The press seems to have developed in a positive way since I first visited Venezuela, in December 2011. Yes, the richer sections of society still possess the largest media interests, but alternative sources of information are flourishing.
Ciudad CCS is a free newspaper, distributed daily across the capital. There are elements of this paper that I have been particularly impressed by, and would like to draw attention to. On page ten of each edition, we find a section entitled “Denuncia la gente”, or “The people denounce”. One message reads, “The schools in San Juan are in a bad state. Make a call to the Ministry of Education.” Another person writes, “The butcher El Barbecho is selling a kilo of meat for double what it should cost. The authorities need to make an inspection.” Another note says, “The staff in the Banco Industrial de Venezuela, near the Ministry of Education, aren’t treating customers properly.”
Moreover, the tone of the journalism is refreshing. The opinion columns aren’t afraid of having an opinion, when they say “…if Capriles is an independent candidate, then I am the reincarnation of the Inca god Quetzalcoatl.” There are articles announcing the opening of bicycle-only lanes on Saturdays alongside analyses of foreign affairs. The paper is funded by the municipality, and hugely popular throughout the city.
Wouldn’t it be a positive thing to have free newspapers in local areas of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford, and cities across England, informing people of issues in their neighbourhoods and giving them the chance to raise issues with the politicians that are supposed to represent them? Maybe some already exist… or maybe we can do better.
Then again, the government and the media in the UK haven’t been the best mix in recent years.
It is very strange when people mention “restrictions of freedom of press” that have taken place in Venezuela. If Hugo Chavez did attempt to clamp down on the media here, he did a terrible job. When TV channels described the democratically elected President with racist epithets such as ‘monkey’, or compared him with such well known leftist leaders as Hitler and Mussolini, and that is decried from afar as “restriction of press”, you really have to wonder what a liberal policy would look like.
There was one TV channel, RCTV, that was shut down after its role in the attempted coup d’etat of April 2002. Or rather than “shut down”, which is how the action is usually described, we can be more accurate and say that the government waited until its broadcasting license expired five years later, and then refused to renew it. Well, let us try to imagine a similar event occurring in a front room in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
A family switches the television on to watch the evening news on ITV. Instead, except for the news, there are adverts shown over and over again, telling people to march to Downing Street the next day to remove David Cameron from power.
Do you think ITV would last for five years?
Also, even after the decision, the channel continued to broadcast via satellite and cable, as RCTV International. It’s a very strange type of “restriction of freedom of press” they have in Venezuela!
There is more than one type of freedom of press. Freedom of expression, yes, but also the freedom of the public to receive accurate, interesting and relevant information.