August 27, 2004

Venezuela: Divided Country, Biased Media

By Pilar Marrero
After the election, Venezuela remains a divided country. Its media, like its people, writes PNS contributor, Pilar Marrero, tend to see the world in black and white.

For a couple of days after Venezuela’s referendum had reaffirmed Hugo Chavez in the presidency of that country-which happens to be where I was born and raised- I dreaded calling home to Caracas and having ‘the conversation’ with my mom and brother.

I knew what they were going to say. Chavez is the devil and he’s committed fraud. Or at least, that’s what Venevision, Globovision and RCTV, all the privately owned television stations have been saying day and night.

“When you watch RCTV, Globovision and Venevision, what you get is a steady diet of a political position that people see as the truth, even though it doesn’t look at the whole reality of the country,” says Miguel Tinker Salas, a native Venezuelan and Associate Professor of History and Latin-American Studies at Pomona College.

Tinker, who recently returned from Venezuela where he has spent most of the past year on a sabbatical, says that watching those TV channels and comparing them to public television VTV, which is controlled and used by Chavez and his government, “is like seeing two different countries.”

Indeed, everybody who still trusts the privately owned media in Venezuela had to believe that Chavez would be defeated on August 15, the day of the election. The privately owned media also predicted victory after he was briefly overthrown April 11, 2002, and then again in 2003, after a general strike failed to bring him down.

In fact, a few minutes after official results were announced, opposition leaders accused the government of “massive fraud.” They seemed to really believe that the only democratic process could come from the anti- Chavez side. They said that it was impossible for him to win.

Or so they said.

Maybe the reason a lot of people seemed to be genuinely in shock when the results were announced — Chavez won with 58 percent of the vote — is because the opposition, and the corporate owned media, rarely look at the other side of Venezuela, the ones who never get covered except in the crime pages: the poor, the forgotten half. In fact, much more than half, they comprise about 75 percent of Venezuela’s population.

And so, on the day of the election, reporters for 24-hour news network Globovision were seen interviewing people about their enthusiasm for democracy and their willingness to wait in long lines for hours because of the slow voting process. They never went to the poor barrios, only to the more affluent east side of Caracas. If they did, maybe they would have seen the massive support Chavez still has in those quarters. Chavez is said to have spent 2 billion dollars on social programs and propaganda in recent months.

In any case, in Venezuela nowadays, it’s hard to find a middle ground. The independent voices in the media are few and far between. It’s hard to find a balanced view of reality. That’s why everybody seems to speak in black and white and that’s why even after the referendum is over, half of Venezuela is celebrating and the other half (or slightly less) is still convinced that Chavez committed fraud.

After the coup in April 2002, privately owned televisions showed soap operas and American movies while the world condemned the illegal overthrow of the Chavez government, and thousands of his supporters flooded the streets around the presidential palace to demand his return. On the other side, there’s not much objectivity either. The president spent hours on public TV, Venezolana de Television, every Sunday, talking directly to the public in a marathon television show that often included him singing or reciting poems, hugging children, distributing money for social programs, and telling jokes. The public media outlet has become his privately owned channel of communication.

I finally called home. My mother was making great efforts to avoid the topic that, I’m sure, was number one on her mind. She knew I didn’t automatically believe everything the opposition said, but we loved each other too much to let politics come between us. She asked me how I was and we chatted as if nothing happened. My brother, always the prankster, chanted ‘fraud’ from the background for me to hear. My mother and I both ignored him and decided to concentrate on each other instead.

Before hanging up, my mother said, “I love you,” and I did the same, sounding a kiss through the line. Maybe all Venezuelans could do the same: stop obsessing about Chavez and try to find out more of what we have in common.

I sure hope so.

Pilar Marrero (Pilar.Marrero@laopinion.com) is the political columnist and metropolitan editor for La Opinion Newspaper in Los Angeles. She was born and raised in Venezuela and lives in the US.

Return to the Frontpage