Washington Promotes ‘Independent’ Media in Venezuela


 Washington Promotes ‘Independent’ Media in Venezuela

By Michael Barker
 
For some time it has been apparent that President Hugo Chavez – the democratically elected President of Venezuela – and his government have been on the US‘s ‘regime change shopping list’. Such coup-inspiring attitudes were especially transparent in 2006, when the US‘s National Security Strategy noted that: “In Venezuela, a demagogue awash in oil money [i.e. Chavez] is undermining democracy and seeking to destabilize the region.” So given the US government’s evident hostility towards Chavez’s emancipatory politics, it is not too surprising that their incessant propaganda is duly amplified by their corporate mouthpieces, the US media. Similarly, British-based media watchdog, Medialens, have amply documented how supposedly progressive media outlets (like the BBC) have contributed to the global disinformation campaign being waged against Chavez. It is all too obvious that in the eyes of the world’s ruling elites Chavez is promoting the ‘wrong kind’ of democracy, that is, popular democracy instead of low-intensity democracy (or polyarchy).
 
To remedy the democratic problem that Venezuela poses to the interests of transnational capitalism, the US‘s main democracy manipulating body, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), has been busily financing opposition groups within Venezuelan civil society. Most famously such ‘democratic’ interventions have seen the NED and its cohorts facilitate the unsuccessful coup that temporarily removed Chavez from power in 2002.[1] More recently though, a central prong of the US governments War on Democracy has been to criticise Chavez’s domestic media policies, which have been widely reported in the international corporate media as being hostile to freedom of expression.
 
Considering the miserable state of affairs of the US’s ‘mainstream’ media, it is strange that earlier this year this same media vilified the Venezuelan government for failing to renew the licence of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). The irony of this situation is especially delightful because the CIA-linked RCTV is “one of the oldest and largest opposition-controlled TV stations”, was an active participant in the US/NED-backed coup of 2002, and has been busy leading mediated attempts to oust Chavez from office ever since.[2]
 
While it has been well reported in the progressive media that the NED-linked media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has been at the forefront of recent efforts to delegitimize Venezuela‘s media policies,[3] this same progressive media has for the most part overlooked the role of similarly ‘democratic’ human rights groups in facilitating such attacks. Noteworthy exceptions to this trend include two recent articles written by Greg Grandin and Gregory Wilpert respectively: the latter of whom notes that is “very disappointing to see international human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Carter Center, and the Committee to Protect Journalists condemn the [Venezuelan] government’s decision” to revoke RCTV’s license.[4] (For further details on the close links that exist between the NED and these human rights groups – and all of the other groups mentioned in this article see my recent article, Hijacking Human Rights).[5]
 
The focus of this article, however, will not be on such ‘human rights’ groups or on dubious activities of Reporters Without Borders, but instead this article will draw attention to the ‘democratic’ activities of a little mentioned South American media watchdog which goes by the name of the Instituto De Prensa Y Sociedad.
 
The Instituto De Prensa Y Sociedad (IPYS) – otherwise known as the Press and Society Institute – was founded in 1993 by Laura Puertas Meyer, and the Institute obtained their first NED grant in 1998 to help them “develop a national network to protect journalists” in Peru. Meyer’s involvement in founding IPYS is particularly noteworthy because he is presently the executive director of the Peruvian chapter of Transparency International, which perhaps not coincidentally is a key global ‘democracy promoting’ organization. IPYS’s links to Transparency International do not end here, as in 2002 Transparency International’s Americas programme coordinator, Marta Erquicia, joined forces with IPYS to launch an annual award for investigative journalism. Furthermore, it is significant to observe that George SorosOpen Society Institute sponsors the award, and two of the five members of the prizes jury have ‘democratic’ ties: these two judges are Gustavo Gorriti (who is a member of IYPS, has received the ‘democratically’ connected Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award in 1998,[6] is listed as an individual endorser of the UN Democracy Caucus, and is a member of the Center for Public Integrity‘s International Consortium for Investigative Journalism),[13] and Tina Rosenberg (who serves on The New York Times editorial board, and on the advisory board of the National Security Archive). Considering all these ‘democratic’ ties it is ironic that in 2006 the two winners of this Soros-sponsored award, Tamoa Calzadilla and Laura Weffer, won because of their reporting on the “irregularities in the investigation of the [Danilo] Anderson murder case” – Anderson being the Venezuelan state prosecutor “in charge of identifying those responsible of [the] failed [2002] coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.”
 
The current executive director of IPYS Peru is Ricardo Uceda, a reporter who formerly “directed the newsweekly Si, and ran the El Comercio’s investigative unit”. It is significant to note that in 1993 – while working for Si – Uceda was awarded the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award. Again perhaps not coincidentally, two of the four other winners of the 1993 International Press Freedom Award have ‘democratic’ ties, these being, Doan Viet Hoat (who was the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial‘s 1995 Human Rights Award, and is a director of the World Press Freedom Committee – a group that describes its original purpose as “oppos[ing] proposals for a restrictive new world information and communication order”),[7] and Veran Matic (who in 1993 was working for Radio B92 in Yugoslavia – a station that received a grant from the NED in 1991, and continued to receive support throughout the 1990s from ‘democracy promoting’ organizations intent on ousting Slobodan Milosevic).
 
IPYS Peru can boast other ‘democratic’ links as they have worked alongside the NED-funded Association for Civil Rights, an Argentinean NGO whose website notes that it was founded in 1995 “with the purpose of contributing to the establishment of a legal and institutional culture that would guarantee fundamental rights to the inhabitants of our country, based on respect for the Constitution.” The Association for Civil Rights also receives funding from other key ‘democratic’ groups like the British Council, the Ford Foundation, and the Open Society Institute: likewise it is interesting to observe that IPYS Peru is a partner organization of the Open Society Institute’s Open Society Justice Initiative.
 
IPYS Peru obtained renewed NED support to continue their work protected press freedom in Peru in both 2000 and 2001. Of more relevance to this article though, was the creation, in 2002, of a Venezuelan branch of IPYS. Like their Peruvian chapter, IPYS Venezuela has obtained ongoing support from the NED, and in their founding year they received their first grant to organize a forum “for media owners, editors, journalists, and leaders of international media-advocacy groups to reflect on the state of freedom of expression and journalism in Venezuela.” The following year they obtained another NED grant, which was used to (1)”construct a network of alerts in Venezuela to report attacks and threats against journalists”, (2) “support correspondents in the provinces by monitoring press conditions and investigating cases of attacks or threats, and… offer a series of professional training sessions for journalists”, and (3) to “participate in regional press-advocacy meetings and work with international and regional organizations dedicated to freedom of expression.” The NED has continued to provide annual grants to IPYS Venezuela, and in 2006 they gave them their largest grant to date.
 
However, perhaps most significantly, today – that is, on September 18, 2007 – IPYS Venezuela received the NED’s coveted Democracy Award. As the NED’s website states, their Democracy Award is given annually “to recognize the courageous and creative work of individuals and organizations that has advanced the cause of human rights and democracy around the world.” This year however, instead of judging the work of an assortment of democracy activists, the Democracy Award aimed to spotlight the work of press freedom activists from around the world.
 
Four NED Democracy Awards were distributed this year, so in addition to IPYS obtaining the award, three other individuals received the award: these three journalists were Anna Politkovskaya (the Russian journalist who was murdered in October 2006, and was formerly the 2005 recipient of the ‘democratic’ Civil Courage Prize), Hisham Kassem (who is “[o]ne of Egypt’s most prominent publishers and democracy activists”, and has served as chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights – a group that received six NED grants between 1994 and 2003), and Kavi Chongkittavorn (who is the assistant group editor of Nation Media Group, a member of the steering committee of the NED-created World Movement for Democracy, and chair of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance – a group that since 1999 has received annual NED support for its work in Malaysia).
 
Here it is significant to note that the three aforementioned media freedom groups – IPYS, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance – are all members of a media network known as the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). Their affiliation to IFEX is especially noteworthy because 16 of IFEX’s 72 members have received funding from either, the NED, the Westminster Foundation or Rights and Democracy (the NED’s counterpart organizations in the UK and Canada respectively). Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, to name just two, are perhaps the most notorious media organizations that can be counted among these 16 ‘democratically’ tied groups. (A full exposition of IFEX’s ‘democratic’ links will be outlined in my forthcoming article Polyarchy and the Public Sphere.)
 
Finally, it is also important to point out that Democracy Award winner, Kavi Chongkittavorn, serves on the executive board of the International Press Institute (IPI). This affiliation is indicative of Chongkittavorn’s ‘democratic’ credentials, as IPI is not only an IFEX member, but this group’s interests have historically been closely aligned with those of American foreign policy elites, as in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the IPI actively opposed UNESCO’s proposed New World Information and Communication Order.[8] This is significant because in 2000 IPYS was awarded the IPI’s Free Media Pioneer Award. This award which is also cosponsored by the Freedom Forum, which provides a further clue as to the political nature of the award, as emeritus chair of Freedom House, Bette Bao Lord, is also a trustee of the Freedom Forum. Similarly, Allen H. Neuharth, the founder of the Freedom Forum, is also a member of the advisory board of the World Press Freedom Committee.
 
IPYS Venezuela through its ongoing demonization of Chavez’s media policies is currently fulfilling a vital role in the US-led war on Venezuelan democracy.[9] This should be even more worrisome for progressive activists as the NED notes that IPYS “has become an authoritative voice on freedom of expression issues in Venezuela, and is a point of reference for journalists, academics and human rights defenders.” So while it is hardly likely that corporate media outlets will ever view the work of ‘media freedom’ groups like IPYS with skepticism, it is vital that all people concerned with freedom and democracy work to expose the insidious nature of their anti-democratic work.
 
First and foremost, to counter the negative influence of the ‘democracy promoting’ establishment on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) – like IPYS or Human Rights Watch – it is crucial that progressive citizens committed to a participatory democracy work to develop alternate funding mechanisms for sustaining grassroots activism. Then perhaps as James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer (2001) observed in their seminal book, Globalization Unmasked, progressive NGOs and activists will be able to “systematically criticize and critique the ties of their colleagues with imperialism and its local clients, their ideology of adaptation to neoliberalism, and their authoritarian and elitist structures.”[10] As they note, it is vitally important that progressive NGOs encourage their less progressive counterparts “to get out of the foundation/government networks and go back to organizing and educating their own people in Europe and North America to form socio-political movements that can challenge the dominant regimes and parties that serve the banks and the [Transnational Corporations].” This is certainly no small order, but it is certainly one that will better enable concerned citizens all over the world to promote participatory democracy rather than polyarchy.
 
 
Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker [at] griffith.edu.au, and some of his other articles  can be found here.

References

[1] Indeed, US Department of State documents report that “it is clear that NED, Department of Defense (DOD), and other US assistance programs provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chavez government”.  The NED has also provided ongoing funding to the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, a group with close associations to the organizations involved in the major strike actions against Chavez in 2003.
 
[2] Here it is interesting to note that pro-Chavez citizens who led the 2002 counter-coup recognized the integral role of the media in enabling the coup and “targeted the offices of the media, especially television” for their protests. See, Antony Castillo, Breaking Democracy: Venezuela‘s Media Coup, Media International Australia, 108, 2003, p.149.
Also see, Kim Bartley, Donnacha O’Brian, Online Video: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Upside Down World, May 31, 2007. 
 
[3] For a review of all of Reporters Without Borders ‘democratic’ ties see my forthcoming article ‘Reporters For ‘Democracy’, Znet.
Referring specifically to the role of NED-aided Reporters Without Borders in (mis)reporting on Venezuela, Ignacio Ramonet highlights the importance of the “relevant international organizations” in denigrating the attempts by a democratic government in attempting to limiting the influence of pro-coup forces within their country. Indeed during the 2002 coup, Ramonet wrote that Reporters Without Borders “clos[ed it's] eyes to the one of the most odious media campaigns ever launched against a democratic government”. Ignacio Ramonet, The Perfect Crime, Le Monde Diplomatique, June 2002.
 
Concerned by the same coverage, Thierry Deronne (2002) suggests that: “The ‘super-objectivity’ displayed by the letters authored by ‘Reporters Without Borders’ gives the [pro-coup] campaign by the commercial media great efficiency in circulating around the world, for example, among other Human Rights organizations who believe ‘Reporters Without Borders’ without question.” Thierry Deronne, The “Distorters Without Borders”, NarcoNews, October 4, 2002. 
 
[4] Wendy Luers is currently a co-chair of Project on Justice in Times of Transition, and president of the Foundation for a Civil Society, a group that was established in 1990 to support “projects that strengthen the forces of democracy, civil society, the rule of law and a free-market economy in the Czech and Slovak Republic.” Luers’ biography notes that she has worked on numerous other nonprofit boards which include the Fund for Free Expression (now Human Right Watch’s Free Expression Project) and Helsinki Watch (now Human Rights Watch), and in the late 1980s she also served as director of special projects at Human Rights Watch. Luers is also a member of the International Rescue Committee’s leadership council on children in armed conflict, and in 1996 she was a member of the presidential delegation (led by Richard C. Holbrooke) to observe the Bosnian election. Interestingly she has also been a cultural correspondent for Venevision Television in Venezuela, a media outlet which played an important role in supporting the attempted 2002 coup in Venezuela. Interestingly, Luer’s husband, William H. Luers, in addition to having many ‘democratic’ links was the US Ambassador to Venezuela from 1978 to 1982, and then to Czechoslovakia from 1983 to 1986. (For references see.)
 
[5] Similarly, John Pilger castigated both Amnesty International for being wrong in demonizing Chavez concerning the RCTV affair.
 
[6] For more about the Committee to Protect Journalists see forthcoming, Michael Barker, Polyarchy and the Public Sphere.
 
 [7] In the late 1970s, UNESCO acknowledged that there were serious problems with the world’s media organizations and took active steps to expand the democratic potential of global media systems, leading to their proposal for a New World Information and Communication Order. This plan suggested the need for a radical departure from (then current) media trends, and recognized that the current domination of media systems by Western states was inherently undemocratic.
 
[8] Anthony C. Giffard, UNESCO and the Media (New York: Longman, 1989), p.28.
For more details about the see William Preston, Jr. Edward S. Herman, Herbert I. Schiller, Hope and Folly: The United States and UNESCO, 1945-1985 (University of Minnesota Press, 1989).
 
[9] For example, in January 2007 the BBC reported that a “joint delegation of the Committee to Protect Journalists and Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) said today it is alarmed about the lack of transparency in President Hugo Chavez Frias’s decision not to renew the broadcast concession of the privately-owned television station RCTV.” Annon, Venezuela: CPJ, IPYS criticize “lack of transparency” in RCTV case, BBC, January 12, 2007.
 
[10] James Petras, Henry Veltmeyer, Globalization Unmasked: Imperialism in the 21st Century (London, Zed Books, 2001), p.137.

Leave a comment