A self-censoring press

From Backspace

Kremlin, Inc.. “There is no censorship — it’s much more advanced. I would call it a system of contacts and agreements between the Kremlin and the heads of television networks. There is no need to start every day with instructions. It is all done with winks and nods. They meet at the end of the week, and the problem, for TV and even in the printed press, is that self-censorship is worse than any other kind. Journalists know — they can feel — what is allowed and what is not.” Boy does that sound familiar.

This is what Chomsky calls “manufacturing consent.” A self-muzzling press, or one that takes on the values of the ruling class, doesn’t need the the threat of overt censorship to remain compliant.


  1. Indeed. And do you see any parallels between the quietude of the corporate media here in the US and that of the media in Venezuela after the closing of RCTV?

  2. 90% of the press there is privately owned and vehemently anti-Chavez. Given that you so obviously loathe him and read Spanish, you might want to subscribe to some of them and find some kindred souls.

  3. “A self-muzzling press, or one that takes on the values of the ruling class, doesn’t need the the threat of overt censorship to remain compliant.”

    It’s not always about class. Sri Lanka President Premadasa (governed 1989-1993) was a lower caste politician who rose to power through shrewd political manipulation. He actually managed to eject several powerful high-caste politicians from the UNP party during his tenure. Press self-censorship under his brutal reign echoed not the values of the ruling class, but of Premadasa himself– who despite his brutality was strongly committed to helping the poor.

    During the 1994 elections in Sri Lanka, government-controlled media consistently reported a (fictitious) solid lead by the incumbents in the polls. Following opposition candidate Chandrika’s overwhelming electoral victory, a popular cartoon depicted the three branches of media trying to stand on their heads as a sudden change in position became necessary.

    Media, like everyone else, is driven by self interest. They will self-censor based on the values of whoever they feel has the ability and inclination to silence them. This has little to do with class and everything to do with who has the guns. Sometimes guns and class are related, sometimes not.

  4. Trackback: “More Pakistan Woes.”

    “Funny how we don’t read about Pakistan’s internal violence in the American press. I’m sure our press would never self-censor such information just because our government considers Pakistan’s dictator to be a valuable ally in the quest for democracy…”

  5. Pakistan, even if their secret police is a known backer of al Qaeda and the Taliban, seems positively reformist compared to the thugs in Uzbekistan, who DC barely makes a peep about even though they dunk dissidents in boiling water. You think that US oil companies having a major presence in Uzbekistan has something to do with that?

  6. Bob, you’re the one who’s all emotional about Chávez. You think he’s the great man on a white horse. My only feeling is disappointment that yet another leader who might have done some good to address the inequities of the economic situation in Venezuela has gotten caught up in his own ego. Frankly, Chávez is too minor a historical figure for me to get excited about.

    Now, you keep repeating the mantra that 90% of the press in Venezuela is virulently anti-Chavez. I don’t know where this comes from, other than from somebody’s talking points, but let me tell you what I’ve read in the papers over the past few days.

    The Mexican, Colombian, Chilean, Argentine and Spanish papers are have subdued coverage of the street protests that are going on throughout Venezuela. Every major city has one; more than a hundred have occurred, and the authorities have jailed about 150 people whose whereabouts is uncertain. The papers I read don’t give the story as a leading story, but place it on the electronic equivalent of page 3 or page 5. The stories also report that Chavez remains popular with about 2/3rds of the country, but that 3/4rs of the country disapproves of closing down RCTV.

    So, I went to the Venezuelan papers to compare coverage. The two major national newspapers are El Universal and El Nacional. One is slightly left, and the other slightly right; I forget which one is which because since the 1950’s the newspapers don’t have formal editorial policies because of the oppression they recevied from the dictatorship at the time. (Does make you wonder how a newspaper can be violently anti-Chavez if it doesn’t publish an editorial, doesn’t it?).

    So I look to the coverage. El Nacional had no stories at all about the demonstrations as such, although therer was minor coverage of Venezuelan diplomats complaining about opposition that EU and other countries were vocing to the closure of RCTV, and the demonstrations get mentioned in a throwaway line buried deep in the sotry. El Universal similarly did not have a story, although there was a photo-link to the various demonstrations.

    The only demonstration that rated its own story was that of a bunch of students who were complaining about the politicization by the Chávez administration of their professors. They were denied a permit to march (shades of what the authorities have been trying to do to curb ANSWER demonstrations against Bush and CHeney, advancing, BTW, the same rationales), and the Venezuelan Convention of the Episopate has been mediating. That’s it as far as the coverage in the two biggest papers goes.

    So I’d say Chavez is having a pretty good effect on intimidating the media within Venezuela. He did say, of Globovision last week, ‘–“I recommend they take a tranquilizer, that they slow down, because if not, I’m going to slow them down.” Sounds to me like the media are getting the message. The Cisneros family has turned Venevision into a pale imitation of a news service that would make US corporate media proud.

    BTW, note the personal pronoun that Chavez uses when he describes what will happen to Globovision is they don’t change. Not that the equivalent of the FCC will take action, or Congress (well, OK, there is no Congress anymore for the next 15 months, but….) or the courts, or even some government ministry. No, it’s **I** will take action. We’ve seen this before, and it’s so sad to see it again.

    I did pick up one extremely humorous story, though, at least if you like irony. Maduro, the Venezuelan minister of foreign affairs, has just made a speech, echoed by his ambassadors in Europe and in Brazil (the Brazilians, who have a lot of experience with the dangers of authoritarian governments, just had their Senate condemn the RCTV shutdown, wich drew sharp criticisms from the Venezuelan ambassador about what cretins the Brazilians were, and that they were mere “parrots” of the US), that the press was a matter of internal concern and that nobody from outside of Venezuela should be concerned about it. Apparently the ambassador in Ecuador didn’t get the message: a couple of hours before he claimed that the Ecuadorian press was defaming not only Chavez but Venezuelan institutions and the Venezuelan people. Sauce for the goose does not appear to be sauce for the gander.

  7. The 90% quote came from the Guardian article, which you apparently never read.

    I never said Chavez was a great man on a white horse. You set up that straw horse so as to destroy it.

    Venezuela is turbulent. Opposition to him and his reforms tried a coup once and will no doubt try again. That the coup plotters are at least partially backed by the US is a given.

    And again, any country would have done what they did with a media outlet that openly backed a coup. Your rebuttal to that is, as always, that any force coming from a government makes them like Reagan or the neocons, so the whole thing is just a terribly tragic ethical dilemma that must be discussed ad infinitum before arriving at the conclusion that taking any action would be dangerous.

  8. If you cite the article, I read it. Doesn’t mean I’m convinced by it, or that the Guardian can’t do better. This was one of those cases.

    True, you have never said that Chavez is a great man in so many words. However, articles about Venezuela appear at least once a week in your blog. If he’s not a great man and what he’s doing is not important, why the concern to “keep your hands off of Venezuela”? (A sentiment I share, though perhaps for different reasons than you have.) I also have no doubt that the present government would support a coup, but, quite frankly, they have their hands full elsewhere and I see no particular danger of a coup, given the entire incompetency of the administration. But you’re not opposed to coups in general, since Chavez launched one himself, which you apparently don’t find objectionable; you just care who launches the coups, right?

    From all I’ve read about the 2002 attempted coup, it sounds like there was lots of confusion on all people’s parts. As I mentioned in an earlier post, most Venezuelan newspapers gave up publishing editorials in the 1950’s during the last dictatorship, right-wing that time. I have not yet had the pleasure of living through a military coup, but I’ve been nearby when they’ve been launched (Pinochet in 1973, Banzer overthrowing Torres in 1971, and a couple of other ones where the stakes were lower and the aftermath not nearly as hideous), and I can tell you from personal experience that everybody is spooked. It’s not that military coups are unknown, alas, in that part of the world; people just know how terribly wrong they can go. If that’s how spooked the neighboring countries can be, just imagine what it’s like being on the ground. The impression I get from friends who have lived through coups is that there is much fear and confusion in the first 48 hours, and noone, media or civilian, wants to do anything that might antagonize the new regime, whatever it may be. Many otherwise responsible outlets often endorse the coup…not exactly a profile in courage, I grant you, but one that’s certainly understandable.

    Anyway, it looks like Chavez has what he wants for the moment, which is a cowed media. I don’t who cows the media, be it Chavez, Putin, Reagan, Mussolini, or Pinochet. You’re apparently prepared to cut a lot of slack to people you like. The problem with that position is that it’s dependent on power, not on principle, and when the tide turns, you have nothing but power (or lack thereof) to fall back on. Surely we can do better?

  9. Considering that Castro has had over one hundred attempts on his life by the US or US-backed forces, yeah, I’d say Chavez has good reason to be watchful, especially since they already tried once.

    But you seem to consistently gloss over what the US does, oh they’re too busy now to bother with him. I bet the populace of Chile wished that about Pinochet. Since you always condemn the activists / rebels you thus, inadvertently or not, back the status quo. Always.

    Of course I back some coups and not others. I support what Castro did and condemn what Pinochet did. You seem to be so squeamish about power that you don’t think it should ever be used, at least not by insurgents, while you gloss over and ignore the crimes of imperialist power.

    Just because someone exercises power doesn’t mean they become bereft of principles, as you imply. Nelson Mandela sure didn’t. About the first person he thanked upon release from prison was Fidel Castro because Cuba supported Mandela unwaveringly from Day One when no one else did. Which seems to me to be an exercise of both power and principle.

  10. OK, Bob, at least we’re clear. You’re prepared to back coups against democratically elected governments that you don’t like. You’re prepared to support the liquidation (that’s killing in English) of people who oppose the regimes you support.

    And that’s OK, as long as I know where you stand. I oppose the Pinochets and Videlas and the Brazilian colonels for their extraconstitutional actions. You oppose them because you don’t like their politics, not because you have any squeamishness about their methods.

    So I guess the difference between us is this: I oppose the Bush administration because of the methods they use. I’d oppose them if they were used in France or in Egypt or in Argentina or in Cuba. You, I gather, are fine with their methods if they were used for leftist purposes, but not for rightist or imperialistic purposes. So now we’re clear where each of us stands.

  11. Then I assume you do not back the American Revolution, the Civil War on the side of the North, the rebellion in Haiti that freed the slaves, or any number of other fights where a people fought for something they believed in and won.

    “Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.” – Saul Alinsky

Comments are closed.