How does U.S. TV cover Venezuela?

December 10, 2007

Danny Schechter "The News Dissector": Television coverage of the Venezuelan referendum

Danny Schechter "The News Dissector": Television coverage of the Venezuelan referendum



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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was defeated in a referendum earlier this week, his goal to change sixty-nine of the Constitution’s 350 articles, among them the elimination of presidential term limits. American TV coverage of the referendum has had one common theme: a yes vote would have made Chavez a dictator for life. To assess the coverage, we go to Danny Schechter, the news dissector, in New York City. Danny, how did the U.S. media do in covering the referendum in Venezuela?

December 3, 2007

(CLIPS BEGIN)

VOICE OF ABC NEWS REPORTER: Through the night, Venezuelans celebrated the defeat of President Hugo Chavez’s bid to consolidate power and position himself to be president for life.

FOX NEWS HOST: Hugo Chavez could possibly become president for life.

VOICE AT WIVB. COM: Voters said no to constitutional changes that would have allowed Chavez to be leader for life.

JAY: To assess the coverage, we go to Danny Schechter, the news dissector, in New York City. Danny, how did the U.S. media do in covering the referendum in Venezuela?

DANNY SCHECHTER, VIA BROADBAND FROM NEW YORK: Well, what we saw was the same kind of homogeneous coverage that you would expect to see, you know, demonizing Chavez as a dictator, demonizing Venezuela as a country that wants to be Cuba, minimizing the concerns within Chavez’s own party and among his supporters about the proposals he was making, downplaying the fact that there was actually a democratic vote, and he lost because a half a million of his own supporters rejected the provision. But they didn’t reject him. The idea that he wanted to be a president for life is nothing he ever said, and a lot of the coverage was really flawed that way. They really didn’t explain who the opposition was, what Venezuela used to be like before Chavez took over, what the structures that he’s put in place on the ground there are, the so-called socialist structures that allow people to participate, debate, and discuss things in a bottom-up way, and that’s what led to the rejection of the proposals. I think many of these proposals will now be discussed by the parliament there, and some of them may be passed. But the way it was presented in our media, it was like it was a winner take-all-election like the ones we have here, with no substance, no real content other than the symbolism.

JAY: There were some provisions in the constitutional reforms that would have given more centralization of power. There were some real issues of concern that not just in the hard-core anti-Chavez opposition there were people concerned about the kind of powers this might have given him.

SCHECHTER: The former defense minister—his own defense minister—came out against these proposals. Others who were supporters of Chavez also thought that he was not giving people enough time to really digest and discuss the proposals, that he was packaging them together in a way so that you have to accept all of them or none of them. And people didn’t like that, and they voted against it on that basis. But that’s democracy. That’s what we want. That’s not dictatorship. That’s giving the people a voice and a chance to be heard.

JAY: How do you compare the comparison with Putin? The same day, the election took place in Russia. And many of the American news shows, the way they began their newscast that day was two power grabs, Putin, Chavez, two dictators. And they made Chavez equivalent, essentially, to Putin.

SCHECHTER: Well, of course that’s an easy and simplistic way of characterizing the situation. Putin certainly has dictatorial tendencies, he certainly is a very clever operator, but he doesn’t have the kind of democratic debate and base and discussion that you saw in Venezuela. There’s a real difference between the two countries and the process there: one has moved away from socialism; one is moving towards socialism or a form of socialism. So none of these distinctions were made.

JAY: Yeah, I thought it was quite marked that Putin actually is trying to, by all predictions, do an end run around the Russian constitution. Putin actually ran for a seat in parliament, for a seat in the Duma.

SCHECHTER: Yeah, it was because he couldn’t [run] again, so he sort of restructured the situation so that he can still have power and still call shots there, but from another way of operating, from being prime minister. So the country will go from a strong president to a strong prime minister form of government, but Putin will stay in power. Nothing will change there. And he’s been extremely diabolical about this. On the other hand, Chavez proposed an amendment. He didn’t impose a change. And the people, a lot of his own supporters, rejected it. Nobody disputed the outcome, including Chavez, which I think is a very interesting sign. So this is a much more complicated and interesting process than it’s given credit for in the mainstream media, and that’s why we need more textured, more nuanced, more contextualized coverage.

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