June 2, 2007

Venezuela’s media and the U.S. media

Two items regarding recent mainstream news reports telling the story that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is cracking down on free speech in refusing to renew RCTV’s license. First, Robert McChesney unpacks the issue and provides some of the facts and context that have been buried, showing how “the US media coverage of Venezuela‚Äôs RCTV controversy says more about the deficiencies of our own news media that it does about Venezuela.” Also, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has an analysis of recent coverage on the issue which does a great job of showing the mainstream media’s bias in favor of the Bush administration on this issue, and its lack of perspective or context. Both commentators point out that a television station attempting to incite a coup in the United States would have been shut down long ago, and its operators tried for treason.

There is an unfortunate cognitive bias among many librarians that says that mainstream sources, ones that seem not to be activist in nature, are automatically more reliable and objective. This is commonly stated as a basic guideline in evaluating information sources, without reasons given, and without awareness of issues in media theory. A companion to the idea that “mainstream means objective” are the anti-intellectual ideas that “everything balances out,” and that “for every argument there is an equally valid counterargument.” This kind of thinking makes our professionalism irrelevant, and makes literacy irrelevant as well. For a profession that claims to specialize in information literacy, as a group we know a lot less about issues of bias than we should. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s magazine, Extra!, should be required reading in library schools (to recommend a very easy starting point).

3 Comments »

  1. This argument that if it happened in the U.S. our government would do the same thing seems alot like the argument used to defend the 2003 political crackdown on dissent in Cuba, with 75 dissidents sentenced to terms up to 20 years after unfair political trials.

    And there is an irony in “alternative” media defending the elimination of a major alternative media source in Venezuela (alternative to the government, that is), in what appears to be a move toward establishing a society similar to Cuba where the government monopolizes all avenues of information. In this case, as with Cuba, I would place more credence in reports by respected interntational humans rights groups, who have all condemned this action, than in partisan news media sources who have their own agendas to advance, even if at the expense of civil liberties.

    I give credit to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, who invited opposing speakers to address this event on her show. That seems more balanced than the two sources cited here.

    Comment by Stephen Denney — June 8, 2007 @ 11:53 pm

  2. You are essentially saying that you trust mainstream sources more, and that therefore you don’t believe the arguments here. That’s not really a logical approach, because you’re bypassing the actual arguments made by FAIR and McChesney, which have implications, ultimately, for how we view mainstream sources.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — June 9, 2007 @ 6:50 am

  3. Actually, I am saying that I trust human rights organizations more than media sources which I believe have their own agendas, whether on the right or left. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups are considered reliable by the alternative media when they criticize human rights abuses in the U.S. or right-wing countries; why should they not be considered authoritative as well when it comes to Venezuela or Cuba?

    Referring to a white book put out by the Venezuala government to justify the closure of RCTV, Human Rights Watch said:

    “The White Book accuses RCTV of ‘inciting rebellion,’ showing ‘lack of respect for authorities and institutions,’ breaking the laws protecting minors, engaging in monopolistic practices, and failing to pay taxes. However, it does not cite a single final judicial or administrative ruling establishing that the channel had in fact committed any of these alleged offenses during its 20–year contract. No one from the channel has been convicted for their alleged complicity in the attempted coup.”

    see: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/22/venezu15986.htm

    Reporters without Borders said Chavez is “aiming to eliminate all the opposition press after he publicly threatened independent TV station Globovisión and CNN, claiming they were instigating a ‘vast destabilisation plan,’ just two days after the closure of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV).” see: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=22374

    Student demonstrations have been taking place against the closure. IFEX reports: “Several media outlets and journalists were harassed, assaulted and threatened in Barquisimeto while covering confrontations between university student groups supporting or opposing the government’s controversial decision to not renew the Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) frequency concession. As well, RCTV journalists were denied access to a government press conference in Caracas, and Globovisión journalists were briefly detained.”

    see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/83883/

    Comment by Stephen Denney — June 9, 2007 @ 9:58 am

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