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Venezuela's Chavez Reminds Us: When Government Controls the Media, Press then Watch For Trouble, Abuses

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By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
May 28, 2007

On Monday morning, Venezuelian President His Excellency Hugo Chavez closed the last remaining TV network in his country critical of his regime.  This was a blow to freedom of the press.

Those of us that live in most of the west know and appreciate the value of the free press.

At last week’s graduation at the United States Naval Academy a central theme of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ commencement address was that, though it may sometimes sting us, the free press ensures openness, in fact transparency, in government. He cited the work of the Washington Post in exposing irregularities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ran out of town the only TV outlet openly critical of his regime. Chavez announced that Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV, will become a state owned and operated “public service outlet.”

“This is Venezuela, not Cuba!” chanted protesters rallying outside RCTV studios Saturday. “We have what it takes to fight!”

Why so much emotion about a TV station in Venezuela? Because when states control their own media, bad news doesn’t get around and good news abounds.

Worse still, without a free and open press, regimes tend toward abuses of all kinds. Corruption, graft, illegal acts by government officials and human rights abuses tend to follow in the wake of news back-outs or controls.

Regimes that live full-time in the shadow of a state controlled press are notoriously involved in illegal and corrupt dealings and human rights abuses.

Ask Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International or just about any other independent watchdog, liberal or conservative. They all agree that central to good government a free and open press is an essential ingredient.

For six months prior to the Hanoi hosted Asia Pacific Economic Conference last November, there was nary one negative news report about the communist government from inside Vietnam.

Currently, communists China, which also controls its media, is executing a mammoth media charm offensive in the run up to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

Beijing knows that an onslaught of western reporters won’t miss much: so it is a good idea to clean up the city now. Pedestrians are being instructed not to spit or urinate in public. The homeless are being rounded up and removed from Beijing. Where are they going and under what conditions?

China’s state controlled media cannot say.

In Cuba, Fidel Castro will “absolutely” return to power. This despite photographs and medical reports leaked to free media indicating he is the definition of a “dead man walking.”

When his brother Raul Castro came into the office of President he immediately launched a campaign against satellite dishes throughout Cuba. Why? Those sneaky Cubans were watching TV (including news) from the U.S.

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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