Sunday, August 02, 2009

Censorship and glass houses

The coup government in Honduras has been censoring media and harassing journalists, and pro-government media there laments the fact that the Venezuelan government is censoring media and threatening to harass journalists who "manipulate the news with the purpose of transmitting a false perception of the facts." The Venezuelan news agency has lamented the fact that Zelaya's supporters were being targeted for censorship because they were not transmitting the coup government's view of the facts.


Anonymous,  11:53 AM  

Censorship is bad everywhere but the HUGE difference between Honduras and Venezuela is that the coup govt will be over in a few months in Honduras. But in Venezuela censorship and misuse of the state powers against all that oppose Chavez will only deepen.

Honduras is a very unique case but Venezuela's model, the real threat to democracy and institutions in the region, is being imitated and adapted by others, such as Nicaragua.

The good news is that with what happened in Honduras, and the elections in Argentina, it seems the ALBA-type nonsense will be limited to a few small countries. The rest appear to have grown up.

Slave Revolt,  2:51 PM  

Greg, your framing of "censorship" is a wee bit dishonest and suffers the age-old class blinders of many liberals in the academic community in the US.

First, what is democratic about allowing oligarchs and powerful corporations to control the volume of media within a nation? Here in the US corporAtions use the publically owned airwaves to manage perceptions, attack the democratic tendency, and to grossly misrepresent that which is verifiablly true. This is called propaganda and is fundamentally undemocratic, an attack on the people.

Given the role played by privately owned and oligarchic media in the Americas, it is entirely democratic and reasonable to place constraints on media behavior. This is especially true for more democratic, left governments under seige from the empire.

Context matters, and you make a cAtagorical error in comparing a US backed coup government with a democratic left government, Venezuela.

So, a discussion of censorship, to be cogent and no knee-jerk, would entail fleshing out assumptions undergirding the nature of social classes, human rights, democracy, and so on.

But the goal, I think, is to purposfully confuse thecentral issues at hand: how can and "should" information flow in societies that seek to protect themselves from external threats, and deal with looming problems, the work that needs to be done.

Propaganda is the distortion of information in order to protect hierarchies (class domination) and onerous traditions (property relations) that, upon democratic scrutiny, simply cannot be justified.

Unjust hierarchies need to be challenged and dismanteled.

In short, your framing of the structural changes occuring in societies striving to extricate themselves from under the imperialist and comprador boot is a specie of propaganda, a slight of hand.

But this is what is expected of the intellectual in less democratic societies. However, intellectuals have a responsibility to their fellow humans to enlighten and help liberate from the myriad fetters and pathologies that are, literally, jeporadizing life on this planet.

Anonymous,  7:21 PM  

Sovereignty is grossly overrated. Parts of Latin America clearly can't govern themselves and would be well-advised to have someone else do it for them.

Anonymous,  7:23 PM  

Missed the relevant link:

Anonymous,  11:51 PM  

There was a time when readers could expect academics to know the difference between censoring with an O and censuring with a U. Just what else are you confused about?

Greg Weeks 7:50 AM  

Ha! I didn't notice that until you pointed it out. Duly corrected.

leftside 7:31 PM  

Umm... who exactly has been censored in Venezuela? Unlike in Honduras, when did Venezuelan troops occupy radio and tv stations? When did the military assault and arrest journalists? In Venezuela, the dominant media discourse is anti-Government. Where is the anti-coup discourse in Honduran media? Buried or underground.

In normal times, the "market" is the biggest censor. As long as the news media is allowed to be dominated by the richest people in the country, we should not be surprised by this. The opposition controlled media in Venezuela gives practically zero space to positive news or information the Government wants to communicate. Their lack of basic journalistic ethics is a crime against the Venezuelan people, who have a right to be free from intentional deception of the facts (the US has laws on the books about this as well).

There can be legitimate discussion about the proposed media law in Venezuela (ie. not approved by Congress yet). I think some of its language legitimately causes concern about possible abuse of implementation. But can we wait to see the final Bill (or even until someone actually gets prosecuted under its provisions) before throwing out loaded words?

You can can not compare measures implemented by an army outside the law during a coup to suppress basic truths coming from community media sources to (possible) measures being debated in a legislature designed (however imperfectly) to protect the truth from a cabal of rich media owners who have showed themselves unwilling to play fair.

Justin Delacour 10:17 PM  

In normal times, the "market" is the biggest censor. As long as the news media is allowed to be dominated by the richest people in the country, we should not be surprised by this.

Right, but notice how this point totally evades people like Jose Miguel Vivanco. He (and you) are right that some of the legal language that's being proposed in Venezuela is problematic, but the whole debate about media regulation is deeply tinged with a bourgeois conception of "censorship," whereby only the state is conceived as being guilty of censorship. Somehow the daily censorship for which corporate media are responsible is left completely out of the equation.

leftside 3:14 AM  

his point totally evades people like Jose Miguel Vivanco.

Has he ever said one good word about the democratization of media voices that has occurred under Chavez (ie. the explosion in community radio and tv?) Has he ever said a word about the historic decrease in extreme poverty and desperation? Or the expanded rights to health care, education, housing, food, transportation, etc. He and HRW would have more respect if they respected ALL forms of human rights (economic, social, cultural) - not just the US-centric civil and political conceptions.

Anonymous,  5:37 AM  

Whatta load a crap! It doesn't do any good to talk about economic rights or bourgeois conceptions of censorship when all you are doing is justifying censorship. Closing media outlets for the content of their message is wrong. PERIOD. Poor people are entitled to a free and unfettered marketplace of political ideas just as anyone else. The state is only justified in censorship, regardless of the intent, in the most extreme cases. Political speech that you find distasteful should be countered with more more not less speech. The state should stay out of it. Ah, but that is difficult, because not only must populists articulate their thoughts clearly, they must convince. From Jacksonians and the Gag Rule to Peron and his critics, It has always been, and will always be, easier to use the political power of the majority to censor. Thank God none of you are in positions of political power.

Anonymous,  7:58 AM  

Thank God none of you are in positions of political power.

so true!

leftside 12:56 PM  

Political speech that you find distasteful should be countered with more more not less speech. The state should stay out of it.

You really don't see the contradiction here? When the elites dominate the media, how exactly are more voices (that may oppose their interests) upposed to be heard? The State has a very important positive role to play in democratizing media. Saying the state should "stay out of it" pretends that a capitalist dominated media is perfect and provides all the diversity that is required. Is this what you are arguing? A healthy democratic media would represent all viewpoints, not just those with the money and power to control things as they are.

Closing media outlets for the content of their message is wrong.

Who is arguing in favor of this? What outlets are you speaking of? All I defended was the right of people to not have their news intentionally distorted. And again, this is illegal in the US right now. Currently, the FCC is considering going further - implementing "behavior rules" to improve journalistic quality (as well as mandating non-entertainment programming once again).

So let me ask you, anonomous, point blank? Are you ok with the media intentionally distorting the news? Do you think the marketplace of ideas is able to be diverse enough when only the elites are able to control the media?

leftside 2:18 PM  

Alejandro Villatoro, managing owner of Radio Globo (the only independent anti-coup radio station in the capital) reported today that it has received a notificación from authorities that the station will be closed in coming days.

Slave Revolt,  5:39 PM  

The ability of a small wealthy elite to dominate the flow of ideas--way out of proportion to their numbers in the general population--is fundamentally oppressive and undemocratic.

The ability to disseminate ideas to the citizenry should have nothing to do with controlling huge amounts of capital. Period.

Democracy cannot exist in such a situation, and it never has.

leftside 5:43 PM  

BTW - it appears the supposed proposed new media law in Venezuela is not even going to be discussed by the National Assembly. Apparently, a draft bill was never even presented to the relevant subcommittee to discuss. There was only a proposal made by the Attorney General...

But don't let any of that stop the deluge of censorship stories in the press....

Anonymous,  10:35 AM  

Again, laughable reasons. This is not the FCC we are talking about. In a country which proclaims illiteracy conquered, Venezuela still goes after its media opposition with paramilitary thugs. I thought the reading public was capable of critical thinking! Or are they all just dupes? Can't Hugo have it both ways? Please...

Those that don't like "fear-mongering," "sensationalist," "capitalist" and/or "elitist" press can simply print or broadcast their own message. Many socialist newspapers in history have started and succeeded simply by competing and providing an alternative narrative. Plainly if you can't convince everyday people due to the weakness of your arguments, then you must turn to various forms of censorship, govt. support for your "official" position and pathetic theories of democratization of the media. It is a seemingly useful shortcut that circumvents the hard work of persuading others without coercion.

No govt. has the right to decide what people read, think or say except under the most extreme circumstances. I could care less how much in error your left wing views are because they will always be debated and shown to be wrong. Some of you, on the other hand, think you have the right to decide for everyone else. What incredible bleepin' hubris.

leftside 12:44 PM  

Venezuela still goes after its media opposition with paramilitary thugs.

You are aware that these "paramilitary thugs" (who recently raided a TV station) have been roundly condemnded by Chavez and the Government? And their leader (Lina Ron) has been arrested? So the idea that this was State sanctioned is absurd. You can be forgiven for not knowing this, as this news did not make the same splash the initial story did (what reason could that be??.

Those that don't like "fear-mongering," "sensationalist," "capitalist" and/or "elitist" press can simply print or broadcast their own message.

Oh yeah, its that easy eh? The poor of Venezuela can just start a TV/radio station or newspaper?? Where would its advertisers come from? Starting a serious media outlet takes serious start-up capital. That is why only conglomorates are able to start real media outlets.

Plainly if you can't convince everyday people due to the weakness of your arguments...

Umm, check the results of the elections in Venezuela under Chavez. Obviously he is comvincing the majority, despite the massive disinformation campaign being organized b/w the opposition and media.

The rich and elites have an inherent advantage in the news media realm that can only be reversed through state action. The private news media in Venezuela has abdicated their responsibility to the people. Do you disagree with wither of those (plainly obvious) statements Anononmous? We can debate what should be done - as the Venezuelan legislators are doing right now.

This latest fear-spreading campaign about the supposed "Media Crime Law" is just the latest example of the fraud being committed. El Universal tells the world that a Bill has been submitted to the AN, which then other outlets infer is a done deal. In fact, no Bill was ever being considered by the AN and the text beign referred in the press was flatly rejected by pro-Government legislators and the relevant AN committee chair. This news however, does not reach the same audience the initial fear stories did...

Anonymous,  10:37 PM  

1) This is "tyranny of the majority," 2) in reality you mean no one can compete with the windfall of petro dollars flooding the party/state coffers, 3) if the message of Chavez was so popular, then selling advertising on state tv would be no problem and would not require tax money, and 4) if the oil workers union or govt. workers union (among many other social groups) wants to start a newspaper or radio station they can certainly afford it. Lastly, you, my friend, defend censorship for partisan Chavista ends. On what street corner did you buy your kool- aid?

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