It seems that every few weeks we hear about some new way that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is trying to crowd out the opposition and consolidate even more power. Perhaps the most visible example of this has been the way Chavez has dealt with the media. To be sure, no matter what country you’re from, politicians typically have a love-hate relationship with the media.
During the 1992 campaign President George H.W. Bush complained bitterly that the media clearly favored then-Governor Bill Clinton. That same Clinton would later (in)famously alleged that the media had created a “fairy tale” out of then-Senator Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton. But Chavez’s vitriol rises to another level altogether.
In 2007 he finally ended his very public crusade against the main opposition television channel, Radio Caracas Television, by refusing to renew the station’s license. The channel can now only broadcast on cable, which significantly cabins the outlet’s reach. And just last May he stepped up the rhetoric once again by accusing the last remaining opposition channel on Venezuelan television, Globovision, of “media terrorism.” Globovision’s crime? Reporting an earthquake before the government could.
Unfortunately, it seems as if Globovision will be silenced the same way that Radio Caracas was. Rulers know that the best way to maintain concentrated power is to control the flow of information. That is why the media is so important: it functions as the great equalizer. Public participation in the democratic process is hollow without a vibrant media to inform and analyze events.
That thousands took to the streets this weekend to both criticize and support Globovision should be a clear indicator to the Venezuelan government that the broadcast should stay on the air. Supporters of Globovision may not have voted for Chavez, but technically he’s supposed to represent their interests while in power. It’s a mournful day when leaders silence criticism from constituents they’re ostensibly elected to represent.