There is a line running out the door of LaraTVeC, with a microphone attached, so that people can be interviewed throughout the day as they exit the election booth. Over the past few weeks, participants of Lara TveC have been preparing for 24 hour coverage of the elections on Sunday, Oct. 7. Unlike the state and private media, which is also covering the event, LaraTv and dozens of other video and radio collectives around the country are community-run collectives, situated in the barrios, broadcasting on everything from pirate signals, legal signals, to internet radio and full 24-hour television stations.
LaraTVeC is a member of ANMCLA, the largest and longest living of a number of independent and community media networks in Venezuela, that solidified as an active network during the 2002 coup to oust Chavez. As the right-wing private media began airing fabricated photos of violence and talking about an uprising, people in the barrios realized there was no way of knowing what was really happening. This dearth of communication was the gestation for a community-led media movement.
“All of the communication collectives grew out of cineclubs in the 1990's,” explains Francisco Perez of Radio Activa in La Vega. “We used them as a tool for political formation. We took over plazas, the places where people gathered, and shared food and hot chocolate while showing films so that we could talk. That was before chavez. Later, we realized it was a more practical tool to use radio, and it wasn't difficult –that was one of the ideas, to demystify technology. ”
Since then, the network has grown. ANMCLA has over 120 collectives involved, and syndicates publications on the website www.anmcla.org. As a whole, they have produced hundreds of community workshops teaching skills for radio and television to community and collective members, and using it as a tool for political formation. This year, the cooperative Calle y Media in La Vega is part of a group setting up BarrioTV in the Infocentro, a television station for and by the people living in the barrio. In Lara, they have successfully taken over a TV station, and now have 24-hour community-run broadcasts. On a national level, ANMCLA is involved in a campaign for a national telecommunication system 100% in the hands of the communities and popular movements.
“It isn't just about community media, it's about control of the system,” explains Ayda Valiente, a community organizer for the state-run CANTV, a government initiative to provide digital cable to the entire country for free. “Private tools of communication are part of the strategy of transnational corporations. Here in Venezuela, all of the major TV stations have family ties to each other, they are the rich families. As a result, they broadcast their interests: to sell, to privatize, to show a capitalist culture that isn't ours. It's all out of context –they're not producing anything new. None of it is controlled by the people.”
While the community media network in Venezuela is fiercely independent, the Bolivarian Revolution has played a primary role in its development. Simultaneous to their work, the Chavez governement has emphasized rural and urban connectivity, and helped democratize the radio-electric spectrum with massive legalization efforts and donations of transmitters and equipment. Despite these facts, one of the most classic accusations against Chavez is his repression of the media.
“RCTV, which is the example most people cite when claiming media repression, is still functioning,” explains Francisco. “It's just on cable, not state-subsidized public television. When people say there's no free speech, they're still saying it. In other countries, when major newspapers print libel, and TV stations openly call for the overthrow of a government, they are sanctioned heavily. Here, they say that on daytime television.”
Over the next few days, the community media cooperatives will be coodianting coverage of the elections from a people's movement perspective. Each city has operational “Salas de Situacion,” where they are aggregating and creating coverage In Lara, a constant stream of community activists will be giving interviews, providing analysis, and reporting from the ground up. What they are preparing for, however, is not a crack-down from Chavez, but rather violence from the opposition. With more media in the hands of the communities on alert, they're hoping to mitigate this potential, and broadcast the truth.
Amanda Eckerson is a writer and multi-media artist reporting on the 2012 elections in Venezuela from a people´s movement perspective. She holds a degree in history from Yale University and was a 2009 Fulbright scholar to Venezuela.