Monday, September 7, 2009

Closure of 29 radio stations in Venezuela means freedom of expression just moves to new media platforms

This past Friday in Venezuela, protesters marched against President Hugo Chavez's decision to continue to shut down radio and television stations, supposedly for breaches of contract and "violations relating to their broadcasting licenses". Whatever the claimed reasons for denying citizens access to an option of media sources may be, it seems as though this effort to silence the public and their opinions, whether they be pro- or anti-Chavez, won't really hinder their freedom of expression as much as they think. Case in point: one news station covering the story ran text messages sent in from viewers in a ticker along the bottom of the screen, messages that expressed their views and opinions on the radio and television station closures. It seems that the station wants to go out with a bang, refusing to back down even after threats of closure. And that takes guts -- albeit rather sneaky guts -- from a station being controlled by a government wishing to silence any anti-Chavez opinions.

Said television broadcasting station Globovision, which is a known critic of Chavez, is being investigated for "breaking a law on 'social responsibility'", allegedly because of their biases and opinions that go against Chavez and his policies. But instead of sitting still and allowing to be silenced, Venezuelan citizens moved their discussion of Chavez's choices on to another platform (the ticker aired on the older medium of television) by means of the new medium of mobile phone technology. I have yet to see this be a trend on Twitter and I haven't found a Cause for the incident on Facebook, but it wouldn't surprise me if these topics show up sooner or later (it's quite possible that maybe I'm having difficulty finding these groups because I haven't been searching Spanish).

In some ways, I'm incredibly grateful for the freedom of the press and access to information that we have here in America. I may find it difficult to completely support and agree with any of the major news providers or pundits in the media, but at least those who the majority of citizens do not agree with or who fall on the fringes of public opinion are not at risk of being silenced for their views and opinions. I'm not saying that Venezuela needs to adopt a freedom of speech model akin to ours in the US, because I do not think that our system is by any means flawless (one could argue that there is just too much media noise out there, or an unpalatable amount of "truthiness", i.e.); I'm simply stating that I think the opportunities for free speech awarded by unchecked new media outlets like text messaging, Twitter and Facebook make the possibility of silencing a public difficult. Without complete removal of these media from public access, which I don't think neither pro- nor anti-Chavez citizens would be particularly happy about (but which has happened recently in China), citizens and pundits will still be allowed to express their opinions without fear of repercussions. So while Chavez may be attempting to silence the public opinion via the radio and television platforms, I'm pretty sure he may not actually be targeting the right media.

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