Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Free Speech vs. Press Responsibility: The Venezuela Situation

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been making worldwide headlines this week with his closure of Radio Caracas Television network (RCTV), the country's oldest television channel, founded in 1953. The move comes as part of a larger effort to "socialize" the country's media with government-backed channels such as TVes, which broadcasts cultural programs. Chavez had earlier accused CNN of comparing him to Osama bin Laden by juxtaposing images of the two during a broadcast. CNN acknowleged the mix-up, but denied comparing Chavez with the al-Qaida leader.

Most international coverage of the station closings is overwhelmingly negative, with several media rights groups calling it a serious blow to free speech. Chavez and his supporters counter that the privately-owned independent stations do not represent the interests of Venezuela's people, and that many of these stations were supporting overthrow attempts and some had even encouraged assassination attempts. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) points out that in 2002, RCTV participated in a short-lived coup that temporarily removed Chavez' democratically-elected government and that once Chavez returned to power, RCTV refused to report on it, forcing the question of a media outlet's responsibility to report relevant news events, and the consequences of abdicating that responsibility.

Student protests against the closings continue, and police have responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Several students have been injured and one police officer has suffered a broken leg.

Other reading:

Yahoo! News

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting


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