Venezuela’s Ministry of Communication and Information (MinCI) held a public forum on Wednesday in the National University of the Arts (Unearte) in Caracas to discuss what changes are needed to improve the effectiveness and objectivity of state media.
The forum—titled, “Communication and Revolution: Challenges of the New Stage”—was led by newly-appointed Communication Minister Ernesto Villegas along with various Venezuelan and international media experts, and served to discuss the ways in which state media can be more critical of government failings, as well as provide better coverage of its accomplishments and advances.
After his recent electoral victory, President Chavez called on his government and supporters to engage in greater self-criticism of the political process underway in the country. His appointment of Villegas, considered to be one of the more objective voices in state media, is representative of this.
“Inefficiency cannot be covered up by our communication policy,” said Villegas to a packed auditorium. “That’s why President Chavez talks about communication policy and demands greater efficiency from his government,” he added.
Although state media has greatly expanded its presence in recent years, with Venezuela experiencing the proliferation of both state and community media outlets, ratings of state media outlets remain low, and private media enjoys a much larger audience share.
For this reason, many speakers urged the state to make changes to its media strategy, to become a more effective and credible source of information.
Villegas insisted state media go beyond reporting the news, and focus on accompanying the people to show “their suffering, their stories, their problems.”
“The people are much more than beneficiaries of government policy. They also should appear as the voice of the people and as the main subjects of this revolution,” said Venezuelan sociologist Reinaldo Iturriza.
“Obviously the government has done a good job, but we also should hear criticism. We shouldn’t have to turn to Globovision or El Nacional to hear criticism,” he added.
Other experts that participated in the forum were Mexican writer and philosopher Fernando Buen Abad, Venezuelan sociologists and media observer Maryclen Stelling, and Venezuelan social psychologist Lorena Freitez, among others.
Freitez called on the state media to spend less time on political diatribes and focus more on youth and popular culture as a way to improve their ratings and attract new viewers. She also suggested more presence on the internet and in social networks.
“To do that we have to stop being conservative and move into new formats like fiction that will help improve our ratings,” she said. “The revolution has provided young people with material inclusion through school and work, but it is necessary to connect with them culturally”.
Maryclen Stelling expressed a similar opinion, criticizing the permanent confrontation between private and state media in which each side presents a totally opposite reality of the country.
Buen Abad, on the other hand, argued that self-criticism should not overshadow the accomplishments of the Bolivarian Revolution, and should continue to counter the ideology of the ruling class that emanates from private media outlets.
Villegas also suggested that state media “not confuse self-criticism with self-flagellation,” and that there also needs to be more effort to report on all the accomplishments being made around the country.
“This government does more good things than it says it does,” he said. “Those who think we are here to slow down the Bolivarian Revolution are confused. We came here to contribute to its advances, to correct its errors, and our errors…” Villegas added.
President Chavez congratulated the participants last night via Twitter and said he would await the conclusions and proposals that result from the forum.