Friday, March 21, 2014

Self-Censorship in Venezuela

This post by David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz got me thinking about censorship:

The last minute removal of an article in Ultimas Noticias last weekend has generated a new round of controversy in Venezuelan media conglomerate Cadena Capriles. A press release from journalists association Colegio Nacional de Periodistas (CNP) recounts that the head of Ultimas Noticias’s investigative reporting unit, Tamoa Calzadilla quit her post in protest over censorship of the piece. (The unpublished article, already formatted can be read here.)

The general argument defending the government has been that the vast majority of media outlets are private and therefore, ostensibly, independent. Plus, you do see media messages highly critical of the government.

But censorship need not be blanket--it can be highly selective, and self-censorship occurs when, for example, reporters are pressured to avoid a story or stories are just yanked because the government doesn't like them. It is targeted but does not necessarily mean that no stories critical of the government can be published at all.

It can spread very quickly:

In his first meeting with Cadena Capriles journalists De Lima reportedly said“coup plans will not be on the front page.” The reference was to protest actions which the government portrays as coup attempts.

Refusing to discuss protests at all is just blanket censorship. But it seems to me that the more selective type is more relevant to Venezuela, and also why the accusations of blanket censorship are so easily refuted.

Along these lines, self-censorship seems not to get much scholarly attention. Blanket censorship is much easier to measure, whereas sporadic violations of free speech accompanied by sporadic allowances of anti-government messages are much tougher. This is a continuum, and measuring it as such would give us the opportunity to see how Venezuela stacks up against other countries, even the United States (think of the debate over whether to published leaked cables).

Absent that, we get a pretty useless discussion that ends up binary: "there is censorship in Venezuela, look at this case!" and "there isn't censorship in Venezuela, just look at all the opposition messages being broadcast!"


Adam S.,  1:34 AM  

I think the conflicts over self-censorhip following the ownership changes at Globovision and UN have to be seen in the context of the government's strategy of media de-polarization. This is how you get Gustavo Cisneros and Vladimir Villegas in the middle of the government's photo-ops. No-one here mentions it because we're so locked into a simplistic vision of Venezuela as being polarized between left and right, but another important element in this strategy was to remove a bunch of left-wing journalists from the state media - e.g. Mario Silva, Nicmer Evans, Toby Valderrama, Vladimir Acosta, Vanessa Davies. As someone put it to me, Venezuela's media war is losing all its warriors.

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