Row over National Assembly Television Gives Glimpse of Battles to Come

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

Following the announcement of the first election results on December 6,  Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) broadcast live from the MUD’s headquarters to hear declarations by opposition deputy-elect Henry Ramos Allup. Asked by a reporter about the agenda of the new National Assembly, Ramos Allup answered: “one of the first things we will do is to open the doors of the Assembly to journalists.”

The National Assembly has been turned by Diosdado Cabello into a close pigpen (chiquero) where only that disgrace (vergüenza) that is the National Assembly channel (ANTV) is allowed to broadcast. This is going to change because we will change the channel so that all deputies are respected, even those of the minority.

VTV cut short Ramos Allup’s declarations and returned its coverage to the studio were participants spent the next half hour venting their indignation at the newly elected deputy’s declarations.

One of the participants said that “the right” had only won the elections minutes before but was already “threatening to fire all the workers of ANTV.” Another said that he himself had been a worker of ANTV before coming to VTV, and made Ramos Allup responsible for any threat made on his life in the coming days. Yet another compared Ramos Allup’s attitude to the respect that the government had always shown to opposition deputies and asked “the right to stay out of the spaces that belong to the Revolution.”

In later declarations Ramos Allup reiterated. “The ANTV will cease to be a channel covering only one group of deputies or for one party: the constitutional principle of true and timely information will be respected from now on.”

Assamblea Nacional Televisión (ANTV) is a non-profit organization funded by the National Assembly. It began broadcasting in February 2005. In its stated mission ANTV says the channel aims to “strengthen legislative culture by orienting the people so that they can take over the Legislative Power as a fundamental component of the State.” As its first objective stated on its webpage ANTV says it will “strengthen the Bolivarian and Revolutionary process.”

Up to 2009 private media was still allowed to enter the chamber with television cameras. But in 2009 Globovision showed images of a PSUV deputy apparently watching pornography on his laptop. The deputy said he was checking private e-mail and denounced Globovision for impinging on his privacy. Subsequently the directorate of the Assembly banned journalists from filming the sessions.

In 2010 the Assembly approved a new set of rules for its internal functioning by which only ANTV, with the support of the public Venezolana de Televisón, would be allowed to broadcast live from the chamber. The rules also stated that journalists not from ANTV could watch the ANTV broadcast of the debates in a separate room. The rules effectively bared private media from covering the debate of the Assembly.

Opposition critics have long asserted that ANTV simply functions as one more pro-government channel in the network of state-media. Indeed while the channel regularly shows the interventions of the pro-government deputies live, it rarely does so for opposition deputies.

The web page of ANTV shows the same partisan bias found in other public channels: Chavista symbols cover the page and news articles follow the government’s discursive line: for example the front article reporting the election results has not been updated and says that the opposition has reached 99 elected deputies, meaning it only controls a simple majority. The article is entitled “Get to know the attributions the bourgeoisie will have in the National Assembly.”

The government reacted strongly to Ramos Allup’s declarations. Current AN President Diosdado Cabello announced that an agreement has been reached with the media regulating government agency (CONATEL) to give the workers of ANTV and AN Radio the control of the channels. “The opposition has attacked and insulted the workers of ANTV, they have even fired some of them already,” said Cabello.

The next day the Chavista controlled current Assembly approved the proposal putting ANTV under direct control of its workers. The proposal, according to the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, “was made by a group of workers of ANTV, seeking to protect the labor force form the threats made by elected deputy Henry Ramos Allup.”