Heroic Venezuelan President seeks to muzzle the press

by Ritwik on August 5, 2009

Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe

Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe

Wonder how Indian leftists [in politics, media and academia] will go about defending this.

Hugo Chavez – revolutionary leader of the third world in the fight against American imperialism and messiah of the people, has not had much to say since the end of the Bush Presidency.

After all, George W Bush was everything a demagogue like Chavez could ever hope for.

Over the last decade or so, Chavez cleverly mixed socialist rhetoric & populist economic policies with shrill anti-Bush vitriol to win a cult following all over the world. In India too, Chavez has a committed band of sympathizers, including the entire spectrum of communist parties in the country. For example, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) proclaims:

Under President Chavez’s leadership, a radical transformation is taking place in Venezuela.
-People’s Democracy, December 12, 2004  (link)

All over the world, those inimical to Bush were more than ready to welcome Chavez with open arms, inspite of the fact that his authoritarian streak has become increasingly evident over the years. Even while he spewed venom on Bush, Chavez had no qualms about glorifying fascist Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.

Chavez has been relatively quiet for the past few months. As Denis Macshane notes in the Guardian, the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States robbed Chavez of his main anti-American plank.

But his enthusiastic supporters needn’t worry any longer, for their maverick leader has found a new enemy: the free press.

Hugo Chavez’s government has introduced a new draft law against “media offences”. Some provisions of this law:

Journalism hostile to the social peace, the security and independence of the nation can be punished by prison sentences of between six months and four years.

Journalists will also break the proposed new law if their writings are seen as an attack on public order or Venezuelans’ “mental or moral health”. Article 5 threatens imprisonment for “false information” that is prejudicial to the interests of the state.

On careful reading, it immediately becomes clear that such provisions can be used to muzzle the media to an almost unlimited extent.

Put simply, it means that once the proposed law is passed, journalists in Venezuela who do the kind of investigative stories that Tehelka excels in would find themselves behind bars.

Distressingly, the wording of the law runs counter to the very nature of journalism, which, in its true sense, is MEANT to highlight systemic lapses, instead of brushing them under the carpet.

One can imagine the [justifiable] protests that would ensue if such a law were ever to be conceived of in India or Western Europe or America.

I hope that our “opinion makers” [especially of the leftist/socialist/communist variety] do not shy away from condemning Chavez’s attempts at taming the media in the strongest possible terms.

After all, if Chavez’s “21st century Socialism” is such a panacea, then the people must not be deprived of an opportunity to hear about it from the press!

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