[R-G] Washington Promotes 'Independent' Media in Venezuela

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Fri Sep 21 13:05:35 MDT 2007

Washington Promotes 'Independent' Media in Venezuela 

		Michael Barker 
	September 20, 2007


 For some time it has been apparent that President Hugo
Chavez – the democratically elected President of Venezuela – and his
government have been on the US’s ‘regime change shopping list’. Such coup-inspiring attitudes were especially transparent in 2006, when the US’s National Security Strategy noted that: “In Venezuela, a demagogue awash in oil money [i.e. Chavez] is undermining democracy and seeking to destabilize the region.” So given the US government’s evident hostility towards Chavez’s emancipatory politics, it is not too surprising that their incessant propaganda is duly amplified by their corporate mouthpieces, the US media. Similarly, British-based media watchdog, Medialens,
have amply documented how supposedly progressive media outlets (like
the BBC) have contributed to the global disinformation campaign being
waged against Chavez. It is all too obvious that in the eyes of the world’s ruling elites Chavez is promoting the ‘wrong kind’ of democracy, that is, popular democracy instead of low-intensity democracy (or polyarchy). 
To remedy the democratic problem that Venezuela poses to the interests of transnational capitalism, the US’s
main democracy manipulating body, the National Endowment for Democracy
(NED), has been busily financing opposition groups within Venezuelan
civil society. Most famously such ‘democratic’ interventions have seen
the NED and its cohorts
facilitate the unsuccessful coup that temporarily removed Chavez from
power in 2002.[1] More recently though, a central prong of the US
governments War on Democracy
has been to criticise Chavez’s domestic media policies, which have been
widely reported in the international corporate media as being hostile to freedom of expression. 
Considering the miserable state of affairs of the US’s ‘mainstream’ media, it is strange that earlier this year this same media vilified
the Venezuelan government for failing to renew the licence of Radio
Caracas Television (RCTV). The irony of this situation is especially
delightful because the CIA-linked RCTV is “one of the oldest and largest opposition-controlled TV stations”, was an active participant in the US/NED-backed coup of 2002, and has been busy leading mediated attempts to oust Chavez from office ever since.[2] 
While it has been well reported in the progressive media that the NED-linked media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has been at the forefront of recent efforts to delegitimize Venezuela’s
media policies,[3] this same progressive media has for the most part
overlooked the role of similarly ‘democratic’ human rights groups in
facilitating such attacks. Noteworthy exceptions to this trend include
two recent articles written by Greg Grandin and Gregory Wilpert respectively: the latter of whom notes that is “very disappointing to see international human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Carter Center, and the Committee to Protect Journalists
condemn the [Venezuelan] government’s decision” to revoke RCTV’s
license.[4] (For further details on the close links that exist between
the NED and these human rights groups – and all of the other groups
mentioned in this article see my recent article, Hijacking Human Rights).[5] 
The focus of this article, however, will not be on such ‘human rights’ groups or on dubious activities of Reporters Without Borders, but instead this article will draw attention to the ‘democratic’ activities of a little mentioned South American media watchdog which goes by the name of the Instituto De Prensa Y Sociedad. 
The Instituto De Prensa Y Sociedad (IPYS) – otherwise known as the Press
and Society Institute – was founded in 1993 by Laura Puertas Meyer, and
the Institute obtained their first NED grant in 1998 to help them
“develop a national network to protect journalists” in Peru. Meyer’s
involvement in founding IPYS is particularly noteworthy because he is
presently the executive director of the Peruvian chapter of Transparency International,
which perhaps not coincidentally is a key global ‘democracy promoting’
organization. IPYS’s links to Transparency International do not end
here, as in 2002 Transparency International’s Americas programme coordinator, Marta Erquicia, joined forces with IPYS to launch an annual award for investigative journalism. Furthermore, it is significant to observe that George Soros’ Open Society Institute sponsors the award, and two of the five members of the prizes jury have ‘democratic’ ties: these two judges are Gustavo Gorriti (who is a member of IYPS, has received the ‘democratically’
connected Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom
Award in 1998,[6] is listed as an individual endorser of the UN Democracy Caucus, and is a member of the Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium for Investigative Journalism),[13] and Tina Rosenberg (who serves on The New York Times editorial board, and on the advisory board of the National Security Archive). Considering all these ‘democratic’ ties it is ironic that in 2006 the two winners of this Soros-sponsored award,
Tamoa Calzadilla and Laura Weffer, won because of their reporting on
the “irregularities in the investigation of the [Danilo] Anderson
murder case” – Anderson being the Venezuelan state prosecutor “in
charge of identifying those responsible of [the] failed [2002] coup
against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.”
The current executive director of IPYS Peru is Ricardo Uceda, a reporter who formerly “directed the newsweekly Si, and ran the El Comercio’s investigative unit”. It is significant to note that in 1993 – while working for Si – Uceda was awarded the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award.
Again perhaps not coincidentally, two of the four other winners of the
1993 International Press Freedom Award have ‘democratic’ ties, these
being, Doan Viet Hoat (who was the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial’s 1995 Human Rights Award, and is a director of the World Press Freedom Committee – a group that describes its original purpose
as “oppos[ing] proposals for a restrictive new world information and
communication order”),[7] and Veran Matic (who in 1993 was working for Radio B92 in Yugoslavia – a station that received a grant from the NED in 1991, and continued to receive support throughout the 1990s from ‘democracy promoting’ organizations intent on ousting Slobodan Milosevic). 
IPYS Peru can boast other ‘democratic’ links as they have worked alongside the NED-funded Association for Civil Rights,
an Argentinean NGO whose website notes that it was founded in 1995
“with the purpose of contributing to the establishment of a legal and
institutional culture that would guarantee fundamental rights to the
inhabitants of our country, based on respect for the Constitution.” The
Association for Civil Rights also receives funding from other key ‘democratic’ groups
like the British Council, the Ford Foundation, and the Open Society
Institute: likewise it is interesting to observe that IPYS Peru is a partner organization of the Open Society Institute’s Open Society Justice Initiative. 
IPYS Peru obtained renewed NED support to continue their work protected press freedom in Peru
in both 2000 and 2001. Of more relevance to this article though, was
the creation, in 2002, of a Venezuelan branch of IPYS. Like their
Peruvian chapter, IPYS Venezuela has obtained ongoing support from the
NED, and in their founding year they received their first grant to
organize a forum “for media owners, editors, journalists, and leaders
of international media-advocacy groups to reflect on the state of
freedom of expression and journalism in Venezuela.”
The following year they obtained another NED grant, which was used to
(1)“construct a network of alerts in Venezuela to report attacks and
threats against journalists”, (2) “support correspondents in the
provinces by monitoring press conditions and investigating cases of
attacks or threats, and… offer a series of professional training
sessions for journalists”, and (3) to “participate in regional
press-advocacy meetings and work with international and regional
organizations dedicated to freedom of expression.” The NED has
continued to provide annual grants to IPYS Venezuela, and in 2006 they gave them their largest grant to date. 
However, perhaps most significantly, today – that is, on September 18, 2007 – IPYS Venezuela received the NED’s coveted Democracy Award. As the NED’s website states, their Democracy
Award is given annually “to recognize the courageous and creative work
of individuals and organizations that has advanced the cause of human
rights and democracy around the world.” This year however, instead of
judging the work of an assortment of democracy activists, the Democracy
Award aimed to spotlight the work of press freedom activists from
around the world. 
Four NED Democracy Awards were
distributed this year, so in addition to IPYS obtaining the award,
three other individuals received the award: these three journalists
were Anna Politkovskaya (the Russian journalist who
was murdered in October 2006, and was formerly the 2005 recipient of
the ‘democratic’ Civil Courage Prize), Hisham Kassem (who is “[o]ne of Egypt’s most prominent publishers and democracy activists”, and has served
as chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights – a group
that received six NED grants between 1994 and 2003), and Kavi Chongkittavorn (who is the assistant group editor of Nation Media Group,
a member of the steering committee of the NED-created World Movement
for Democracy, and chair of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance – a
group that since 1999 has received annual NED support for its work in
Here it is significant to note that the three aforementioned media freedom groups – IPYS, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and the Southeast
Asian Press Alliance – are all members of a media network known as the
International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). Their affiliation
to IFEX is especially noteworthy because 16 of IFEX’s 72 members have received funding from either, the NED, the Westminster Foundation or Rights and Democracy (the NED’s counterpart organizations in the UK and Canada respectively). Freedom House
and Reporters Without Borders, to name just two, are perhaps the most
notorious media organizations that can be counted among these 16
‘democratically’ tied groups. (A full exposition of IFEX’s ‘democratic’
links will be outlined in my forthcoming article Polyarchy and the Public Sphere.) 
Finally, it is also important to point out that Democracy Award winner, Kavi Chongkittavorn, serves on the executive board of the International Press Institute (IPI). This affiliation is indicative of Chongkittavorn’s ‘democratic’ credentials, as IPI is not only
an IFEX member, but this group’s interests have historically been
closely aligned with those of American foreign policy elites, as in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the IPI actively opposed UNESCO’s proposed New World Information and Communication Order.[8] This is significant because in 2000 IPYS was awarded the IPI’s Free
Media Pioneer Award. This award which is also cosponsored by the
Freedom Forum, which provides a further clue as to the political nature
of the award, as emeritus chair of Freedom House, Bette Bao Lord, is also a trustee of the Freedom Forum. Similarly, Allen
H. Neuharth, the founder of the Freedom Forum, is also a member of the
advisory board of the World Press Freedom Committee. 
Venezuela through its ongoing demonization of Chavez’s media policies
is currently fulfilling a vital role in the US-led war on Venezuelan
democracy.[9] This should be even more worrisome for progressive
activists as the NED notes
that IPYS “has become an authoritative voice on freedom of expression
issues in Venezuela, and is a point of reference for journalists,
academics and human rights defenders.” So while it is hardly likely
that corporate media outlets will ever view the work of ‘media freedom’
groups like IPYS with skepticism, it is vital that all people concerned
with freedom and democracy work to expose the insidious nature of their
anti-democratic work. 
and foremost, to counter the negative influence of the ‘democracy
promoting’ establishment on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) – like
IPYS or Human Rights Watch – it is crucial that progressive citizens
committed to a participatory democracy work to develop alternate
funding mechanisms for sustaining grassroots activism. Then perhaps as
James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer (2001) observed in their seminal book,
Globalization Unmasked, progressive NGOs and activists will be
able to “systematically criticize and critique the ties of their
colleagues with imperialism and its local clients, their ideology of
adaptation to neoliberalism, and their authoritarian and elitist
structures.”[10] As they note, it is vitally important that progressive
NGOs encourage their less progressive counterparts “to get out of the
foundation/government networks and go back to organizing and educating
their own people in Europe and North America
to form socio-political movements that can challenge the dominant
regimes and parties that serve the banks and the [Transnational
Corporations].” This is certainly no small order, but it is certainly
one that will better enable concerned citizens all over the world to
promote participatory democracy rather than polyarchy. 
Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker [at] griffith.edu.au, and some of his other articles  can be found here.


[1] Indeed, US Department of State documents report that “it is clear that NED, Department of Defense (DOD), and other US
assistance programs provided training, institution building, and other
support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively
involved in the brief ouster of the Chavez government”.  The NED has
also provided ongoing funding to the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, a group with close associations to the organizations involved in the major strike actions against Chavez in 2003. 
Here it is interesting to note that pro-Chavez citizens who led the
2002 counter-coup recognized the integral role of the media in enabling
the coup and “targeted the offices of the media, especially television”
for their protests. See, Antony Castillo, Breaking Democracy: Venezuela’s Media Coup, Media International Australia, 108, 2003, p.149. 
Also see, Kim Bartley, Donnacha O'Brian, Online Video: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Upside Down World, May 31, 2007.  
[3] For a review of all of Reporters Without Borders ‘democratic’ ties see my forthcoming article ‘Reporters For ‘Democracy’, Znet. 
specifically to the role of NED-aided Reporters Without Borders in
(mis)reporting on Venezuela, Ignacio Ramonet highlights the importance
of the “relevant international organizations” in denigrating the
attempts by a democratic government in attempting to limiting the
influence of pro-coup forces within their country. Indeed during the
2002 coup, Ramonet wrote that Reporters Without Borders “clos[ed it’s]
eyes to the one of the most odious media campaigns ever launched
against a democratic government”. Ignacio Ramonet, The Perfect Crime, Le Monde Diplomatique, June 2002. 
by the same coverage, Thierry Deronne (2002) suggests that: “The
‘super-objectivity’ displayed by the letters authored by ‘Reporters
Without Borders’ gives the [pro-coup] campaign by the commercial media
great efficiency in circulating around the world, for example, among
other Human Rights organizations who believe ‘Reporters Without
Borders’ without question.” Thierry Deronne, The “Distorters Without Borders”, NarcoNews, October 4, 2002.  
[4] Wendy
Luers is currently a co-chair of Project on Justice in Times of
Transition, and president of the Foundation for a Civil Society, a
group that was established in 1990 to support “projects that strengthen
the forces of democracy, civil society, the rule of law and a
free-market economy in the Czech and Slovak Republic.”
Luers’ biography notes that she has worked on numerous other nonprofit
boards which include the Fund for Free Expression (now Human Right
Watch’s Free Expression Project) and Helsinki Watch (now Human Rights
Watch), and in the late 1980s she also served as director of special
projects at Human Rights Watch. Luers is also a member of the
International Rescue Committee’s leadership council on children in
armed conflict, and in 1996 she was a member of the presidential
delegation (led by Richard C. Holbrooke) to observe the Bosnian
election. Interestingly she has also been a cultural correspondent for Venevision Television in Venezuela, a media outlet which played an important role in supporting the attempted 2002 coup in Venezuela.
Interestingly, Luer’s husband, William H. Luers, in addition to having
many ‘democratic’ links was the US Ambassador to Venezuela from 1978 to
1982, and then to Czechoslovakia from 1983 to 1986. (For references see.) 
[5] Similarly, John Pilger castigated both Amnesty International for being wrong in demonizing Chavez concerning the RCTV affair. 
[6] For more about the Committee to Protect Journalists see forthcoming, Michael Barker, Polyarchy and the Public Sphere. 
In the late 1970s, UNESCO acknowledged that there were serious problems
with the world’s media organizations and took active steps to expand
the democratic potential of global media systems, leading to their
proposal for a New World Information and Communication Order. This plan
suggested the need for a radical departure from (then current) media
trends, and recognized that the current domination of media systems by
Western states was inherently undemocratic. 
[8] Anthony C. Giffard, UNESCO and the Media (New York: Longman, 1989), p.28. 
For more details about the see William Preston, Jr. Edward S. Herman, Herbert I. Schiller, Hope and Folly: The United States and UNESCO, 1945-1985 (University of Minnesota Press, 1989). 
For example, in January 2007 the BBC reported that a “joint delegation
of the Committee to Protect Journalists and Instituto Prensa y Sociedad
(IPYS) said today it is alarmed about the lack of transparency in
President Hugo Chavez Frias’s decision not to renew the broadcast
concession of the privately-owned television station RCTV.” Annon, Venezuela: CPJ, IPYS criticize “lack of transparency” in RCTV case, BBC, January 12, 2007. 
[10] James Petras, Henry Veltmeyer, Globalization Unmasked: Imperialism in the 21st Century (London, Zed Books, 2001), p.137.

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