February 15, 2008

Venezuela Strengthens Community Media in “Battle of Ideas”

February 14th 2008, by Kiraz Janicke - Venezuelanalysis.com

Communication and Information Minister Andres Izarra speaking to President Chavez on his cell phone during a forum with community media. (VTV) Caracas, February 14, 2008, (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela's Communication and Information Minister, Andrés Izarra donated sixty-nine sets of audio-visual equipment to community television stations from around the country on Wednesday, with the objective of promoting a National System of Popular and Alternative Communication, to combat the "savage" opposition media campaign and increase the "communicational capacity" of Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution.

Speaking to over 400 community media representatives in the Cuartel San Carlos Historical Museum, Izarra stressed the importance of using community media to struggle for the truth, "to generate consciousness that allows for the creation of a new culture," as well as dealing with the day to day issues faced by the communities and promote values of solidarity.

Jhonny Pancho, a representative of Catia TV, one of Venezuela's oldest community television stations, whose slogan is "Don't just watch TV, make it!" said that the equipment would strengthen community production and consumption of communication. "The function of community media is to encourage the idea in our barrios, that the true protagonist of the new television is the people," Pancho stressed.

Pancho considered that the donation of equipment and the formation of an alternative media network "is to counterattack what the private media has done, the capitalist media, that wants to destroy our country."

Efrén Aguirre, an independent community TV producer who also welcomed the move by the government said, "The communication question reflects different interests. The private media obeys the interests of the capitalist class and our media reflects the interests of the community."

However, Gabriel Gil, President of Catia TV clarified that community media remains independent of the government. Catia TV doesn't hesitate to criticize public functionaries or incidents of bureaucracy Gil said.

"The editorial line of Catia TV responds to the necessities of the population with respect to the essential struggle against bureaucracy."

Collectives produce more than seventy percent of the programming of Catia TV, he added.

President Hugo Chavez, who spoke to the forum via telephone, also stressed the central role of alternative media in Venezuela's revolutionary process and reflected on an editorial published by a Venezuelan daily, titled "Politics is communication," that argued, among other things, communication constitutes 80 percent of success in politics.

For this reason, Chavez said, it's not strange that big capitalist interests devote their principal efforts to dominating the means of communication. "We can't allow this battle of ideas to weaken our process and our truth. It is necessary to strengthen this new communication strategy," he added.

He also called on the community media to use their programs to fight for the truth,
"We are battling for the dignity of the people and for the future of our youth. Go for the truth, criticize the government, criticize Chavez, criticize the ministers, criticize the enemy, attack hard and organized!" he said to loud applause.

A government decision not to renew the public broadcast license of private television station RCTV (which still transmits via cable and satellite), due to its consistent violations of Venezuela's Law on Responsibility in Television and Radio and active participation in the April 2002 military coup against Chavez, sparked an opposition outcry in May last year that there is "no freedom of expression" in Venezuela.

However, despite these claims, the vast majority of radio, television and print media remains in the private hands and are openly hostile to the government.

Gil argued that the Venezuelan people truly learnt the value of community TV during the military coup when the opposition forcefully shutdown media outlets such as Catia TV and state-owned Channel 8, while RCTV and other private TV channels broadcast false information.

Many government supporters argue that all the TV stations that actively participated in the military coup should be shut down and handed over to the people.

In recent weeks grass roots community groups have lodged a complaint with the Supreme Court calling for opposition private TV station, Globovision, to be investigated for violating media laws, saying it blatantly lies and manipulates information.

Even government opponents have slammed Globovision; a February 12 post on opposition blog site, Caracas Chronicles, criticized Globovision for its "frequently amateurish and breathlessly partisan reporting, at its role in keeping oppo supporters cooped up in a claustrophobic little bubble of know-nothing anti-Chávez fundamentalism."

"It's straightforward: Globo sucks," the post continued.

In recent weeks Chavez has argued that the means of communications should not be in the hands of capitalists who are "traitors to the people," and should instead be run by the people themselves.

In May and June community media collectives will hold a series of national conferences to discuss ways to further strengthen and develop the National System of Popular and Alternative Communication.

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