Australia: ABC TV's `Foreign Correspondent' program censors Venezuela's majority

By the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network

August 12, 2009 -- The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Foreign Correspondent current affairs TV program screened on August 11, titled “Hugo Chavez: Total Control” did nothing to shore up the ABC’s reputation for well-informed, accurate reporting. Eric Campbell's report from Venezuela was riddled with inaccuracies, half-truths and transparent biases that need to be corrected.

The program’s main message –- that President Hugo Chavez is “the dominator… aiming for total control” in Venezuela -– is the stock-standard propaganda being peddled by a mainstream media that refuses to recognise or reflect the voices of the poor majority in Venezuela.

What  “evidence” does Foreign Correspondent present for Chavez’s supposed megalomania?

Campbell says, “Millions of poor people see Hugo Chavez as a saint … taking money from the rich and giving it to them”. Indeed! Chavez’s popularity is based upon his willingness to put the needs of Venezuela's majority -– who for hundreds of years have been exploited and disenfranchised –- ahead of those of business elites, and to use the country's natural oil wealth to improve living conditions for most, rather than line the pockets of a tiny elite.

Under Chavez's leadership, a 50% increase in social welfare spending in 1999-2005 was accompanied by decreases in infant mortality, an increase in school enrolment (according to the United Nations, illiteracy has been eradicated in Venezuela) and a decrease in poverty.

By 2005, approximately 50% of the Venezuelans enjoyed government health-care and food subsidies. Between 2000 and 2008, enrolments in higher education more than doubled. In the six years to 2009, according to internationally recognised poverty measures, poverty has been reduced from 55.1% to 25.3%. Extreme poverty has been reduced by 72%. (A comprehensive assessment is available in the US Center for Economic and Policy Research’s 2009 report, The Chavez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators.)

In the words of one of the very few ordinary working people interviewed by Foreign Correspondent, “In all ways [Chavez] is a president that worries about his people”.

But, Campbell says, after a referendum this year that enabled Venezuelan presidents to be re-elected beyond three terms, Chavez can now “keep running for president until he dies!”. Well, so can any Australian prime minister. And if it is the people’s will, why not? That's democracy. Foreign Correspondent doesn't even attempt to explain how it is that this supposed dictator can be democratically elected and re-elected in 1998, 2000, 2004 and 2006, in ballots certified as transparent and legitimate by international monitors.

Still not deterred by the facts, Campbell goes on to assert that “managing the message and clobbering the media have become a Chavez obsession”.

In fact, there is much more oppositional media in Venezuela than in Australia, and a much greater range of debate in the media. The vast majority of Venezuela's media is privately owned. Before the government acted this month to enforce Venezuela's telecommunications law -– handing over the expired licences of 32 privately owned radio stations and two regional television stations to community media -­– just  27 families controlled more than 32% of the radio and television waves; many owned 10  to 20 stations. These rich families ensured that the media is a political player, routinely broadcasting reporting that would not be allowed in Australia (such as calls for violent protests and insurrection, and, as broadcast recently by privately owned Globovision TV, a call for Chavez to be “lynched”).

Foreign Correspondent claims that Chavez’s “autocratic socialism is jeopardising the benefits of his revolution”. This misses the point that it is not Chavez’s revolution, but the Venezuelan people’s. Beyond Campbell’s “beleaguered middle class” (which all the statistics reveal is actually earning more than ever) is a thriving network of “social missions” and communal councils that are creating a new participatory democracy in Venezuela that, for all the problems that persist in a country that for centuries was bled dry by a wealthy, corrupt elite, creates the possibility for genuine majority rule in Venezuela.

We urge the ABC to revisit the Bolivarian revolution with open ears, eyes and mind, and give viewers the opportunity to hear the voices of the majority in Venezuela.

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