Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Let's all trash the media

No one announced that last week was to be Attack the Media Week, but it sure seemed that way.

On May 21, Cuban culture minister Abel Prieto spoke at a Caracas forum, “The citizen’s right to inform and be informed,” sponsored by Telesur, the Venezuelan government’s international television network. He noted, according to a Cuban news report from the scene, that the major news media “exclude the authentic popular cultures of the Latin American peoples” and only serve “the ideological interests of the hegemonic apparatus.” Hmmm.

The minister then trekked to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where he spoke at the “Fifth Encounter of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity,” where it was decided that a committee should be formed, AP reported, to “observe media conduct” with the mission of “morally sanctioning journalists who disinform the people.” Prieto mused about “jailing a media owner, with pleasure we would put him in jail for life, for lying, for confusing the people.”

Bolivian President Evo Morales, upon receiving the intellectuals’ and artists’ conclusions, noted that the “first adversary that my presidency, my government has, is certain communications media.” We’ll make a note of that, Evo.

Later, back in Caracas, the government terminated the license of RCTV television, forced it off the air Sunday night, seized its equipment, and began broadcasts of Venezuelan Social Television, TVES. Officials criticized the content of a remaining independent news station and CNN.

Then on Saturday in Havana, an article by Maria Julia Mayoral in Granma accused foreign media accredited in Cuba of “manipulation” and linked the media with the U.S. government’s “lies and disinformation” about Cuba. The major media, “including wire services, have for more than four decades participated, by action and inaction, in the media war.”

Mayoral nods to the independence of the international media: “One cannot…ask that any foreign news agency follow the standards of the Cuban revolutionary press, but the marked differences are not coincidental.” She then complains that coverage of “Los Cinco,” the convicted Cuban agents in U.S. federal prison, is sparse and unsympathetic. Coverage of the Luis Posada Carriles case, she writes, lacks detail about Posada’s checkered past. Coverage of Cuban dissidents, she believes, is excessive.

Havana-based correspondents have written about “Los Cinco” and Cuba’s energetic campaign to secure their release. But they have not covered every phase of that campaign, probably because of a judgment that a government campaign, in Havana or anywhere else, is not in itself news.

Regarding Posada, it seems Mayoral has never done a Google news search. Posada’s coverage has not been flattering.

And regarding the dissidents, foreign media have reported Cuba’s accusation that the dissidents are paid agents of the United States. They also report the dissidents’ opinions and their disagreements. In Miami, there are those who lambaste the Havana-based correspondents because, in their long-distance news judgment, the dissidents are a pre-eminent factor in Cuban politics and deserve far more coverage than they get.

Cuban officials know that real reporters don’t participate in campaigns, and they don’t take dictation. I can only assume that this article is directed to the Cuban domestic audience, and to the correspondents themselves, maybe as a shot across the bow.


leftside said...

Mr Peters, I know you are coy about your own opinions, but are you suggesting that US media coverage of Cuba and Venezuela (or socialism in general) is anwywhere near fair and balanced?

There is a big difference between including one line about Cuba's "accusations" about the Five or the jailed "dissidents" and actually connecting the dots for readers. Just as the MSM was culpable for Pre-War Iraq coverage (but always added an "Baghdad says...") it is deeply responsible for the misinformation we have about Cuba and the larger Latin American leftist project.

We see pictures of nearly every Cuban rafter on the news, but at least 25 Hatians have to die or land in Florida to get a similar report. I've never seen the simple (Coast Guard) fact that there are usually more Dominicans, Hatians and even Ecuadorians caught at sea than Cubans (nor a discussion of the obvious advantages Cubans have in terms of distance and citizenship). Therefore most assume Cuba is some sort of annomaly in the region.

Likewise, I never read one report about the "dissidents" that sought to include more than the one standard line of "Cuba accuses them of being in the pay of Washington." Not one reporter felt compelled to actually read the public case files or the defendent's own admissions, which proved the pay issue was actualy true in most instances. Why is that? If dissidents are such a big deal, why not a bit more context about this central fact of their sentances? Why have no reports sought to connect the dots between Carriles and Bosch, or saw fit to mention the Bush connection to the pardon in Panama, or the fact that Posada's lawyers claim he was indeed with the CIA when the planes exploded over the Carribean? Of course coverage can not be favorable about an admitted terrorist, but the coverage was minimal in most papers and non-existent on TV. This should have been a HUGE story.

Look how the press is treating the RCTV case as a "free speech" issue and nothing more complicated. Those few reports that mention their central role in the coup (in "Caracas accuses" form) never dare to report such accusations as facts that can be easily verified. Did RCTV know before-hand about the coup? Did they stick to the coupsters "resignation" script, censoring any information to the contrary for 2 days? Did they totally black out the fact that the 2 million people were on the street demanding Chavez's return? Were they publicly thanked by the coupsters for their "help." How would the US react if CBS took part in a military coup, censoring all real news? Are these facts in any report?? FAIR has roundly criticized the US media for ignoring and distorting these important issues but they are ignored.

The US media today is a laughingstock. Not one reporter shows up to cover a housing rights protest (or the worldwide protests against Posada), but 500 reporters will show up for a Paris Hilton press conference. Sex and violence knows no bounds, but serious dialogue has all but disappeared.

State-owned media is the most respected around the world yet only in America do we hold profit-making and dumbing down to be more important than informing the people. As things get even worse, the price to pay will be higher. Cuba and Venezuela are victims of the need to compact real news stories (maximizing ad and entertainment space) as much as capitalist ideology.

Phil Peters said...

Sorry, not trying to be coy.

Yes, I do think the press does a good job of covering Cuba and Venezuela.

And there is so much coverage from so many sources that if one wants to delve deep, one can. News consumers have responsibility too.

I don't think that one can expect publications, even newspapers that devote lots of coverage to foreign affairs, to cover every story -- or the one you or I may be interested in -- in great depth and still hold the attention of the general readership.

I think Venezuela is silencing an opposition voice. Even if, for the sake of argument, RCTV went way over the line by our standards during the failed coup, closing it altogether seems to me to be the silencing of an opposition voice to make room for more government-controlled information. I like public broadcasting as much as the next guy, but not at the expense of a press that brings forth disagreements.

leftside said...

Certainly there are a handful of fine newspaper reporters working in Havana and Caracas. I was speaking about the overall media's performance and why Americans are so misguided and illiterate about these 2 countries in particular... compared to say Canadians or Britons. I don't think there is something in the American news consumer DNA that makes them "irresponsible." I beleive it boils down to our reliance on profit-driven media and our Government's hard-line position.

As for Venezuela's RCTV, I'm sure you are aware, but the station was not closed altogether or silenced. They are free to broadcast on cable, satellite and interent and are producing their shows for other VHF channels. But their right to use the public's limited airwaves has been forfeited by their anti-democratic behavior when the public needed information most (when the only public station was shuttered by the coupsters). I highly recommend the movie "Revolution Will Not be Televised" for a glimpse at how RCTV behaved those fateful days in April 02. There are hundreds of other anti-Chavez media outlets, including the 2 major newspapers and the main 24-hour news channel. There is no lack of "argument," rest assured.

leftside said...

We'd be remiss without mentioning the the sordid history of media censorship in Miami here, which could fill a book. The case of Edmundo Garcia's radio program "La Noche Se Mueve” (1210 AM) is instructive. Despite being very popular in a short period of time, advertisers are now so mysteriously jumping ship. Turns out that they had received "freindly warning" visits from certain exiles. In the past, of course, these types of warnings turned very real if ignored (boom).