoy el pueblo demostró que está mobilizado en apoyo a la revolución”; Today the people of Venezuela showed that it is mobilizing in support of the revolution. June 2nd, 2007.
(35) L’Express, “Chávez bâillonne la dernière chaîne d’opposition ”, May 29th, 2007.
(36) Jean-Luc Mélanchon, “Où va la bonne conscience anti-chaviste ”, May 26th, 2007, www.jean-luc-melanchon.fr (consulted on May 30th, 2007).
(37) Reporteros sin Fronteras, “Reporteros sin Fronteras escribe a Nicolas Sarkozy en la víspera de la entrevista con su homólogo venezolano Hugo Chávez”; Reporters Without Borders write to Nicolas Sarkozy shortly before the meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez. op. cit.
(38) Telesur, “Informe RSF ‘Cierre de Radio Caracas Television. La consolidación de una mentira mediática a través de 39 embustes ”; RSF Report ‘Closure of Radio Caracas Television.’ The consoliditation of a media lie through 39 lies. June 7th, 2007.
(39) Reporteros sin Fronteras, “Reporteros sin Fronteras escribe a Nicolas Sarkozy en la víspera de la entrevista con su homólogo venezolano Hugo Chávez”; Reporters Without Borders writes to Nicolas Sarkozy shortly before meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez. op. cit.
(41) Reporteros sin Fronteras, “Un journaliste a été tué, trois autres ont été blessés et cinq chaînes de télévision brièvement suspendues”, April 12th, 2002. www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=1109 (consulted on November 13th, de 2006).
(42) Robert Ménard, “Forum de discussion avec Robert Ménard”; Discussion forum with Robert Ménard. Le Nouvel Observateur, April 18th, 2005. www.nouvelobs.com/forum/archives/forum_284.html (consulted on April 22nd, 2005).
(43) John M. Broder, “Political Meddling by Outsiders: Not New for U.S. ”; The New York Times, March 31st, 1997, p. 1.
(44) Allen Weinstein, Washington Post, September 22nd, 1991.
Original article published on 5th December 2007
About the author
Iris Buehler and James Hollander are members of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and reviser are cited.
URL of this article on Tlaxcala: http://www.tlaxcala.es/pp.asp?reference=4290&lg=en