On March 27, Channel 4 News broadcast a relatively long piece on Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela. On Channel 4's website you get a flavour: “He is in danger of joining a rogue’s gallery of dictators and despots — Washington’s latest Latin nightmare.”
This was a piece seemingly written by the US State Department, although Channel 4's Washington correspondent, Jonathan Rugman, appeared on screen. It was one of the worst, most distorted pieces of journalism I have ever seen, qualifying as crude propaganda. I have been in Venezuela lately and almost nothing in Rugman’s rant coincides with reality. Factories are like “Soviet collectives”; a dictatorship is on the rise; Chavez is like Hitler (Rumsfeld); and the media is under government attack. The inversion of the truth throughout this travesty is demonstrated in the “coverage” of a cowed media. Venezuela is a country in which 95 per cent of the press and TV and radio are owned by the far-right. who mount unrelenting daily attacks on the government unhindered. The Latin American Murdoch, Cisneros, unfettered, controls much of it. Indeed, it is probably the most concentrated, reactionary media on earth — but that was not worthy of a single word from Rugman.
The dishonesty of interviewing Maria Corina Machado and calling her a “human rights activist” was breathtaking. She is a leader of Sumate (’Join up’), an extreme right organisati on that was deeply involved in the 2002 coup. She met Bush in the White House shortly before the coup. There was no mention of this. Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, is dismissed as a Chavez protege”, a puppet, a ludicrous description of a man who has been in polityics longer than Chavez and has just won a landslide election. No mention of this.
Chavez himself is portrayed by Rugman as a comical dictator, with his folksy Latin way (one reason ordinary people love him) taken out of any context. In fact, this highly intelligent, accessible man has overseen victory in nine democratic elections in less than eight years — a world record. In crude Soviet-flick style, he is shown with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Gaddafy when these brief encounters only had to do with Opec and oil. (He met Saddam literally in a day-long stopover).
Chavez is said to have “torn up contracts” with foreign oil companies. The con tracts were barely legal, based on loopholes which Chavez’s predecessaor Rafael Caldera exploited to give away much of Venezuela’s oil, in effect; billions of dollars went into the pockets of Venezuela’s wealthy minority. No mention of this.
Utter bullshit about Venezuela helping Iran develop a nuclear capability is sourced to “press reports” (discredited in the United States) peddled by axe-grinding outsiders, in league with Washington, along with other half-baked hearsay. There was little, apart from tokens, about the way the Chavez government has changed millions of people’s lives for the better. Rugman whined that he was “held for 30 hours” by police in Caracas. Oh, how dramatic for him. This is a country threatened day and night by the United States; there was nothing from our Channel 4 hero about “Operation Bilbao”, to which serious US analysts like William Arkin have given credibility and which is about overthrowing the elected government of Ve nezuela. In his brief captivity, Rugman would have learned that this is a country, although under constant military threat, and threats from within, has not a single political prisoner.
While Chavez was offered up as a clown, Condaleeza Rice was given true gravitas. I could go on, but that’s enough. This was a disgrace from beginning to end. Worse, it joined the kind of hysteria in the US that is following the Bush administration’s agenda of “positioning” Venezuela as a “rogue state” and a threat to US interests: in other words, softening it up for attack. If and when it comes, the Rugmans will share some of the responsibility.