Monday, September 24, 2012

Conflicting Narratives on Venezuela: What Media Do You Trust?

CNE: Venezuelan National Electoral Council (Image source: Embassy of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Washington, D.C., U.S.A.)
With the Venezuelan Presidential Election approaching (Election Day set for October 7), there have been conflicting narratives circulating in the western corporate media and online. Which narrative do you believe? Do you think the media should have the right to knowingly publish false information or present opinion as facts or select facts that conform to their agenda while ignore facts that do not?

1. Narrative:

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says Venezuela has the "best [electoral system] in the world".


Former US President Carter: Venezuelan Electoral System “Best in the World”
By Ewan Robertson Mérida, 21st September 2012

Former US President Jimmy Carter has declared that Venezuela’s electoral system is the best in the world.

Speaking at an annual event last week in Atlanta for his Carter Centre foundation, the politician-turned philanthropist stated, “As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

Venezuela has developed a fully automated touch-screen voting system, which now uses thumbprint recognition technology and prints off a receipt to confirm voters’ choices.

In the context of the Carter Centre’s work monitoring electoral processes around the globe, Carter also disclosed his opinion that in the US “we have one of the worst election processes in the world, and it’s almost entirely because of the excessive influx of money,” he said referring to lack of controls over private campaign donations...."

Narrative Analyzed:

It is unclear to the FDA why Jimmy Carter would make this statement without backing it up with proof. Based on 92 elections his organization has monitored does not objectively mean Venezuela has the best electoral system. In addition, just because Venezuela has a fully automated system does not make Venezuela's system the best system in the world. The count of votes, whether manually or automatically, is only one aspect of an electoral system.

Based on the FDA's 30 country electoral process audit, Venezuela came second to France. Both systems were highly democratic, innovative, and progressive. FDA's Venezuela Report
FDA's France Report

Further, Jimmy Carter's statement that America's federal electoral system is one of the worse simply does not stand to reason. For example, Middle Eastern and African electoral systems, such as in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Bahrain, Iran, and Yemen, make the American electoral system look satisfactory. FDA's Iran Report

2. Narrative:

This article in the Huffington Post (which has been recycled in many other corporate media), takes the narrative that Chavez's campaign has more campaign funds than Caprilles' campaign, and that Chavez has more media access.

Venezuela Elections 2012: Chavez Has Money Edge In Presidential Race
By EVA VERGARA 08/23/12 07:57 AM ET

"CARACAS, Venezuela -- Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles typically runs his presidential campaign by jogging through Venezuela's small towns, reaching out to supporters with both hands and climbing aboard the back of a flatbed truck to speak to hundreds of people.

By contrast, President Hugo Chavez brings large sound trucks, a production team and a fleet of buses that carry supporters and government employees to plazas to cheer him on by the thousands.

A little more than a month ahead of Venezuela's Oct. 7 election, Chavez enjoys clear advantages over his challenger in campaign funding and media access. While neither campaign has revealed how much it's spending, Capriles says he is in a "David vs. Goliath" contest, facing a well-financed incumbent backed by an even richer government.

"We're fighting against two checkbooks. There's no way to compete economically speaking," said Rafael Guzman, who is in charge of finances for the opposition coalition. He accused the government of using money from the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, and a separate development fund, Fonden, to support Chavez's campaign and bankroll projects aimed at boosting his support.

Chavez's allies say Capriles is being backed by business tycoons including fugitive bankers who have fled the country and oppose the president. Chavez's camp hasn't provided details of those accusations.

The law does not limit individual campaign contributions, though Guzman says the Capriles campaign caps donations it receives at a maximum of 2,000 bolivars ($465), even though people can make many such donations. He said all have come from individuals, none from companies.

"We aren't receiving anything from businesses," Guzman said...."

So far, Capriles' campaign doesn't look like it's rolling in wealth. It has even taken to holding raffles, fundraising dinners and weekend street fairs selling used clothes and donated food.
Judith Beltran recently browsed through stands selling landscape paintings, handbags, underwear and used baby clothes at Caracas' Petare slum, holding a bagful of clothes she'd just purchased.

"I came because they're selling everything cheap and also to help out Capriles," she said.

Meanwhile, Chavez's face smiles down from innumerable billboards and signs festooned on lampposts throughout Caracas and other cities, far more than Capriles' campaign has managed.

There's no spending limit on such advertising, but the law limits campaigns to just three minutes of paid TV ads a day, and Capriles' backers say there's no clear line between Chavez's campaign ads and the much more frequent government promotional spots showing the president doling out apartments to the needy.
The law doesn't prevent Chavez from using his power as president to take over programming on all of the country's TV channels and radio stations for his speeches, something he does regularly.

Chavez and his allies say he's merely governing, not wielding any campaign edge that could be considered unfair.

"Hugo Chavez's advantage (is) in his power of communicating with his people," his campaign manager, Jorge Rodriguez, said last month.

Rodriguez on Wednesday also denied that Chavez has an edge in airtime, saying much of the coverage by private TV channels and radio stations favors Capriles.

In a recent televised appearance for the opening of a state-run supermarket, Chavez tried to differentiate his roles as president and candidate. "I'm complying with an obligation to inform the public," he said.

"I am going to say what I'm going to say very carefully. It shouldn't be interpreted as campaigning," Chavez said. Chavez then responded to criticism by Capriles and other adversaries that he is giving away Venezuela's oil wealth through preferential deals with allies.

Chavez's socialist party, for its part, insists it uses no public funds and gets its money from supporters. It held a raffle last week with prizes that included a new car, motorcycles and appliances. Some Chavez opponents called for electoral officials to investigate that raffle, saying public employees had reported that they were forced to buy tickets.

Venezuelan election law requires candidates to provide detailed monthly financial reports to electoral officials, but the National Electoral Council generally doesn't publicly release financial figures during the campaign.
Neither the Chavez nor Capriles campaign revealed how much money they've raised when asked in writing by The Associated Press. Chavez's campaign didn't respond to requests for comment, and officials in Capriles' campaign said it was unable to provide a figure...."

Narrative Analyzed:

As stated in the article, neither Chavez nor Caprilles have publicly disclosed their campaign finances. So no one knows who has more campaign funds, except for the National Electoral Council which tracks campaign finances.

In Venezuela, there are limits ad times for candidates and parties. From the 2012 FDA Venezuela Report (soon to be published):

Print ads are limited to half a page per day per candidate in national newspapers and broadcast ads are limited to 3 minutes per day (Venezuelan Embassy Washington, 2012). Radio ads are limited to 4 minutes per day (Ray Walser, 2012).

There are no limits on ads through billboards, posters, and flyers. The article criticizes Chavez for apparently having more billboards.

The campaign media in Venezuela is strictly regulated for "complete and balanced" coverage, and public and private media are disallowed from creating their own election propaganda:

Publications, radio stations,television stations and other official media may not be used by any political party for their propaganda (Election Law, Article 35).

The State disallows public and private media from making their own election propaganda aimed at encouraging or persuading the electorate to vote a particular candidate or party or against particular candidate or party (Election Law, Article 79).

Public and private media election coverage will be complete and balanced without distorting the reality of the campaign. The media must observe “rigorous” balance in terms of space and time devoted to information on candidates and parties (Election Law, Article 81)

Although the article paints Caprilles as a grassroots person, he is well connected to political organizations in the United States and may be funded by these organizations and using these organizations as sources of political ideas. Caprilles' Party Platform Shows Foreign Connection 

In addition, Caprilles has been connected to electoral finance wrongdoing, in which he dismissed one of his campaigners: Caprilles Ousts Lawmaker for Taking Bribes

3. Narrative:

This article by Ray Walser in The Heritage Foundation narrates that Venezuela is run by an autocratic socialist ruler who is eroding Venezuelan democracy, and that America must do something to stop Chavez and help the Venezuelans who oppose him. In addition, Walser argues that Chavez's 2012 campaign platform is based on pulverizing any remnants of the bourgeois state and making Bolivarian socialism irreversible.

The Chávez Plan to Steal Venezuela's Presidential Election: What Obama Should Do
By Ray Walser Ph.D.

Excerpts from the article:

The Bolivarian Revolution: Key Features of Chavismo

  • Personality-centered; power increasingly concentrated in executive’s hands.
  • Reduced horizontal accountability (diminished checks and balances); power is unitary in an increasingly politicized, polarized state.
  • Power/influence/wealth of state freely used to build a permanent majority under a dominant “revolutionary” party.
  • Control, restriction, and sanction of media without formal censorship.
  • “Autocratic legalism” that allows selective sanctioning and punishment of opponents.
  • Restriction of opposition nongovernmental organizations and civil society; elimination of foreign support and funding.
  • Speaking on behalf of poor while building dependent client base.
  • Anti-imperialism (compulsive anti-Americanism) that leads to supporting tyranny under the banner of building a multipolar world order.

In the 2012 campaign platform, Chávez promises to root out the vestiges of capitalism, “completely pulverize the bourgeois state,” and move beyond a “point of no return” to make Venezuela’s transition to socialism irreversible....

Spending His Way to Victory. Central to the Chávez regime has been turning the nation’s oil earnings into social programs (misiones bolivarianas) that deliver free health care, free education, free or low-cost housing, and subsidized food for millions. Chávez has accelerated social spending in advance of the elections. In March, the government lifted Venezuela’s national debt ceiling while increasing the budget by 45 percent. Last year, Venezuela reportedly issued more sovereign debt than any other Latin American nation, raising $15 billion on international capital markets. In brief, chavismo is engaged in “incumbency protection on steroids.”

Chávez has used patronage power to award jobs, contracts, and subsidies to partisans and pals. Government workers now make up 20 percent of the nation’s labor force. Government workers report that they are required to contribute to the Chávez campaign by selling raffle tickets, donating a day’s salary, attending political rallies, or campaigning door-to-door. The head of the nation’s oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), has made it clear that he expects all 115,000 employees to vote for Chávez. Key opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo concluded that Chávez wants to “purchase a dictatorship.”

Monopolizing and Manipulating the Media. The Chávez regime increasingly restricts the independence and freedom of the press. The onslaught against a free press began in May 2007 when the government refused to renew the license for the nation’s oldest commercial network, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). It continued when Chávez targeted Globovision, a prominent news channel. The government hounded its owner, Guillermo Zuloaga, into exile and fined the station a ruinous $2 million for reporting on deadly prison riots in 2011. Other media outlets have suffered fines or have been unable to renew their operating licenses. Chavismo forces competitive voices off the airwaves by imposing costly “legal” penalties rather than through censorship and shutdowns.

Venezuela’s Law of Social Responsibility for media forbids transmitting news that might “cause anxiety in the public or disturb public order” or that “incites or promotes hatred or intolerance.” The equally vague Organic Law of Telecommunications grants the government the power to suspend or revoke broadcasting concessions when “convenient for the interests of the nation, or if public order and security demands it.” Journalists can also be hauled into court for violating insult laws (desacato), which penalize citizens for criticizing public officials.

Electoral rules limit air time for presidential candidates: three minutes for television, four for radio. Yet independent monitoring shows that pro-government, pro-Chávez publicity has averaged more than one hour per day since July 1. Similarly, Chávez exploits a public-service requirement for private broadcasters to broadcast pro-government messages and employs the right to demand national air time (cadenas)...."

Narrative Analyzed: 

The Election Law does not prevent the Venezuelan President from conducting his professional duty during an election, including speeches on all the country’s TV channels and radio stations (Eva Vargara, 2012).

If Chavez is abusing this professional duty to keep the public informed, then there is nothing stopping the Venezuelan electorate from using that reality in deciding who they vote for.

Venezuela has a democratic process of government:

The Venezuelan government has four main independent branches of government: National Executive, National Assembly, judiciary, and Citizen Power (represented by an ombudsmen office). The National Executive lead by the President and Vice-President is in charge of running the country; the National Assembly is the authority of national legislation; the judiciary led by the Supreme Court is authority on the Constitution and enforcing law, and the Ombudsman Office is in charge of protecting the people’s interests and rights (Venezuela Constitution, Articles 72-74, 225-283, 347-350). In addition, Venezuelan allows for referendum's initiated by the electorate.

Venezuelan people have the power to submit referendum bills to the National Assembly if the people in favor of the bill represent at least twenty-five percent of the electors registered. In addition, treaties, conventions or agreements that could compromise national sovereignty or transfer power to supranational bodies, may be submitted to a referendum on the initiative of the President of the Republic in Council of Ministers, by the vote of two-thirds or the members of the Assembly, or fifteen percent of the voters registered and entered in the civil and voter registration Venezuelan Constitution, Article 73).

Venezuelan people have to power to submit referendum to wholly or partially repeal existing laws if the people in favor of the referendum have support from at least 10 percent of the registered electors(Venezuelan Constitution, Article 74).

Venezuela's Law on Social Responsibility is for hate speech and speech encouraging violence and social chaos etc. The Law has no impact on political speech or election discourse.

Under the Law for Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media (2010), electronic media including internet must not transit content which “foment anxiety in the public or disturb public order”, “incite or promote disobedience of the current legal order”, “refuse to recognize the legitimately constituted authority” or “incite or promote hatred or intolerance.” The government broadcasting authority, CONATEL, has the authority to order internet service providers to restrict access which violate the Social Responsibility law (Human Rights Watch, 2012). The FDA researchers note that there are no restrictions on political content and election campaign content.

Under the Law for Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media (2010),broadcast media which transmit content which violates the prohibitions against ‘fomenting anxiety” and “promot[ing] disobedience” face fines of 10 percent of their gross income and suspension for up to 72 hours (Human Rights Watch, 2012). The FDA researchers note that there are no restrictions on political content and election campaign content.

Under the Law for Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media (2010), broadcast media licenses may be revoked for transmitting content which “advocate, incite or constitute propaganda for war” or “induce homicide” (Human Rights Watch, 2012). The FDA researchers note that there are no restrictions on political content and election campaign content.

Venezuela's media content and election propaganda is closely regulated for fairness and balance:

Public and private media election coverage will be complete and balanced without distorting the reality of the campaign. The media must observe “rigorous” balance in terms of space and time devoted to information on candidates and parties (Election Law, Article 81).

Print ads are limited to half a page per day per candidate in national newspapers and broadcast ads are limited to 3 minutes per day (Venezuelan Embassy Washington, 2012). Radio ads are limited to 4 minutes per day (Ray Walser, 2012).

The National Electoral Council has removed ads from both Caprilles and Chavez's campaigns:

Chavez's platform promotes world peace and harmony:

Chavez's Platform

Question for Readers: 

Do you think media should have the right to knowingly publish false information or present opinion as facts or select facts that conform to their agenda while facts that do not?

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