“This was a channel openly calling for the overthrow of a democratically elected government”

May 23, 2007 at 7:28 am (Free Speech, Human rights, left, TWP)

How many of us have called “openly called” for the overthrow of capitalism? Well apparently Tariq Ali doesn’t see the irony in his statement about Chavez’s failure to renew a TV licence for the anti-government channel RCTV. By his logic most of the newspapers of the far left could be legitimately closed down in Britain.

The argument for cenorship of alternate points of view being aired within a society via radio and television is Stalinist to the core. In Cuba, Castro has done this for years and gotten away with it in the name of “the revolution”. Yet what was that revolution fought for if not freedom from tyranny? Chavez is following Castro in one of his worst legacies, despite many positive advances which remain due to the Cuban Revolution.

I have always argued for “no platform for fascists” and stand by that argument. However, this isn’t a “fascist” TV station – it simply opposes the government in the strongest terms. That is not a reason for shutting it down. The way to silence such critics is to give them less and less to criticise. In fact this kind of behaviour merely emboldens critics and gains them further adherents.

The response of the left to this development should be watched closely and one can pass their own view on those organisations which support Chavez’s latest move without critical comment.

46 Comments

  1. modernityblog said,

    I assume that it relates to this story in the Guardian?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/venezuela/story/0,,2085952,00.html

  2. twp77 said,

    Yes – thanks for clarifying.

  3. Red Squirrel said,

    Supporting a military coup is support for fascism in my book. I am not at all worried by the closing down of the station (which is not a closing down, but a non renewal of license). I do not believe that the bourgeoisie has a right to free speech or any right whatsoever. In fact, I think that the Chavez government is not going far enough in repressing the ruling classes.

    What worries me is that the station will become a state owned media outlet, rather than a community based accountable one.

  4. Jim Denham said,

    The decision to close down the station might have been justified if the station was presently involved in organising a military coup – but there is no evidence that it has been (as opposed to its role in 2002): the Chavez government is not under any serious threat from the Venezualan Right, or from the US…at the moment. This just confirms the view that Chavez is an authoritarian bonapartist who has little time for any sort of democracy – workers’ or bourgeois. And Tariq Ali attempt to justify the closure by stating that the station was “openly calling for the overthrow of a democratically elected government” is simply hilarious, coming as it does from a man who’s spent most of his adult life doing just that… and the comparison with Thatcher’s reaction to “Death on the Rock” is even more gobsmacking: so Tariq retrospectively thinks Thatcher was right to have removed Thames’ franchise over that issue?!?!?

  5. johng said,

    “the Chavez government is not under any serious threat from the Venezualan Right, or from the US…at the moment”

    Given that everyone here is a Socialist, and that presumably everyone here understands that situations of dual power don’t last forever, the above statement seems highly questionable.

  6. Will said,

    “Given that everyone here is a Socialist…”

    You aren’t.

  7. Jules said,

    Shame on this blog : (

  8. Jim Denham said,

    John G: this is ‘off-topic’, but I hope you will respond. You are – quite rightly- allowed to express your opinions freely on this blog, and no matter how much I and/or Volty may disagree with you, we have never attempted to censor you. I, however, appear to be banned from making comments on your (SWP) mate “Lenin”‘s blog. Are you aware of this? What do you think about it? What will you do about it?

  9. voltaires_priest said,

    Jules: what on earth are you talking about? You mean so say that anyone who isn’t totally uncritical of Chavez therefore supports the police beating up his supporters in the street?

    Don’t be so silly. You surely don’t consider Chavez to be simply exempt from criticism of any kind?

  10. charliemarks said,

    I take the point, but the station isn’t being shut down. The government chose not to renew its license. I believe there’s a difference — though it is sometimes hard to entangle the propaganda (on both sides). Chavez isn’t immune from criticism, but he’s not doing anything illegal in denying a license. I don’t remember there being such an uproar from the Gruaniad and the international media when the BBC was given a bollocking over Iraq — so, this is not a press freedom issue.

  11. Jules said,

    “Jules: what on earth are you talking about? You mean so say that anyone who isn’t totally uncritical of Chavez therefore supports the police beating up his supporters in the street?

    Don’t be so silly. You surely don’t consider Chavez to be simply exempt from criticism of any kind?”

    It’s got nothing to do with criticising Chavez, its about defending the right of multi millionare bourgeois media to not only support the coup, but also play a leading role in its organisation and execution (or as TWP so coyly put it to “express differences”)

    That’s a fact – its documented in the movie I linked. The RCTV have the blood of the people who were beaten, shot and killed all over their hands. It would have been alot worse if the coup had been successful.

    Remember Chile.

    Shame on this blog.

  12. voltaires_priest said,

    Oh, grow up.

    I know very little about the situation, but what is evident to me is that it’s a TV station not a government; the blood evident in your video is on the hands of the people who ordered the beatings. And TWP has every right to say what she likes on here, long may she continue to write on this blog.

    The coup against Allende was a dreadful historical event. But it wasn’t done by TV journalists. And shame on you for attempting censure-by-moralism against someone’s right to free expression on this blog.

  13. Jules said,

    “I know very little about the situation”

    Well that makes three of you. Watch this then admit you’re wrong:

    Now I’m trying to censor people? Since when was a harsh political critique from a comments box censorship? You’re soft lad – try living under the sort of military dictatorship the RCTV helped try to usher in in Venezuela and you could a learn a thing or two about what censorship really means.

  14. charliemarks said,

    As I understand it, the TV journalists were offered the chance to operate RCTV if they organised as a worker collective. The problem has always been with the capitalist ownership. The Bolivarians have usually been reluctant to take things over — or even to have nationalisation under worker control. I suppose this expresses the fact that there are those within the revolution who feel it has gone far enough.

    Clearly, this dispute is not about a TV channel. It is another way for the opposition to organise against the revolution.

  15. twp77 said,

    Jules, Yes it is true that RCTV backed the coup against Chavez and since that time has been critical. However, and as Volty pointed out, this is not a government or militia – it is a TV station. The bottom line is that some on the left think it’s ok to silence critics and some don’t. I am in the latter camp. I have been very supportive of Chavez but the reality is that this is an attempt to silence dissent and cannot be justified as a legitimate act.

    Charliemarks sums up the thinking of all apologists who argue against freedom of expression once the revolution has begun: “It is another way for the opposition to organise against the revolution”.

    This is why you had Kronstadt. This is why Trotsky was silenced. This is why Fidel gets away with not allowing internet access to Cuban workers. If you are seriously concerned about those who died on the streets of Venezuela you should recognise that people don’t die on the streets in the name of freedom for rubbish measures like this to be adopted in the name of “the revolution”. Presumably “the revolution” has goals – and any socialist knows that one of those is freedom for human beings. You can’t get to absolute freedom by curtailing freedom. It’s and undeniable contradiction.

  16. modernityblog said,

    TWP,

    as an aside, I was trying to remember Trotsky’s view on the Kronstadt mutiny and its violent suppression.

    I think (and I welcome being corrected by some orthodox Trotskyists) that Trotsky considers it’s suppression necessity as, in his view, “[t]he Kronstadt uprising thus had a counter-revolutionary character.”*

    I suspect that some men with political power will acquire a degree of paranoia and whenever possible try to suppress their political enemies, whoever they are

    my bet is that Chavez is not entirely different from Trotsky, when he had power, it just depends who gets in their way and how each suppression is justified (“counterrevolutionaries” or “war on terror”) – it has a familiar ring, no matter who says it

    I think that the psychology of power and men with egos applies across the political spectrum.

    *http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/01/kronstadt.htm

  17. voltaires_priest said,

    You’re soft lad – try living under the sort of military dictatorship the RCTV helped try to usher in in Venezuela and you could a learn a thing or two about what censorship really means.

    You ever done that, have you?

    I repeat. They’re a TV station. Not a government.

  18. voltaires_priest said,

    PS – I don’t really see what the problem is with declaring myself not to be an expert on Venuzuela? There’s a real habit on the left of pretending that we all know everything there is to know about everything, and then pronouncing on it – especially when it comes to issues in other parts of the world. It’s never true, and it transparently shows through when people try to bluff and bullshit their way through on the basis of generalism and misapplication of theory.

    Honesty is no shortfall, surely?

  19. Clive said,

    Hear fucking hear.

  20. Red Squirrel said,

    This is why Fidel gets away with not allowing internet access to Cuban workers.

    This is a rather bad and unsubstantiated lie propagated by the filthy RSF. It has as much foundation in truth as Conquest’s history of the USSR.

  21. voltaires_priest said,

    On a related note, are there any Havana-based bloggers? ‘Twould be interesting to read one.

  22. Jules said,

    “I repeat. They’re a TV station. Not a government.”

    I am aware but why should wealthy media barons be any less dangerous than other sections of the ruling class? Look behind any rightwing coup and you’ll discover the hand of corporate interests – be it Chile, Venezuela or wherever.

    The RCTV are implicated up to their eyeballs in coup involvement – they ran adverts encouraging people to take to the streets and overthrow the elected government. It also falsely claimed pro-Chavez supporters were shooting on unarmed civilians to help justify the coup and read out the fake resignation letter form Chavez, who had not in fact resigned. During the short lived dictatorship they supressed all information critical or opposed to the take over.

    This isn’t an issue of free speech – its about a government taking perfectly legitimate and legal action against a network that advocated political violence and treason. Why any socialist would defend the rights of such Pinochetista filth is beyond me.

  23. Jules said,

    “PS – I don’t really see what the problem is with declaring myself not to be an expert on Venuzuela?”

    Neither do I.

  24. Renegade Eye said,

    It is not being shut down. It is moving to cable.

    They took an active part in the coup, not reporting, but participating. When Chavez was back in power, they refused to announce it. They ran cartoons instead.

  25. charliemarks said,

    I know that we are never going to agree on this but I take exception to being called an apologist for the denial of free speech. The Bolivarian has and is spreading the right to free speech — the expanding state-sponsored media is not under state control, despite what the Economist may write.

    RCTV may — i stress may — be an exception and chavez might be laying it on heavy. But the workers of RCTV were offered the chance to continue with the broadcast license if they formed a workers collective which would run the station and decide upon editorial content — rather than a capitalist.

    “In 2002 even Human Rights Watch, which otherwise supports the mainstream campaign against the Venezuelan Government, had to admit that “Far from providing fair and accurate reporting, the media by and large seek to provoke popular discontent and outrage in support of the hard-line opposition” (Venezuela’s Political Crisis,” Human Rights News, Human Rights Watch, October 9, 2002).” http://www.handsoffvenezuela.org/venezuela_and_freedom_of_speech_a_4_lies,_4_answers.htm

  26. charliemarks said,

    Whoops. A line should read, “The Bolivarian has and is spreading the right to free speech”. It’s late…

  27. charliemarks said,

    Fucking hell, I must be wrecked. The correction was wrong, it should be “The Bolivarian revolution has and is spreading the right to free speech”. No doubt, my mistakes will be taken as a sign….

  28. Liam said,

    This should have happened years ago. Stations like this are weapons in the hands of the old ruling class. I’ve seen their news bulletins. They are counter revolutionary propaganda. chavez should have done this after the coup attempt and handed over the broadcasting equipment to supporters of the revolution.
    In a revolution socialists defend pluralism among supporters of the revolution. We don’t let liberals guilt trip us into allowing freedom of expression for the old rulers.

  29. modernityblog said,

    Volty,

    many, many years back there were restrictions on telecommunication, early Fidonet access in Havana, however there was a large “Youth Centre” or something very similar, I forget its name, and there was a degree of access there.

    in my experience, I think that compliance in Cuba is far more subtle than might be expected of an Eastern European state, Cubans seem to know the boundaries of their freedom and go along with many of the Cuban state activities as a matter of course, rather than get any bad mark in their book

    not so sure about current Internet access in Cuba but these article details covers some of the issues:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/6298781.stm

    http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/2006/11/08/cuba-and-the-internet/

    http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=19335

  30. Louise said,

    Jim: when Thames didn’t get its franchise renewed there was no outcry about Thatcher being a “dictator” or how terribly undemocratic she was etc. even though “Death on the Rock” (very good documentary btw) told the truth about the shooting down of 3 unarmed Irish Republicans. Thames made the fatal mistake of criticising the establishment.

    But when Chavez has the audacity to not renew RCTV everyone is up in arms and describing him as a “dictator”. I think he is absolutely correct to do this and utterly justified. RCTV pumps out counter-revolutionary bilge and why would you want to defend that?

    TWP: “The argument for cenorship of alternate points of view being aired within a society via radio and television is Stalinist to the core”.

    But it is not censorship because they can use other means of communication to put forward their reactionary bilge. Counter-revoluntary politics equals a bloodbath and that’s what this radio station supported. And Chavez has done the right thing in my book.

    By christ Jim, what the hell is a “authoritarian Bonapartist”?

  31. voltaires_priest said,

    An authoritarian bonapartist is a tautological statement.

  32. voltaires_priest said,

    Jim: when Thames didn’t get its franchise renewed there was no outcry about Thatcher being a “dictator” or how terribly undemocratic she was etc. even though “Death on the Rock” (very good documentary btw) told the truth about the shooting down of 3 unarmed Irish Republicans. Thames made the fatal mistake of criticising the establishment.

    That’s an argument for there having been an outcry about Thatcher cutting Thames over Death on the Rock, not an argument against objecting to Chavez’ recent actions.

  33. Alex said,

    The only use of invoking the example of Thames is to point out the hypocrisy of liberals who are now accusing Chavez of acting like a ‘dictator’. I don’t think it’s useful to drag into a discussion among leftists.

    I think it’s important to realize that just because RCTV is not ‘a governement or militia’ doesn’t mean it cann’t exercise influence. A popular TV channel that can choose to provide or withhold information is a far more potent source of power than most militia. For example, who does more to promote the far-right agenda in America; those nationalist militia type organisations or Fox News with its newsshows, commentary, talkshows etc?

    Venezuela is in a revolutionary proces of which the outcome is still far from sure. Different classes try the influence this outcome, sometimes with arms, sometimes with propaganda. RCTV has proved to be in the camp of the bourgeoisie and used it’s TV programs as a weapon in the class struggle. IMHO Chavez did the right thing.

  34. John Angliss said,

    Chavez is wrong IMHO. Even though the media might be a rallying point for opposition, you’ll never keep a democracy working without a free media and active civil society.

  35. charliemarks said,

    A free media and active civil society, yes. But in whose hands?

    I do not make a case for state-controlled media. There are differences of opinion in the bourgeois media, different styles and trends. Why should this not be the case for proletarian media?

    RCTV is being replaced by a public access channel. Let’s hope that it is more reflective of public opinion in Venezuela than the corporate media.

  36. charliemarks said,

  37. Jim Denham said,

    The signatories to the letter in today’s ‘Guardian’ (which include Tony Benn and John Pilger), supporting the closure of RCTV, give us a pretty good idea of who the “useful idiots” would be in a UK were some sort of fascist-stalinist outfit ever to take over.

  38. modernityblog said,

    Charlie,

    What an amusing article, it still does not answer Volty’s point, but good to see where it came from!

    http://www.granma.cubaweb.cu/english/index.html

    Official Organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba

    I would never expect any thing even slightly critical of the Cuban leadership in Granma, would you ?
    :)

  39. Red Squirrel said,

    My comment here became far too long, so I made a post on my blog instead.

  40. Will said,

  41. Red Squirrel said,

  42. charliemarks said,

  43. modernityblog said,

    Red Squirrel

    no blog is complete without mentioning that “Lenin points out in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky” !

    Charlie Marks,

    interesting, stuff,

    Volty, here’s an idea, why not take a trip to Cuba and report first hand, you’ll love the country, its not so expensive, if you’re careful with your money :)

  44. Red Squirrel said,

    no blog is complete without mentioning that “Lenin points out in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky” !

    That is true. In fact, nothing is ever complete without a reference to Lenin.

  45. Graeme said,

    For what it’s worth, Venezuelans are demonstrating against the closure–about 180 arrests so far.

    http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/816B2F53-AE14-4C9C-A991-767A0A119FCB.htm

  46. charliemarks said,

    There were Venezuelans demonstrating *for* and *against* the closure, Graeme. For what it’s worth.

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