Felix Stalder on Sun, 14 Mar 2004 16:00:20 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Community Radio in Venzuela

[I have no direct knowlegde of the complex situation in Venezuela. Yet, I
found this article on community radios/TVs to be very interesting. As far
as I can tell, Chavez, though attacking the oligrachy (see Brian Holmes'
post a few days ago), has not been shutting down, or taking over, their
media. Rather, he is building up his own institutions / power bases, that
run parallel to it. This might help explain why there are two highly
energized groups confronting each other, both being able to organize
protest with huge turn-outs. This would not be possible without access to
mass media.

It probably depends on one's point of view, if this is to call a new type
of 'participatory democracy' or 'run-away populism'. It doesn't strike me,
though, as dictatorial or authoritarian. You certainly don't have hundreds
of community radios/TVs is Cuba.]

March 8, 2004
Pirate Radio as Public Radio, in the President's Corner


ARACAS, Venezuela, March 7 The sound room of Radio Perola, a small
community station on the poor edge of this city, is papered with posters
celebrating Latin American revolutionaries like Fidel Castro and offering
a stern warning to the behemoth to the north: "Death to the Yankee

The setting seems fitting for José Ovalles's politically charged Saturday
radio program. Gripping a microphone and waving reports from a government
news agency, the white-haired retired computer teacher charges that a
far-flung opposition movement arrayed against President Hugo Chávez is
part of an American-led conspiracy. He ridicules the president's foes as
criminals with scant backing.

He urges listeners to defend what Mr. Chávez calls his Bolivarian
Revolution, which is under international pressure to allow a recall vote
on the president's tumultuous five-year rule. "We have to fight for a free
country,"  he said recently, "one with no international interference."

The message, beamed from a 13-kilowatt station in what was once the
storeroom of a housing project, reaches at most a few hundred homes. But
Radio Perola is part of a mushrooming chain of small government-supported
radio and television stations that are central to Mr. Chávez's efforts to
counter the four big private television networks, which paint him as an
unstable dictator.

With Venezuela on edge, stations like Radio Perola are poised to play an
even bigger role in this oil-rich nation's political battle.

Instead of shutting down his news media tormenters, Mr. Chávez's tactic
appears to be to ignore them as much as possible while relying on former
ham radio operators and low-budget television stations to get the
government's message across.

Although the stations say they are independent and autonomous, Mr. Chávez
has announced that $2.6 million would be funneled to them this year. They
also will receive technical assistance and advertising from state-owned

"This year, we will not only legalize and enable approximately 200 more
communitarian radios and televisions with equipment, but we will also
promote them," the communication and information minister, Jesse Chacón,
said in an interview posted on a pro-Chávez Web site.

The stations have been important to Mr. Chavez's government during the
current turmoil, in which the opposition has accused the government of
fraudulently disqualifying hundreds of thousands of signatures for a
recall referendum.

Through it all, the private television and radio stations and the nation's
largest newspapers have stepped up their pressure, presenting a parade of
antigovernment analysts and opposition figures.

Mr. Ovalles, though, calls the opposition "gangsters" and accuses private
news organizations of faking the sizes of antigovernment marches.

At first glance, the community stations and their largely volunteer staffs
hardly seem political, nor do they offer the wallop of the big news
organizations. Programming often deals with mundane matters like trash
pickups or road conditions. The stations are staffed by volunteers, from
teenagers eager for the chance to play Venezuelan hip-hop or salsa to
homemakers who want to tell listeners how to stretch earnings in tough

The main objective, say those who work at the stations, is to show there
is another side to neighborhoods that, in the popular press, are presented
as crime-ridden ghettos.

"The image of the barrios is one of criminals, violence, prostitution,
where kids are abandoned," said Gabriel Gil, a producer at Catia TV, a
three-year-old station that recently moved into a vast building belonging
to the Ministry of Justice. "We say we are television of the poor."

Radio Un Nuevo Día, in a poor neighborhood, is much like the rest. Its
small transmitter has been set up in the corner of a bedroom in a two-room
cinder block house belonging to a cleaning woman, Zulay Zerpa.

Bedsheets separate the bare-bones operation from the cots where her two
children sleep.

"I cook, I clean, I watch the kids, and they do what they have to do," Ms.  
Zerpa said. "I do my part by giving up a bit of my house."

Music is a big part of the broadcast fare. Disk jockeys arrive with stacks
of CD's, playing for hours on end. "I like to talk, and I like to play the
music," said Rosa Amarista, 26. "Private radio is so grandiose. Here you
can say what you want, tell people what you feel."

Nuevo Día, with just 5 kilowatts, does not have much of a signal,
reaching only a few miles around Ms. Zerpa's house on a crowded street. It
is still waiting for a $31,000 government grant. Its 15 staff members are
unpaid. But the people who broadcast are committed to Mr. Chávez.

While the station is small, it is just one in a string of outlets that
have been popping up in neighborhoods, one after another, covering a broad
expanse of urban Venezuela. The number of community radio and television
stations, both licensed and unlicensed, has grown to about 300 from 50 in
three years, said Alfredo Flores, who helps stations nationwide set up

Although Nuevo Día has modest means, it also clearly demonstrates its
close ties to the government. When its reporters are sent downtown, they
have easy access to governing party officials and government
functionaries. The station broadcasts the president's garrulous speeches.

This week, the health minister, Roger Capella, is expected at Ms. Zerpa's
house for an interview.

"This is a counterbalance," said one of Nuevo Día's operators, Armando
Farias, 37, referring to the new dynamic with the private stations. "Right
now, it is balanced one way. Our idea is to counterbalance the other way."

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime@bbs.thing.net