Venezuela: Creating a new, radical media

May 22, 2010
One of Venezuela’s many barrio radio stations under community-control. Inset: Sergio Arriasis. ‘We also run courses to teach

Sergio Arriasis is the head of the office of strategic development for Vision Venezuela Television (ViVe), a government-funded channel inaugurated in 2003. Arriasis is in charge of future planning and development of its communications. Coral Wynter, a Green Left Weekly journalist based in Caracas, spoke with Arriasis about the struggle to counter the private corporate media in Venezuela, and create a radical alternative.

How is ViVe different from other TV channels?

To understand how ViVe is different, you have to understand how Venezuelan television was before the revolution.

Venezuela is a country with lots of oil, and so there was a huge presence of the US and the oil multinational companies up to 10 years ago, when we changed this by the nationalising the oil reserves.

The new constitution of 1999 said all the oil and gas under the ground now belongs to the Venezuelan people. It was a constitutional decision that was important and explains a lot about the new situation.

Along with the old economic and political influence of US corporations, there was cultural domination as well. Our commercial television was based on the model from Miami, with beauty contests and variety shows.

But it demobilised our people; keeping them glued to the TV so that they didn’t react to the slow invasion of North American culture.

The TV in the private media features sensationalised crimes shows that are typical of capitalism. This is the same everywhere.

Since Hugo Chavez was first elected president in 1998, we have had sovereignty and democracy, with more than 15 elections in less than 10 years.

In the military coup that briefly overthrew Chavez on April 11, 2002, there was definitely an alliance between the private media owners, the bosses and a small sector of the Armed Forces. We call April 11 the first media war.

The media told the whole world that Chavez ordered the shooting of those marching against him. Former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar awarded the commercial TV station a prize “for the transmission of the news of the coup and the shooting”.

Later, it was shown to have been false and there had actually been a coup against Chavez’s elected government.

After this, there was a huge reaction and we realised we needed a new communication channel, a front for the battle. It was necessary as we were so weak in this area.

The state TV channel, Venezuela de Television (VTV), has existed for 50 years. It had been the channel for right-wing presidents and was in the process of being privatised before the Chavez government arrived. The same applied to state oil company PDVSA and the electricity sector.

They had privatised many things that the Chavez government has since recovered.

When we realised we needed a new type of communication, we created various projects in parallel. One of the projects was to update the media we already had, VTV and Radio National, with new latest technology.

But we created other TV channels. ViVe has been going for six years. We also created the Latin America-wide station Telsur a year-and-a-half ago.

They are not your normal TV stations. ViVe was created at the national level to transmit the views of popular organisations, the communities, rural cooperatives, fisherpeople, women and workers.

We created what was necessary to consolidate the revolution. We recognised that the cultural battle was important in the communication media. Telesur, for instance, is a window into the international situation.

What is the difference between VTV and ViVe?

VTV is a channel whose model of communication is classical and old. Almost all of its shows are in a studio with presenters, who wear a tie, who interview parliamentarians and talking heads.

The people do not participate except when there is coverage of presidential events, such as Chavez’s weekly show Alo Presidente.

The private TV channels that transmit nationally, RCTV and Televen, don’t show the communities either. Their model of TV is that to be on it, you have to be blond with white skin, have a boob job and maybe your bottom as well. You have to have straight teeth and be a model.

VTV falls into this trap as well, although less often now. The presenter has to be old and he only has one manner of communication.

In this sense, ViVe is revolutionary. It is very different, as it does not have all its operations in Caracas.

We are developing, in parallel, regional channels with their own programs — six in all in differnt regions.

There is a zone where there are more peasants, so the programs are oriented more to agricultural topics. In other zones, we orientate to the indigenous groups.

It is not a travelogue, we don’t do tourism. Shows feature an indigenous person who is active, or a worker or a fisherperson who is involved in the revolutionary process. The presenter doesn’t appear on camera but holds the microphone.

It is very important, because there doesn’t exist a model of TV like this in the world. It is not TV from Caracas, but from the countryside directed at Caracas. So ViVe was the first channel to put TV in the hands of the people.

We also run courses to teach people how to make TV. We have mobile transmitting stations in each of the regions with the latest technology, using Venezuela’s new satellite Simon Bolivar.

There is a great battle of ideas, as Fidel Castro says. In this bi-centenary, marking 200 years since winning independence from Spain, we are involved in a very similar battle. The actors have changed from the Spanish imperialism to North American, looking for oil not gold.

The great media war is coordinated from the US with the private channels, such as Globovision, using their often false news programs against the government.

During the morning TV session, the private media run shows on beauty competitions. It’s all about fashion and consumerism, the capitalist culture. But it has a big impact on the population.

There were studies done a few years ago on the soapies (called “telenovelas” in Venezuela). They found that in all of the social classes structures from the ages of 15 to 35 years, 40% of women watched soapies during the night. Therefore they are modeling the minds of our children with their values, how you relate to other people, how to fall in love, how to think about your family how to think about men.

You are living in the barrio (poor neighbourhood) waiting for a prince to come along, a rich man.

This is very dangerous because, when we talk of socialism, we have to be conscious of the reality, of politics, of history, of the dramatic climate changes, and also to think of the themes of food supply and poverty.

Meanwhile, people are instead watching soapies and the Miss Venezuela contest. To fight against this is a difficult thing.

In no part of the world is there a model of what we are seeking to do with media in Venezuela. There is no recipe. We are experimenting.

The constitution says the media must be multicultural, ethical and inclusive. This has motivated us to create a model of television that includes these values.

When there is a flood, a catastrophe, a death, we go there to register the reconstruction, the re-organisation that is generated in the community. That is one of our principal values, to demonstrate how a community is capable of internal transformation and cooperation.

We have programs for children, none about Mickey Mouse or Tom and Jerry. We have created 108 independently produced shows for children.

About 90% of our shows are done from outside and only 10% done in the studios. We have been to more than 14,000 communities at a national level and have transmitted more than 36,000 hours of television.

We have organised more than 1000 different courses at the national and international level, giving courses in Ecuador and Bolivia.

All of this is paid for by the state. We don’t have advertising, not one drop of Coca Cola, not one inch of shampoo, nor one burger from McDonald’s — never. It’s a new form of public TV.

It’s very complicated to change people’s minds. At the beginning, no one understood ViVe. In the first year, when we were showing peasants planting seeds, people thought “what the hell is this?”

When we showed indigenous people speaking their own language with Spanish subtitles, nobody understood, including Chavistas.

Nevertheless, it’s a revolution. Slowly, you get a taste for it.

We are also producing short and long films for the cinema and this year we are planning a popular soapie in Venezuela with involvement in the community.

We are trying to produce an image of today’s revolution, evaluating, advancing our image of self-esteem and our identity. ViVe is a TV channel where the indigenous people, Blacks and mixed-race people are visible.

Other channels don’t show these people, or if they do, they are servants. Here, they will be among the activists of the revolution.

Each year, the challenges are different and we have to change our way of overcoming them.

I think the model of ViVe television is the model of TV for socialism. In this country, we created the social missions that give the poor access to health care and education. ViVe will be the equivalent for TV, where everybody, regardless of class, colour or beliefs can have the real possibility of taking part in the great political debate for socialism and the transformation of this country.

I think ViVe is the TV channel of the future.

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