Under Chávez: Media Harassed with Online Hacking, Phone Tapping and Censorship

by Gregorio Salazar    /  January 23, 2012  / 1 Comment

Venezuelan cartoonist Roberto Weil

'Ready, Set... Go!' The Venezuelan state media under President Hugo Chávez seeks to establish 'information hegemony' by systematically closing private media outlets. Copyright Roberto Weil

Presidential elections will be held on October 7th this year, and like each time that an election approaches, actions that threaten the privacy of citizens are intensified. An example is the tapping of telephone calls, which is punishable in the National Constitution.  The tapping happens in two steps: First, the telephones of opposition leaders, media directors, and other dissidents are tapped and recorded. Next, their conversations are shared on the main state channel, Venezolana de Television, or channel 8. In various programs the hosts present the taped content at their pleasure, thereby politicizing private content. The program La Hojilla, for instance, released the content of a recording between presidential frontrunner María Corina Machado and her mother to try to disprove her claims of being shot at during a rally in a popular neighborhood west of the capital. Her claims had been profiled by independent media, and even by and official outlets.

  1. Journalists in Prison
  2. Las Poderosas
  3. On August 20, the newspaper 6to Poder published an article titled “Las poderosas de la revolución bonita” (The Powerful Women of the Beautiful Revolution), in which several high-ranking female judges and officials in President Hugo Chávez’s administration were described as having specific functions in a “cabaret directed by Mr. Chávez.” The story was accompanied by a photo montage that superimposed the officials’ heads onto the bodies of cabaret dancers.

  4. As a result Leocenis García, 6to Poder’s editor was held for nearly three months. He had been on hunger strike for two weeks to press for his release and the withdrawal of the charges against him.

In another instance, the aforementioned program, La Hojilla—from which President Chávez himself has announced government measures—recently created a scandal when the host of the program, Mario Silva, called Miguel Henrique Otera, the editor of the daily publication El Nacional,  “a son of a bitch.” Otera went to court to sue Silva.

After many weeks of deliberation, a judge determined that the statement launched against Otera was not defamatory, nor injurious, nor offensive, nor did it adversely affect the honor of the editor and his mother, and to restrict the use of the phrase would undermine Silva’s freedom of expression. The judge went so far as to rule out the videos submitted as evidence because they were not certified by the National Telecommunications Counsel (CONATEL), an agency as acquiescent to the Executive branch as the judiciary is. Not surprisingly CONTANEL repeatedly refused to certify the videos.

The lack of separation between powers is one of the recurring criticisms that have been made against Chávez’s government.

Paradoxically, weeks back, Denisse Bocanegra, a Ninth District/Circuit Judge, ordered the temporary closure of the weekly 6to Poder. Bocanegra also declared a custodial sentence against 6to Poder‘s president-editor, Leocenis Garcia, for the alleged crime of contempt. The charge was for publishing a photomontage that showed the heads of several branches of government as cabaret dancers. With this illustration, the weekly publication attempted to call attention to the officials’ state of docile prostration before the president of the Republic. The image showed members of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s Office, the Public Defender, the National Electoral Council, and the General Comptroller of the Republic, all of whom have been submissive to the interests of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV)—supposedly the main tool for the establishment of 21st Century Socialism.

The use of state media—which by definition should have the character of a public service—purely in the interests of perpetuating the head of power, is not disguised; it’s open and deliberate. The goal for state media was announced by the Minister of Communication and Information when the president of Telesur, Andrés Izarra, was instructed to establish an “information hegemony” in the hands of the Revolution.

“The situation surrounding freedom of expression becomes more dramatic if one considers that the government is the country’s most powerful advertiser.” – Gregorio Salazar

In pursuit of that hegemony firm steps have been taken, like the January 2010 closing of the highly-rated and insightful Radio Caracas Television, the oldest station in the country. The station did not have its radio license renewed and the government took control of its entire network of repeaters and antennas without the paying a dime. Thirty-two radio stations were closed two years ago with various allegations against them, and at the same time an order was issued preventing the exchange of information between the capital and the rest of Venezuela’s radio stations.

  1. Phone Tapping the Opposition
  2. The phone tapping happens in two steps: First, the telephones of opposition leaders, media directors, and other dissidents are tapped and recorded. Next, their conversations are shared on the main state channel, Venezolana de Television, or channel 8. In various programs the hosts present the taped content at their pleasure, thereby politicizing private content. The program La Hojilla, released the content of a recording between presidential frontrunner María Corina Machado and her mother to try to disprove her claims of being shot at during a rally in a popular neighborhood west of the capital. Her claims had been profiled by independent media, and even by and official outlets.
  3. This video depicts the attack against Machado during the presidential primaries.

The situation surrounding freedom of expression becomes more dramatic if one considers that the government is the country’s most powerful advertiser. That status was recently enhanced when an aggressive policy of nationalization put banks, steel mills, the national telephone company, electric companies, cement factories, supermarket chains, and other companies that were big advertisers into the hands of the government. Now the goverment controls the distribution guidelines of all these advertisers and rewards and punishes the outlets, increasing censorship and self-censorship.

In several of the major stations journalists critical of government management have left. A recent example of this is journalist Marta Colomina, of Unión Radio, whose program had high ratings and was considered an icon of the radical opposition.

Meanwhile, private media journalists now have restricted access to information sources from the official sector, at the whim of the officials. That’s the case for reporters from the television news network Globovisión, who can’t access many official institutions, and for reporter Andres Rojas, from the newspaper El National, who was blocked access to the headquarters of Petróleos de Venezuela. Likewise, those reporting on the National Assembly have restricted access to the session chamber and must get the information via a TV screen placed outside the chamber. To uphold such a measure, unprecedented in the history of parliamentary journalism in Venezuela, members of the previous legislature—made up only of Chavista members—amended the Internal Regulation and Debates of the National Assembly, restricting the number of sessions, and limiting speaking time for new members. The opposition has 65 parliamentary members of the 165 total yet was not supported by any of the three leaders of the Assembly. It’s worth noting that the opposing forces are in the minority— despite having received the most votes in legislative elections—after the electoral body, controlled by Chávez, modified the polling stations.

It’s unknown how far the Revolution will go in its gradual and persistent siege on the media and journalists. But at this point the majority of Venezuelans are well aware that remaining on the stage of public opinion via independent media is not an assured path on the road map of the Revolution. Chávez said many years ago: “The biggest stumbling block is the media revolution” and called on all journalists to be “an ethical revolution.” Later he reaffirmed: “If not for the media, I would have 80% popularity.” He has certainly forgotten the statement he made after the two failed coup attempts of 1992, when he humbly admitted: “I am a child of freedom of expression.”

Gregorio Salazar is a Venezuelan journalist, contributor for the Sunday Edition of the newspaper Tal Cual. Follow him on Twitter: @goyosalazar

About the Author

Gregorio Salazar is a Venezuelan journalist, contributor for the Sunday Edition of the newspaper Tal Cual. Follow him on Twitter: @goyosalazar

View all articles by Gregorio Salazar

One Comment on "Under Chávez: Media Harassed with Online Hacking, Phone Tapping and Censorship"

  1. Vladimiro Rinaldi (the poet ) March 7, 2012 at 11:28 am ·

    POEM AS A COMMENT

    (to Te Kupu and all the unknown and well known poets
    for a proposal of behaviour poetry)

    What is
    this very noisy silence
    and heart palpitation
    shiness-and-violence
    man under man,
    man on man
    and environment;
    what does it really mean ?

    all over the world ?

    What is
    this planet
    if not a biodiversity
    common country
    of all the creatures
    included human being
    Yes a commpom country
    to respect
    in the social and environmen
    for a future of peace
    and real justice
    with nobody injured
    or dead
    to be called foreigner?

    Who do we think we are
    only because
    we have hands
    and things to be made
    in China
    or elsewhere
    and economic crisis
    but not for the rich people
    who become richer
    even more
    and no reputable Vip
    in mass media ?

    What does all this man
    in democracy really
    to be called honest
    and not a bluff ?

    What is it
    living
    in a wonderful planet
    all this pollution
    and violence
    to be forced considering
    normal things
    or evidet uthopia ?

    When no respect
    is given
    and peace is denied
    and blood make poppies
    to run over the rocks
    of a desert or plop for a bang
    of stupid arrogant servilism
    as a golden bullet
    in the midle of front
    of the needy
    and no filter in photography
    of correct reportage ?

    What does it mean,
    what is it
    this absurd absence
    of dignity and freedom
    in poetry

    and no economic compensation?

    Publishers as dictators
    and mass medias servilism
    at global level
    why we have to hush
    all this about and not to shout
    our absence of honest real poetry
    fighting will
    against lies of publishers
    and evident invisible chains?

    Fellow poets
    at global level,
    chin up !
    Come on,
    this is time
    of behaviour poetry

    I do not hush
    I denounce
    I risk no publication
    or injuries and prison
    for myelf as an author
    and my hard working
    and dreams of children
    tpo make them true

    We want peace
    we want love
    we want reaòl friendship
    among the people
    and real social justice
    for everybody
    and respecting nature
    environment
    at global level
    poets of world unite
    make yourself and working
    behaviour poetry .
    Do not serve tiranny,
    having dignity
    in order to make better
    this overwhealming power
    of man on man
    and man on nature
    and environment
    in iots whole
    Let’s have dicnity
    Nobody pay us to be servants
    of poetry

    What all this mean and is ?

    No more complicity
    by silence and shiness
    Poetry is Poetry
    poets must have a dignity
    and not to be servants of anybody
    We have a task,we are poets,

    To escape from a prison
    of silence in poetry
    and servilism very loud noise
    and free poetry
    wonderful innocent butterfly
    or coloured bird
    or white dove
    unjustly and cruelly put in a cage
    by the establishment.
    of the invisible chains
    of worldwide status quo-

    P-S- The author apologise with the readers
    for possible spelling mistakes
    he is not Englishmother language
    and has been operated for cataracts.

    Poem by Vladimiro Rinaldi
    born Italy,Rome,on the 16th March 1942,
    in the working class area
    of i Tiburtino Terzo-

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