Not Saussure

May 31, 2007

Our son of a bitch….

Filed under: civil liberties, Politics, press — notsaussure @ 12:03 am

Via Matt at An Insomniac,the depressing, though perhaps unexpected, spectacle of a huge assembly of Guardian readers queueing up in Talk is Cheap Comment is Free to endorse censorship and the shutting down of TV stations by Hugo Chavez, criticism of whom is apparently now punishable by 30 months in prison. One of the few dissenting voices notes,

Chavez may be a son of a bitch but he’s the liberals’ son of a bitch.

My favourite, though, is someone who quotes Article 57 of the Venezuelan constitution, apparently protecting freedom of speech, and asking

Can you now state the law that protects freedom of speech in the UK or USA for example?

Someone else helpfully draws his attention to

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance.”

I thought of pointing to Article 125 of the Soviet Constitution of 1936

ARTICLE 125. In conformity with the interests of the working people, and in order to strengthen the socialist system, the citizens of the U.S.S.R. are guaranteed by law:

1. freedom of speech;
2. freedom of the press;
3. freedom of assembly, including the holding of mass meetings;
4. freedom of street processions and demonstrations.

but I don’t think CiF readers do irony too well.

There may be a case for shutting down these stations, or, at least, not renewing their terrestrial broadcasting licences — I don’t know; Venezuela’s recently had an attempted coup, so maybe we shouldn’t expect things to work the way we’d like them to — but I do know that ‘Chavez is getting up George Bush’s nose something dreadful, so pretty much anything he does must be OK’, which is just abot the level of most of the CiF comments, isn’t a particularly convincing one.



  1. Yeah, unquestioning support of Chavez is worrying, he’s doing some pretty scary things – the violent putdowns of strikes are especially concerning. Like you said though, imagine what would happen to ITV if, during a China-sponsored coup attempt on the UK government, they displayed messages such as ‘Not One Step Back’ at the bottom of the screen, and basically called for the democratically elected government to be overthrown. They wouldn’t last five minutes.

    Interestingly during the contra war against the Nicaraguan government in the 80’s Ortega allowed La Prensa to stay open, even though it was being sponsored by the US and was openly calling for the coup. I don’t know if there are comparable examples, but it’s an interesting standard to set.

    Comment by Chris — May 31, 2007 @ 12:16 am

  2. I also feel a bit ambiguous about this. I’m not too concerned about the shutting down of this particular TV station – it did support the coup after all – but I am more concerned by some other things he’s been doing (like the Tascon list). Lots of bad signs – but on the other hand I don’t think there’s much evidence to suggest that the elections that consistently bring him into power have been other than free and fair, and even conducted in a country with a fairly hostile press (or at least, that’s my understanding).

    Comment by thesamovar — May 31, 2007 @ 10:47 am

  3. As I said, I just don’t know enough about it to comment — and, appearances sometimes to the contrary, I do try to hold off committing myself until I’ve got some information on which to go. Obviously, when there’s just been an attempted coup, you expect governments — any government — to get rather antsy, but, at the same time, that’s precisely when civil liberties are the most important, even when they’re the civil liberties of what appears to be a Venezuelan version of Fox News (only in opposition, of course).

    I have to say I’m a bit bothered about ‘a TV station’ supporting a coup. Did it, or did individual executives and producers act on their own initiative? If the TV station’s owners told them to support the coup, then I can see why they couldn’t complain much about losing their licence, but if it’s just a case of a right-wing TV station, some of whose right-wing employees and executives went too far during the attempted coup, then I’d be more inclined to prosecute the individuals concerned for whatever criminal offences they may have committed.

    I just really didn’t like the spectacle of all these CiF readers queuing up to applaud the closure of a TV station — which I agree may be, under some circumstances, justified, but only under pretty extreme ones — primarily because the guy doing it irritates the hell out of George Bush, so he must be OK.

    Comment by notsaussure — May 31, 2007 @ 3:34 pm

  4. While I think much of what Chavez is doing is admirable, and it’s quite true that the vast majority of the Venezuelan media is vehemently hostile towards him mainly because of who it’s owned by, there have been worrying signs, and this is one of them.

    Regardless of whether or not it supported the coup, I find it hard to applaud the ruthless shutting down of anywhere which is an independent voice; it should be viewed as an attack on freedom of speech itself. To welcome it simply because it was anti-Chavez makes a mockery of what the left should stand for.

    Comment by . — May 31, 2007 @ 10:48 pm

  5. Let’s not kid ourselves, Chavez is a giant fraud and possibly a mentalist. I know, I’ve seen his TV show – he employs all the same tactics as his bete noire in the White House with considerably more enthusiasm and even less shame.

    The large number of people queueing up to defend him is just evidence of something the internet has shown us time and time again – that idiocy expands to fill the space provided.

    Comment by Flying Rodent — May 31, 2007 @ 10:59 pm

  6. “The large number of people queueing up to defend him is just evidence of something the internet has shown us time and time again – that idiocy expands to fill the space provided.”

    Or that people are desperate for an alternative to the neo-cons, to the point where they’ll overlook some nasty elements.
    When Chavez does things like nationalise private golf courses to build much needed social housing, he appeals to common everyday people – that’s why people like him.

    Comment by Chris — June 1, 2007 @ 4:00 pm

  7. Sorry Chris, if there’s one skill that my mother gave me it’s the ability to smell bullshit. That’s why I take the piss out of Chavez so often – he looks like Blair draped in a red flag to me.

    Not that I think he’s the totalitarian menace many would like us to believe, but I seriously doubt his revolutionary intentions.

    I’m dismayed that modern progressives have to look to Latin America for inspiration, because Chavez walks, talks and acts like a bullshitter as far as I’m concerned.

    I’ll back this up with a coherent argument some other time, since it’s four in the morning.

    Comment by Flying Rodent — June 2, 2007 @ 2:47 am

  8. As I said, Venezuelan politics is but one of the many matters encompassed by my almost limitless ignorance, but I have to say that this nationalising golf-courses malarkey sounds, in FR’s terms, pretty much ‘like Blair draped in a red flag’ to me.
    Short of building land in Venezuela, are they? From my vague understanding of Latin American politics, the big issue always used to be land reform in the sense of breaking up the huge estates and giving the land to the tenants. Sounds to me like Mr Chavez has given up on that and, instead, contented himself with a symbolic gesture, nodding in that direction.
    One in the eye for the toffs, as it were, like banning fox hunting; doesn’t actually achieve anything very much other than keeping your supporters happy by upsetting people they don’t much like.

    Comment by notsaussure — June 2, 2007 @ 9:15 am

  9. This is truly a case that would test Solomon. On the one hand, the sight of anti-Bushies queueing up to defend Chavez isn’t very appealing.

    On the other, the sight of various righties and “contrarian-centrists” queueing up to defend the supporters of a coup against a democratically elected government and pronounce on the bullshit level of politics they’ve only read about in 3rd hand reports in The Times doesn’t inspire much confidence either.

    Comment by Meh — June 2, 2007 @ 8:08 pm

  10. Incidentally, the original Guardian article was commendably even-handed about the whole thing; in fact the writer’s feelings seemed to be extremely mixed.
    Besides, compared to the assortment of embezzlers, thugs and lunatics who swore fealty to Washington during the Cold War Chavez seems a veritable saint; doesn’t score far behind New Labour for that matter.

    Comment by James — June 4, 2007 @ 5:15 pm

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