Censorship or Democratization? RCTV and Freedom of Speech in Venezuela
By GREGORY WILPERT
As far as world public opinion is concerned, as reflected in the international media, the pronouncements of freedom of expression groups, and of miscellaneous governments, Venezuela has finally taken the ultimate step to prove its opposition right: that Venezuela is heading towards a dictatorship. Judging by these pronouncements, freedom of speech is becoming ever more restricted in Venezuela as a result of the non-renewal of the broadcast license of the oppositional TV network RCTV. With RCTV going off the air at midnight of May 27th, the country’s most powerful opposition voice has supposedly been silenced.
It is generally taken for granted that any silencing of opposition voices is anti-freedom of speech. But is an opposition voice really being silenced? Is this the correct metaphor? Is the director of RCTV, Marcel Granier, actually being silenced? No, a better metaphor is that the megaphone that Granier (and others) used for the exercise of his free speech is being returned to its actual owners–a megaphone that he had borrowed, but never owned. Not only that, he is still allowed to use a smaller megaphone (cable & satellite).
In other words, the radio frequency that RCTV used for over half a century is being returned to its original owners-the Venezuelan people-under the management of its democratically elected leadership. Still, while the decision about how to use the airwaves might be the prerogative of the government (as many critics concede), critics of the move have a point when they complain that the freedom to use the airwaves cannot be solely a matter of majority rule. After all, shouldn’t minorities (in this case a mostly relatively wealthy minority) also have access to the megaphone, so it may use it to convince the majority of its point-of-view? At least, progressives who defend the rights of traditionally disenfranchised minorities would argue that minorities should always have access to the media.  Even though Marcel Granier and his friends cannot be considered to be a disenfranchised minority, surely this minority deserves to be heard in the media, at least a little bit, in the name of pluralism.
Chavez supporters concede the validity of this argument in that they counter by pointing out that the opposition still has plenty of broadcast frequencies to present its point-of-view. Their argument for the justness of the decision to let RCTV’s license expire for good is that, first, the opposition still has plenty of other media outlets to broadcast its views, second, RCTV is a subversive and law-breaking broadcaster (because it participated in the coup and oil industry shutdown, among other things), and third, it needs to make way for a new public service television channel that is mandated by the constitution. Let us briefly examine each of these arguments, starting with Venezuela’s media landscape.
Read the rest here.