Control over Pro-government Media Tightens, but Still Incomplete

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde

During the course of 2013 the Maduro government has progressively increased its control over state-media. However, some glimpses of independence can still be seen in web-based outlets.

Of course, the Venezuelan government’s participation in mass media has grown dramatically over the past decade. It now includes four television networks—four national (Venezolana de Television, TVes, Vive, ANTV) and one international (Telesur)—multiple radio networks and stations (both national and regional), and several national public newspapers, such as Diario Vea and Correo del Orinoco. There are also multiple free newspapers such as Ciudad CCS in Caracas. Earlier this year, these various government media outlets were brought together into the SIBCI (Sistema Bolivariana de Comunicación e información). The SIBCI has an active internet presence with real time updates through the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias.

Independent or critical voices have always been few and far between in these outlets. For the most part they consistently and unapologetically tow the government line—for example blaming economic and infrastructure problems on an “economic war” waged by the enemies of the country and using the term “fascist” to refer to the Venezuelan opposition.

But the Maduro government has progressively increased its control over public media, pushing out some of its more radical commentators.

In August, Heiber Barreto, a pro-government political commentator who together with Nicmer Evans conducts  based radio show “Golpe de Timón” openly questioned the Maduro government’s communicational strategy, claiming that the government was out to win the support of opposition supporters and of so called “soft chavismo” for the municipal elections.

Barreto pointed to the shutdown of at least 10 public media radio and TV shows with a critical editorial line, including his own TV show ¿Cara o Sello? that had been cancelled because of “pressures from above.” The list of “censured” programs, according to Barreto, also includes shows by historian Vladimir Acosta, and by commentators Alberto Nolia Papeles de Mandinga and Toby Valderrama Un Grano de Maiz.

Nolia called the closure of his show a case of “censure” by Maduro. His program was cancelled after he criticized the government’s gun control policy as “ridiculous, incoherent, and stupid,” affirming that “Chávez had wanted his people to be armed, how else are we going to defend ourselves form a gringo invasion?”  

All of this follows the suspension of the most important pro-government La Hojilla, last May after recordings of conversations between host Mario Silva and an alleged Cuban intelligence agent were made public. La Hojilla returned in mid-November, although only as a radio program and an internet video stream.

Most of the stories above have been gleaned from the pro-government www.aporrea.org web page which escapes SIBCI control. It regularly carries articles that are critical of specific government measures while claiming loyalty to the revolution and to Chavez’s legacy. In an interview published in El Universal, founder Gonzalo Gomez expressed the idea of internal, loyal criticism: “Aporrea sometimes seems to be opposition, but it is always on the left.”

Good recent examples of this are articles such as: “What is going on in SIDOR” in which the pro-government Marea Socialista group criticizes Maduro for dismissing the demands of workers unions of the Guayana industrial region as mere acts of “sabotage” induced by the opposition; “The Vice-ministry for the Supreme Happiness, Coca Cola and McDonald’s Happy Meals” by Luigino Bracci, arguing that the Bolivarian government has done more for the happiness of people that any soda or junkfood company, but that perhaps the name of the agency could have been better chosen; and “I’m fed up DAKA and the government” by Rubén Marcano, claiming that the opposition is ultimately responsible for speculation and inflation, but that government corruption and inefficiency also share the blame.

Aporrea also continues to publish pieces by leftist writers, such as the Mexican/German Marxist critic Heinz Dieterich, who has been excluded from Venezuela’s public media because of his criticism of the government.