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VENEZUELA: The lies go on

LONDON More than a month ago, I wrote about Venezuela [see GLW 
#485], pointing out that little had been reported in this country 
about the achievements of Hugo Chavez and the threat to his reforming 
government from the usual alliance of a corrupt local elite and the 
United States. 

When the conspirators made their move on April 12, the response of 
the British media provided an object lesson in how censorship works 
in "free" societies. 

The BBC described Chavez as "not so much a democrat as an autocrat", 
echoing foreign office minister Denis MacShane, who abused him as "a 
ranting demagogue". 

Alex Bellos, the Guardian's South America correspondent, reported, as 
fact, that "pro-Chavez snipers had killed at least 13 people" and 
that Chavez had requested exile in Cuba. "Thousands of people 
celebrated overnight, waving flags, blowing whistles...", he wrote, 
leaving the reader with the clear impression that almost everybody in 
Venezuela was glad to see the back of this "playground bully", as the 
Independent called Chavez. 

Within 48 hours, Chavez was back in office, put there by the mass of 
the people, who came out of the shanty towns in their tens of 
thousands. Defying the army, their heroism was in support of a leader 
whose democratic credentials are extraordinary in the Americas, south 
and north. 

Having won two presidential elections, the latest in 2000, by the 
largest majority in 40 years, as well as a referendum and local 
elections, Chavez was borne back to power by the impoverished 
majority whose "lot", wrote Bellos, he had "failed to improve" and 
among whom "his popularity had plummeted". 

The episode was a journalistic disgrace. Most of what Bellos and 
others wrote, using similar words and phrases, turned out to be 
wrong. In Bellos's case, this was not surprising, as he was reporting 
from the wrong country, Brazil. 

Chavez said he never requested asylum in Cuba; the snipers almost 
certainly included agents provocateurs; "almost every sector of 
society [Chavez] antagonised" were principally members of various 
oligarchies he made pay tax for the first time, including the media, 
and the oil companies, whose taxes he doubled in order to raise 80% 
of the population to a decent standard of living. His opponents also 
included army officers trained at the notorious School of the 
Americas in the United States. 

In a few years, Chavez had begun major reforms in favour of the 
indigenous poor, Venezuela's unpeople. In 49 laws adopted by the 
Venezuelan Congress, he began real land reform, and guaranteed 
women's rights and free healthcare and education up to university 

He opposed the human rights abuses of the regime in neighbouring 
Colombia, encouraged and armed by Washington. He extended a hand to 
the victim of an illegal 40-year American blockade, Cuba, and sold 
the Cubans oil. These were his crimes, as well as saying that bombing 
children in Afghanistan was terrorism. 

Like Chile under Allende and Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, 
precious little of this was explained to the Western public. Like the 
equally heroic uprising in Argentina last year, it was misrepresented 
as merely more Latin American chaos. 

On April 15, the admirable Glasgow University Media Group, under Greg 
Philo, released the results of a study which found that, in spite of 
the saturation coverage of the Middle East, most television viewers 
were left uninformed that the basic issue was Israel's illegal 
military occupation. "The more you watch, the less you know" to 
quote Danny Schechter's description of US television news was the 
study's conclusion. 

Take US Secretary of State Colin Powell's "peace mission". Regardless 
of America's persistent veto of United Nations resolutions calling 
for Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, and regardless 
of Powell calling Ariel Sharon "my personal friend", a US "peace 
mission" was the absurd news, repeated incessantly. 

Similarly, when the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on 
April 5 voted 40-2 to condemn Israel for its "mass killing", the news 
was not this near-unanimous expression of world opinion, but the 
British government's rejection of the resolution as "unbalanced". 

Journalists are often defensive when asked why they faithfully follow 
the deceptions of great power. It is not good enough for ITN to say 
dismissively, in response to the Glasgow Media Group findings, 
that "we are not in the business of giving a daily history lesson", 
or for the BBC to waffle about its impartiality when some recent 
editions of Newsnight might have been produced by the foreign office. 
In these dangerous times, one of the most destructive weapons of all 
is pseudo-information. 

[From <http://www.johnpilger.com>.] 

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