Last weekend saw the launch of the Armed Forces’ brand new television channel (TV-FANB), almost five months after its creation was announced. At the event, Nicolas Maduro made an unusual admission about the overall quality of State television.
“…sometimes, not always, we make very boring TV. There some who think that’s revolutionary. Then, nobody watches it”.
Let’s get real. It’s not “sometimes”. Propaganda is dull by definition.
Still, Maduro’s admission lays bare that even after spending so much money, SIBCI’s programming remains unloved. The government has produced State Media System, not Public Service Broadcasting.
Not that they care. Maduro knows that, loved or not, the hegemony has succeded.
“…(With the start of the Digital Terrestrial Television system, fully operational in 2020), we will start with 50 channels, then 100 and in three or four years there will be 200 channels”.
OK, he’s exaggerating the numbers, but the point is that the hegemony’s goal isn’t much quality, as quantity. They’re putting together a kind of content deluge, a barrage TV channels and radio stations that aims at ubiquity first, quality a distant second.
Private media can still exist, but on a tight leash. Just look to what Televen (the second largest private TV channel), went through to get its five-year license renewal: they had to wait to the last minute before the old one expired, and the pressures they came under to weaken their already anemic political broadcasting still futher was barely concealed. Many regional TV stations have no idea if they’ll survive the upcoming digital switchover.
The hegemony’s about replacing what Maduro calls “trash TV” with trash of a different kind. The effort is about filling the grid, but not offering options to the viewer. And that’s simply a waste…
Back to TV-FANB. I wonder if they will ever try to do a Venezuelan counterpart to NCIS.
P.S. In a related article, journalist Raul Stolk deals with those current alternatives to the hegemony, now found not in the airwaves but in cyberspace. And thanks for the shoutout!
17 thoughts on “Communicational hegemony in a nutshell”
There is as usual the question of intent and separately of implementation.
On intent: let’s take a generous approach, allowing chavistas the benefit of the doubt. An economist might describe what the government is doing as attempting to address an externality. So first we have to ask: is there an externality?
I think many on this blog would argue that there is an externality, that there are perceived longstanding social problems in Venezuela, of which the quality of television programming is both symptom and perpetuating force.
On implementation: if there is an externality, is the governments approach really the best?
I think most on this blog would argue that the governments hard-fisted approach is not productive at the least, and has caused more problems than it has solved, at worst.
Off the bat I can think of three main complaints to raise with regard to government intrusion: its effect on freedom of press, on diversity of media, and finally, the importance of economic distortions and potential corruption caused by government incentives (which is of course also related to plurality of media sources and freedom of press). Limiting media diversity is not the same as restricting freedom of the press, but they can and are clearly related.
So if you look at the case of restricting newspaper content to shield particular segments of the population, you have to consider intent and implementation. Same for the case of setting up a massive state-sponsored media apparatus. Even if there is a problem (the intent is right), the effort of the state in Venezuela clearly seems out of proportion with the problem, and the implementation is shoddy.
In addition there would not be a problem with the government building up a massive state-sponsored media apparatus, except insofar as it: (1) shuts out private media by taking resources away (broadcasting bandwidth, licenses, facilities) (2) censors free media (3) draws resources away from projects that are far more deserving (4) is clearly used for indoctrination (distribute state propaganda)
Finally, one has to wonder: is this emphasis, nearing obsession, with production of massive amounts of media, not a symptom of an underlying problem in Venezuela? Could it be that media in general just gets too much attention, irrespective of source? And, if the quality of state-sponsored media is so low and viewership so meager, is viewership not of secondary importance? Is the propping of the state media apparatus in the end not just another economic tool to assist loyalists take home their bread? How large is media infrastructure in Venezuela, and what is the effect of building a huge infrastructure around media, years later (think distortions in the absence of effective market forces of media demand/supply)?
I believe that quality of programming is irrelevant in big part; since chavismo has been able to get this far with less hegemony and with poor quality. Their propaganda, so far, has been aimed to a particular segment of the population who they have manufactured, via the control of the state infrastructure. Let’s be clear, even though this segment is not a monolithic block, in terms of values, and fears they has been forced into sharing the same perceptual territories. They are mainly people who work for the state, or depend on the state for their living; and we know that this number under chavismo has grown and keeps growing as I write this. People are not massively mobilized, initially, because they want to, but because they need to in order to keep their “privileges”, or to have basic things. These massive mobilizations, regardless of their purpose: for the inauguration of a school, a public rally for the latest update in the advance of the revolution, a patriotic date etc, serves as an excuse to exercise normative force. State media, has psychologically framed this by cultivating, little by little, the monopoly on public workers affairs. The state has masterfully manufactured a perception of itself as omnipresent, and although there are those who claim to love this entity, most of them, the majority in my opinion, respect it or fear it. So in a big degree the success of chavismo has little connection with efficiency or quality, and it’s more related to its image as a prevalence force.
Venezuela lives in a state, that some experts call, of “total propaganda”, in which the state does not only says it has control, it exercises control continually; when a public official acts as an arm of the PSUV, when limits the power of elected public officials of the opposition, when interrupts the airways at will. This has a powerful effect on everybody’s perception, chavistas and non chavistas, people are sandwiched between the government propaganda and the control that, in fact, has. In this context the media issue has had little to do with quality or consistency, and more with force; more media outlets might help them to diversify the package, but not necessarily the content, they need to keep the content.
The problem of Venezuela might be a combination of many things, it is my opinion; that this would not be that bad if it wasn’t for the political and citizenry illiteracy we have today. Venezuelans have been stolen the capacity to appreciate subtleties, and I am convinced that it is of the interest of chavismo to keeps us away from them.
The propaganda they broadcast in their media doenst earn them more sympathy than their dead leader already created for them among the most disfortunate , it doesnt make people believe that they are a good or even tolerable govt in the face of all their impossible to hide failures , what it does earn them is the capacity to make the ordinary population feel the govt is all powerful and thereby instill in them a sense of dependence and haplesness that allows the regime to exercise control over many people;s overt political behaviour, it doenst make them popular it makes them feared and psychologically overpowering . Close to half the people in the land have no sympathy for them and they are not going to be turned by anything the govt says or does through its hegemonic media machine. The thing is that to carry out a govt change through electoral means you have to have a significant mayority , not just half the people and for that you need the capacity to make them see what now they dont understand in their intellectual illiteracy in more enlghtened terms.
You argue that the government is mainly interested in propagating the impression of omnipresence. I admit that my own analysis must have come through as quite naive, starting as I did from the assumption that the creation of the media apparatus is NOT to “keep the population in line” but to provide the many services which one might expect from public media. Among the arguments for the creation of such an apparatus, arguments that would resonate with people in free democracies, would certainly be to provide a constructive unbiased alternative to commercial programming, serving as a news, educational, and (healthier) recreational outlet. In fact I would claim that many working with state media would argue that this is precisely their goal. Sure, they might state that ultimately they are serving their “revolution”, but I suspect they would not claim that they are attempting to “keep people in line”. Some of the people in the media apparatus, and certainly those nearer the top, most probably do see the media field as a propaganda battle field. Now I don’t know of course what fraction of the employees fall into which category (call them “promoters of quality programming” and “fear mongers”).
In addition to the clear role of media in perpetuating the government doctrine, the media operations are a source of income and patronage in and of themselves. Pork barrel projects as they say in the USA.
What I attempted with my naive analysis is to list points that should be addressed in a more general assessment of the government’s plan. Clearly you can accuse the government of building a raw propaganda machine. Is that really all there is to it? You can go further and dissect the media apparatus in terms of its role terrorizing/indoctrinating citizens, but also its role serving as part of the economic patronage network, pushing private media out of the market, and, even, actually providing stuff worth paying attention to. You could most likely find arguments on all counts why what the government is doing is bad or not working well.
One can wonder too how important – and more importantly, effective – government encroachment on media – old or new – really is. Are old media (print newspapers, TV) still as lucrative or influential as they were 10 or 20 years ago? Is there not more money to be made pursuing newer technology such as web media? (Of course given what I suspect is limited penetration by the internet – not to mention electricity – and especially broadband, probably not for a while). And as Glenn asks, won’t people seek out other sources of information and entertainment if the government media is crappy? It is certainly hard to force people to watch selected programming, especially online, if they have a choice. After all, this is Venezuela 2014, not Cuba 1960.
I would not call your analysis naïve, and neither would I call mine realistic, I think we both part from the same point. You say that you suspect that if you asked people working in state media they would not claim that they are trying to “keep people in line”. I believe you are right, most of people working in media, even people like Ernesto Villegas, are thinking they are doing the right thing, and they not trying to keep people in line. People in the media who are given the chance to talk, as well as “cuadros” in the party level are appointed based on their believer status. It might sound arrogant, or insulting from my part, but these believers have a very simplistic, naïve, reading of the situation, they have been driven into believing that there is an evil force trying to take over the country, and only they can save it. Based on this assumption the violation of ethical or moral rules, or even constitutional law it is rationalized.
There is this interesting story about a Cuban-American spy who was discovered passing secret information to the Cuban government directly from the pentagon. Ironically, the story never made it big because the day she was busted was 9/11/2001. Not so long ago El Pais de Spain published the story that pretty much narrated how was the selection and indoctrination process of this woman, by the Cuban government, in American soil. “La Reina de Cuba”, as she was called in El Pais story, passed top secret information to the Cuban Government during 17 years.
What I am trying to point out is the highly degree of skill that there is behind these regimes’ psychological control; to a large extent, what might look to the liberal mind as an erratic, or primitive media policy, it is what produces the most dividends in mass manipulation and power grip. I believe that if one wants to grasp and envision solutions to what is happening in Venezuela, one must understand what propaganda is, and is not. Media hegemony is not propaganda but is part of it; propaganda is the projection of media campaigns accompanied by state infrastructure’s articulation. Propaganda triggers action in the masses via the exploitation of myths. The propagandist understands the power these myths have in the human psyche, he exploits them, he creates the pressure, and thanks to the control he has, he presents as the only provider of a release. Propaganda is a science.
The entrance of Maduro marks a new stage in Venezuela’s political conflict; we are no longer facing a populist government, we see populism still, but this is accompanied by a highly technical administration of the public’s perception. The Venezuelan opposition and Venezuelan people in general must catch up if they want to e able to face up this new state. Regardless of all I have said, Happy New Year!
Regarding the cyberspace, as terrain for the consolidation of an alternative discourse; I invite you to read the following article, in case you haven’t seen it yet.
Despite everything I have said, Happy New Year!
Thanks for the link. The loss of net neutrality is absolutely a problem as far as web media is concerned, I did skirt that very serious issue on the assumption that there will always be ways to circumvent this, but perhaps that is also naive to assume.
All the same, happy 2014 to you too!
Whats the use of having 10 tv channels or 100 radio stations if they are so boring that no one pays any attention to them or to the messages they carry . Moreover in a polarized situation govt opponents are not going to believe any message coming from govt controlled media and the regimes partisans are going to believe them whatever message they carry, What about those who dont care about the news or dont understand them, and only care about news that carry an inmmediate benefit or harm to their lives. For most people reality is not broadcast through tv or radio but through peoples live experience and intereactions with others they share time with , what does the paycheck say , what do the queues before any counter say , what does having to wait for your car to ge fixed because there are no parts say, or having to look for medicines or food stapples that cant be found say. The language in the oppo papers is now stilted and artificially formal when it carries any news which is critical of the regime , you can see the heavy hand of a kind of indirect self imposed censure there. Does that tame the anger of the oppo person or unhappy reader who sees his quality of life deteriorate more and more as each day passes?? you bet it doesnt . The biggest effect of the govts efforts at controlling the media is not to make itself more attractive to people who are not its convinced partisans but at silencing the critical voices that can amplyfy or explain news about the govts many abuses and failures or lend greater strenght or reach to what an opposition figure has to say . It can silence expressions of criticism but it cannot persuade people to believe what it wants to be believed .. The growth in govt controlled media is becoming a kind of fanciful empty trophy , good for show , good to make you feel you have things under control but useless to reach peoples mind when their experience or critical sense of reality are telling them something different from what that media tells them .
The 200 propaganda-spouting channels will primarily drive up the number of ni-nis; people whose response to the lack of reliable information in the media will be to head for the beach. The vast number of stations is required to produce the illusion that opposition is hopeless; it is like having an online disagreement with 200 sock puppets.
Jeffry : right you are in that part of the benefit to the govt of controlling so much media is to intimidate the opposition and instill in it a feeling of hopelessness , Still its not going to convince anybody (who is not already convinced) that the govt is doing a good job or even a tolerable one . the metaphor of having a discussion with 200 stock puppets is superb . About the ni ni’s I suspect that their numbers and importance may be exagerated, what you have is people who dont want to be bothered , who will adapt to whatever the situation offers , who fear the consequences of falling inside the loop of the regimes enemies, who dont understand much of anything and who want to play it safe even if they have their doubts or misgivings about what the govt is doing . They are not people who think , who make choices , they are people who lack moral fibre and play it easy all the time sticking to their daily routines and not much else.
BTW, the TV FANB is housed in the old IDEA campus in Sartenejas, next to the USB, former home of Luis Castro Leyva, among others.
Sheesh, they do like putting salt in the wound.
Interesting summary of digital media in the prodavinci article.
Does anyone have any reliable stats on Venezuelan viewing habits? My sense is that the only thing people watch is baseball. Are the rank and file of the FANB going to turn off their baseball to watch crap their wealthy overseers have sponsored? Probably not is my guess.
If I had to summarize average Venezuelan viewing habits, I’d write:
Housewives love to fill their mornings with: astrology + new age rituals + card readings, celebrity gossip, and other light topics like beauty tips, cooking and some music performances.
At noon, while having lunch, some people watch what passes for TV news these days AKA government press releases.
Then come the cheap crappy soap operas.
At night, during prime time, people watch slightly less crappy and also slightly more expensive soap operas.
Alternatively, some people watch sports at noon, the afternoon or at night. National baseball is popular, but I think is almost matched in popularity by MLB and European football.
Don’t get me started on shows like “Quien tiene la razón?” and thrice censored (maybe more times) “Doce Corazones/Hay Corazón?”
Another consideration: It is not the internal propaganda but rather for use as external propaganda to silence external criticism. “There is no intimidation or restriction of information in Venezuela, why we have 200 channels with lots of various and diverse content that is sano for El Pueblo..”
For as long as I can remember, Direct TV satellite dishes can be see all over Caracas, including in the barrios. Is this not the same programming which is distributed across Latin America? Or has the government found a way to restrict content coming from the stratosphere?
And how about the recent private and very secret sell of El Universal to Pro Regime hands?
(Me lo dijo un pajarito…. anyone can confirm?
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