Freedom Tree!

Tireless in pursuit of democratic rights 

Relentlessly challenging plutocratic might

Braving atrocities, police state’s plights

Awaiting the passage of this barbaric night

 

Freedom Tree!

Free Press shall set us Free!

 

In actions and spirits, journalists united

Radical is our zeal, refusing to be placated

No longer shall we let scribes be oppressed

Duties shall manifest, and our rights protected

 

Freedom Tree!

Free Press shall set us Free!

 

Unjust regimes can imprison us; not our thoughts

They can chain us down, charge us with treasons

Truths we shall expose, fearless in our purpose

With conscience intact, misdeeds we shall oppose

 

Freedom Tree!

Free Press shall set us Free!

 

Too many journalists have been assaulted by State

For speaking out with reason, against fear and hate

We must all stand by our comrades, before its too late

Until justice is served, liberties restored, we shall not rest!

 

Freedom Tree!

Free Press shall set us Free!

 

– Saswat Pattanayak, Peoples’ Poet

(Written for Media Unity for Freedom of Press – MUFP, Bhubaneswar)

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Chavez and RCTV: Whose Media is the Question

At the crux of the divided opinion regarding Chavez’s decision to take control over a private TV channel is the ever-elusive concept of human ‘freedom’.

Freedom, although is being defined purely from a consumerist-capitalist lens than from a socialist perspective. And hence what we see is demise of individual liberty, the status of savior in form of Youtube and an international condemnation of Venezuelan crisis.

People across political spectrum are quick to draw conclusions. Most from the politically right are obviously thrilled at the prospect of noticing the deterioration of “democracy” in Venezuela. Even as they would not go their graves confirming that the goal of communism has anything to do with western democratic ideals, they still would condemn Chavez for failing to stand ‘their’ tests.

More baffling is the responses from many of the left-wing comrades. There is an attempt to portray RCTV as the evil incarnation of conspiring media that deserved to die. How could Chavez even allow it to exist for five years since he came to power? Many from the progressives are perhaps still in a stage of denial. This is a classic case of denial that permeated throughout during the Stalinist days when the Soviet leader exercised his cultural controls. For a long period, there was silence among the communists over the “high-handedness” of Stalin. After his death followed the last testament of Khrushchev, and the international condemnation of Stalin from most people even from the left.

Perhaps little too early to draw a comparison here, but it would be apt to indicate that “threat to life of the leader” has been the common grounds on which censorships worked in both Soviet Union and now in Venezuela. Chavez feels and rightly so, that there were attempts on his life by the forces supportive of the private channels, and the RCTV anyway was part of a coup to oust him from power before. So in all good sense, he would rather have the station shut down. Similar parallels can be found in the lifetime of Joseph Stalin who promulgated censorships in lieu of security to his own life and maintenance of socialist order in Soviet Union.

Just as Stalin was credited with improving Soviet industrial economy, so is Chavez with his ability to pay off the Venezuelan debts and making the country a strong contender for a role in the UN. Just as Stalin had a “personality cult” theory to haunt him after his death, Chavez and his comrade Castro have personified enough of their respective countries for the personality cult to emerge and dominate the communist worldviews too.

Let me make it quite clear that the act of Chavez in Venezuela in banning the one or two television stations is an act of gross censorship that’s unparalleled in world history. RCTV was no joke (although its programs were famous for their bad humor). It was the most important television channel to have been there in Venezuela for over six decades now. It was a major pillar media estate that drew viewership of majority of people in Venezuela. To shut down RCTV would be to shut down CNN in America or Zee TV in India. Isn’t it a big violation of human rights?

To confirm that it is, so far, even the liberal watchdogs have proclaimed their hasty judgments on Chavez. Amongst those who have condemned the closure of RCTV are not just the US Senate, or Chile’s Congress, but also the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and members of the European Parliament. The potential allies of Chavez have not just become distanced from him. With the closure of Globovision, his enemies have even started to grow.

Chavez has unleashed state power also to throttle opposition in his homeland. His police forces have confronted protesting crowds. Even one student is claimed to have been dead in firing.

More Pictures here.

The world media, and certainly the bloggers have been taking quite some notice of what is happening in the backdrop of a new media world. How much of control can be exerted on the traditional media when there are newer avenues still open out there in the forms of YouTube and weblogs? Indeed RCTV is now online already.
Moreover, what logic can be justified in a decision to shut down the messengers? And in our age of television, as a blogger rightly asks, indeed what could be the worst that can happen: shutting down of a TV Station!
Wait, there is even more. The Drudge Report says Chavez may shut down yet another station and readers are aghast.

Its becoming a field day for the right-wing media actors who have now left no stone unturned to poke fun at everyone else including the unassuming democrats.

What defense has Chavez got?
Chavez has very weak defense, if at all. Unfortunately, unless he stands up to declare what this whole thing is all about, speculations will not stop. And fuel for an uninformed audience can prove to be extremely dangerous for the future of world progressive thoughts.

What I mean by this is, Chavez has chosen to defend him. One weak way of doing that is by claiming that he was a victim of a coup and this is merely unacceptable to allow the disturbing elements. Those supporting Chavez are merely repeating his words. According to Chavez there can be no argument on his decision since that’s a sovereign matter of his country and is legitimate.

A portion of American Left, Democratic Underground has a theory that substantiates some of his sentiments in a more informal sense. One thread reads:

“President Hugo Chavez is shutting down a RW CIA operation mistakenly called a “TV” station and not only does he have a perfect right to do that, it’s his patriotic DUTY to do so. For six years this RW nest of snakes has been trying to overthrow a DEMOCRATICALLY elected leader. This so-called TV station helped the coup in 2002 and they have never stopped aiding covert US forces since then. He gave them plenty of warnings but they just kept up their SHIT! It is time for the FASCIST media to get it thru there head that everybody is getting sick and tired of their FAKE NEWS CHANNELS which are being used to overthrow governments by creating FAKE CIA protests. This tactic which started in 1953 when it was used against Iran, has caused nothing but trouble for US credibility. In other words IT’S NOT WORKING ANYMORE! Hugo Chavez was legally elected and he has duty to protect his people from covert attacks by other countries. RCTV is a threat to Venezuela’s national security. Personally I think just shutting it down was being WAY TO NICE! The “reporters” cough cough, should be THROWN IN PRISON FOR TREASON! This should be a message to all in the FAKE MEDIA and their counterpart organizations…
YOU ARE CRIMINALS and you are not getting away with this crap anymore. If any “REAL” people are upset with the shutting down of the CIA front TV station it’s only because they will miss their soaps. That can be fixed and I’m sure Chavez plans to do that. Hugo Chavez is doing a bang up job for his people. He’s paid off their debt. and for that alone he needs to be supported by all good people. All you SELFISH GREEDY RW CRIMINALS can go right to HELL! GOD BLESS HUGO CHAVEZ!”

The same form of defense goes on with another usual Left Spin: Jo Swift says, This TV station is a company that would not get a license in other democracies, including the United States.
Swift even says the story is “framed” as a simple matter of censorship and that the US Media has a Spin to it in order to accelerate the opposition against Chavez. (Ironically, at the same time, the right-wing bloggers are saying the US Media has a liberal spin that decides not to cover it as much as it should be).

The language of revolution:
The defense of both Chavez as well as the leftwing bloggers are indefensible simply because the way they are argued. Chavez is a wonderful human being by the way he deals with his people and their pressing issues. At the same times he is infinitely humble as a politician, and one can even recollect the manner in which he paid rich tribute to Chomsky’s works on the floor of the UN in the recent past. Whereas all this is good, he is still way short of declaring what his actions constitute in the sense of revolutionary actions.

Just as many a Chomsky’s speeches end with his declaration that America is indeed the freest country there is in the world (because the privileges of a MIT professor are lost to the Manhattan homeless lots), many left scholars and activists begin from an ideal assumption that exists in the world, than needs to be carved out. In that exercise they use languages such as “sovereign”, “legitimate” as Chavez uses or “God Bless Hugo Chavez” as the DemUnderground uses, or “not a censorship” as Swift uses. Or the overall sentiment for this instance that the justification for terminating a “license” is the coup.

All the above phrases and feelings are defined within the context of a specific class that we all are aware of, but most of us are unable to challenge due to the collective fixation with the normatives associated with this class function. For example, what Chavez did is indeed part of exercising the prerogatives in the interest of majority of people of the entire world. This doesn’t have to be “democratic”, or “sovereign” or anything to do with a “coup”. In fact, Chavez himself was involved in forming a coup, according to mainstream historians.

And so far as democracy, freedom and sovereignty are concerned, they are languages of one class of people today that enjoys the tools to define these words. To assume that Chavez will not fall into this trap is dangerous for the future. For now, Chavez is powerful enough to combat a reactionary image of his personality cult. But once the Left even disowns him for having failed the test of capitalist word-lists, he will end up being another Stalin from the grave.

Where Stalin had made clear his principles was in his declaration of his actions as part of a class war that was waging during his days. “Class War” is the phrase that can alone describe the struggle between the propertied classes and the ones who are in favor of emancipation of majority of people from the chains of private control. In this politically correct world it may be sounding naïve to call for a war, and that is what holds back most progressive people everywhere. And of course humanity has seen enough bloody wars to learn a lesson that we don’t need violence any longer to live in peace. Whereas one premise is material (that is, the struggle between two classes), the other is strictly ideal (that let the struggle be peaceful).

History is witness to the property relations of privileged classes that have perpetrated their oppressions against the working class in the name of enjoying “freedom”. Rarely do people ask “whose freedom”. When we talk about media in the world, rarely we ask “whose media”. What Chavez has done in action is possibly the most brilliant work of a leader that answers these questions as well. Through his actions alone, Chavez says, the freedom for the majority. And he says the Media for the People.

This is Class War!

The Class War is going on everywhere in the world today. At some places its more implicit than at others. Some get due news coverage, and some never get it at all. From Mexico to India, the class wars of the landless against the propertied are going on perpetually. Such struggles will invariably involve things like “coup” that will be staged at times by the communists, at times by the capitalists. There is no telling how many times such “coup” has taken place in history. However, for all the records in the past, only a very few times the poor working class coup has emerged successful. And with RCTV, possibly the first time that a major media coup has taken place that is people-driven than property-driven.

It is not the biased coverage of RCTV that should be a cause of censorship. Indeed as NewsBusters responding to a LA Times article says: if the “crime” of RCTV was its supposedly biased coverage, then by that reasoning, even the ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS should be shut down because of their biased coverage of the Bush Administration.

And its not going to be easy defending oneself as the torchbearer of freedom, liberty and democracy if Chavez allegedly plans to change the constitution to permit infinite reelection. It will not be long before he is denounced as another Stalin: personality cult, continued reelection, media censorship.

The answer lies in defiantly declaring the events of the world of marginalized against their oppressors as part of a larger class war. Before the narrations of the feminists and the environmentalists and the gay activists and the civil rights advocates and the communist parties in power fall into the traps of defending themselves against the yardsticks of “individual freedom” established by capitalist ethos, it is imperative to learn and accept that the personality cults and reelections and censorships and identity wars are perfectly within the acceptable norms only if they are orchestrated by the leaders and peoples that are opposed to maintenance of private property relations.

Dictatorship is not a term to be despised, as long as it’s the dictatorship by the proletariat. Its not censorship per se that needs to be condemned. It’s the censorship by the private elitists that stifles the voice of the majority that needs to be condemned. Its not a class war that needs to be avoided at any point in the human civilization. It’s the imperialist war against the people for greedy profit motives such as oil and gold acquisitions that needs to be attacked. Its not permanent reelection or one-party system that needs to be a concern so long as the party in power is able to look after the poorest and offer them top priority. It’s the farcical “democracies” that changes their bottles every five years or so while toasting to the same vulgar display of disproportionate wealth disparity among its classes of people that needs to be focused on.

This is an opportunity to reclaim the class struggle and declare it as such without moralistic pretensions of being freedom loving or being any more politically correct than we have mostly been by condemning former communist control/command economies. The fact of the matter is the initiatives by the revolutionaries must not be limited to the personal impacts in a local sphere but must extend to international future roadmaps.

And it is in this spirit of consolidation of international progressive movement that the RCTV acquisition must be looked from. It is not a battle against the owners of RCTV, rather is part of a larger class war waged against exploitative private propertied class of the whole world.

To end with Che Guevera (who called himself “Stalin II” and had an unwavering support for revolutionary goals without getting perturbed by the first world cultural definitions and never felt ashamed of his warring radical declarations that have been the most vociferous ones we have ever heard) once said:
“The revolutionary, the ideological motor force of the revolution within the party, is consumed by uninterrupted activity that comes to an end only with death, unless the construction of socialism is accomplished on a world scale. If one’s revolutionary zeal is blunted when the most urgent tasks have been accomplished on a local scale and one forgets about proletarian internationalism, the revolution one leads will cease to be a driving force and sink into a comfortable drowsiness that imperialism, our irreconcilable enemy, will utilize to gain ground. Proletarian internationalism is a duty, but it is also a revolutionary necessity. This is the way we educate our people.”

Let not Che’s education go wasted. And certainly let us not romanticize Chavez by either claiming him to be a victor or a loser. Its his bold step at striking at a corporate media interest that needs to be hailed without conditions, or justifications. This is not a closure of a TV station. It’s a war against the private monopolists.

The Class War is continuing. And as brother Scott Heron would have said, the revolution still will not be televised. And yes, we don’t need a a bunch of private TV channels making people laugh at insanely sick jokes during our most trying troubled times.