Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Media suppression: a human rights abuse

The coup regime in Honduras has just ordered the shutdown [Sp.] of Radio Globo, which has consistently provided the most complete coverage of the resistance to the coup. Honduran media that have managed to keep functioning have done so by extensively self-censoring.

This is an outrage, a crime, and a violation of human rights.

Venezuela's attorney general has recently proposed a new media law whose broad language would allow the government to shut down hostile broadcasters and publications; it's to be introduced to the Venezuelan legislature sometime this fall. Yesterday, a group of Chavez supporters attacked the offices of Globovision, a private television broadcast channel that is, like most of the private media there, anti-Chavez. This, too, is an outrage.

Media suppression is bad, mkay? It's bad when legislated by elected governments, bad when it's done by thugs purportedly acting on their own, and bad when done by military-installed, illegitimate regimes whose police are beating up and arresting peaceful protestors. It would be bad at any time, but it's particularly damaging at this moment. People inside and outside Honduras are working hard to make public the abuses on the part of the Honduran coup regime, including media suppression, and to get some acknowledgement and criticism of the repression by U.S. government spokespeople. The silence has been deafening so far.

Actions to intimidate and shut down media by leaders who've provided concrete support for Zelaya's restoration threaten both to overshadow the Honduran coup regime's actions and provide a ready distraction for right-wing U.S. coup supporters in Congress who already see Zelaya and coup opponents as Chavez pawns. A recent LA Times feature on Daniel Ortega's attacks on press enemies will come in handy for others who insist on framing this military coup as a regrettable but understandable defense of "democracy" against the spreading menace of "socialist strongmen" in Latin America.

The situtation in Honduras is not about Hugo Chavez or Daniel Ortega. It's about the attack on an already seriously weak democracy there in the face of popular demands for real participation. It's about the determination of a tiny stratum of rich business families and their military henchmen to maintain their traditional monopoly on power. They can't stop the protests, they can't stop the news from getting out to the world on the internet, but they will do whatever they can to keep Hondurans, most of whom do not have internet access, from hearing what's going on in their own country.

I have to go; will add links later, but wanted to post the urgent news about Radio Globo. Update: 8:30pm, 4 Aug - Edited and links added.

Update 2: 6:00pm, 5 August - Radio Globo is defying the order to shut down, which was produced by the military and executed by a military judge. Good for them, and good news for Hondurans. Al Giordano has the details along with another piece of good news: The mayor of San Pedro Sula, who was driven out by coup supporters on July 2, is safe in exile, and the municipal workers have since that day prevented the attempted usurper, Micheletti's nephew William Hall Micheletti, from taking office. National marches are planned for San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa early next week.

Do your part to support them: If you're in Boston or Chicago, attend and/or promote the events of the Honduran speaking tour. Wherever you are, call on Sec. Clinton and Pres. Obama to do more to increase the pressure on the coup regime: freeze U.S.-held assets of coup backers and participants, revoke more diplomatic visas, start withdrawing U.S. military from the base at Soto Cano (Palmerola), denounce the regime's media suppression and the beatings and arrests of peaceful protestors, and make clear that the U.S. will not recognize a government resulting from elections held under the coup regime. Get your representative to sign the Congressional letter to Pres. Obama with the same message.

Soldiers today attacked students and administrators at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, in the capital, using batons, tear gas, and live bullets. Hundreds may be wounded. [Update 3: 4:00pm, 13 August - Dozens, in the event, but the rector of UNAH, who had been keeping the university neutral on the coup, is suing the police over the invasion of the campus, where she was one of those beaten.]

Update 4: 4:50pm, 13 August - The Venezuelan legislature will not be taking up the legislation proposed by the Attorney General anytime soon. This news is at the end of a hostile item on the legislature by AP reporter Christopher Toothaker. The people who wreaked havoc in the Globovision offices were arrested (via bloggingsbyboz.com, no link). The people who ordered the shutdown of Radio Globo in Honduras continue to severely beat [Sp.] members of Congress and others peacefully demonstrating against the coup, and no one in the U.S. executive branch seems to be a bit bothered. Huh.

[Image: Eduardo Maldonado, director of Radio Globo.]

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At 9:25 PM, August 04, 2009, Anonymous Jenny said...

There is this too: http://amleft.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_amleft_archive.html#230617402417642404

Granted, I think they're wrong about the U.S. allowing the coup supporters travel vistas,but who knows? Maybe they were revoked and then reversed.

At 11:06 PM, August 04, 2009, Blogger Nell said...

The reference to visas in the statement of the National Front Against the Coup is to the visit to DC of some coup representatives (including former president Ricardo Maduro) on July 7, the same day that Pres. Zelaya met with Sec. Clinton. They had a press conference at the National Press Club, met with Republican members of Congress, and may have met with State Department functionaries (spokesperson would not confirm or deny).

The U.S. government didn't revoke diplomatic visas, and then only those of a few coup officials, until July 28. Those with revoked diplo visas can still travel to the U.S. on tourist visas if they have or obtain them, but can't conduct any business in their official capacity.

Something in the statement that is wrong is that the government of Israel has recognized the coup government. The UN General Assembly vote was reported to be unanimous, and as far as I know Micheletti's early claim that his government was recognized by Taiwan and Israel was denied by both governments.

I'm open to evidence that the Front is right and I'm wrong about this. But if it were true that Israel recognized the coup government I'd have expected to see and hear a lot more energetic denunciations by now, and not only from Hondurans.

At 9:00 AM, August 05, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...


You aren't going to change the mind of anybody on the Right by being fair-minded enough to oppose press restrictions by Chavez and Ortega. I don't know what's going on specifically in either instance, but I think the concession, in addition to being a waste of breath, obscures the overarching reality of the regional situation.

A very aggressive move was made by the Honduran military against democratic/popular forces in Honduras that were considered by the Honduran Right to be aligned with Chavez and a broader regional democratic/popular movement. That Honduran move must have had US military support, if only tacit (i.e., wink and nod) and seems to be part of a broader regional effort to contain, undermine, and/or overthrow Chavez. It should require no intuition to guess which of those options the hawks among the US military leadership would prefer, though clearly President Obama (and probably also the civilian bureaucracy) are not on board with a war in Venezuela.

Region-wide developments are alarming. From a story on the wire today:

"Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, long a thorn in the side of the United States, has said he feared the bases might be used for an invasion of his country by a 'Yankee military force.'"


It's hardly surprising that Chavez and the Venezuelans would fear the US putting military bases in Colomia. That agreement with Colombia rather does look like a part of military preparations for war, or at least military conflict (since we never really have wars).

As for the restrictions proposed by Chavez and Ortega, not many countries that consider themselves about to be attacked let the media run stories taking the side of those foreign countries which are about to do the attacking. I suppose we could have a discussion of whether principle should prevail even under those circumstances, but why bother. Principle never has prevailed under those circumstances either here or anywhere else, and while we debate that in grand liberal fashion, events in the region will proceed apace.

The Honduran military needs to restore civilian rule and procecess and stay out of politics, and the United States needs to step back instead of mobilizing forces around Venezuela.

At 10:29 AM, August 05, 2009, Blogger Nell said...

@Ovid: It's not a "concession". I'm not trying to win over anyone on the right. Broadly written laws that allow a government to shut down media critics are a bad thing, period.

I'm well aware of Globovision's vicious role; they were an active part of the coup attempt in 2002 and have functionally become the opposition party to Chavez, very much as Fox has become the voice of the unhinged fascist and racist base that energetically opposes Obama.

If I were forced to watch Fox for any length of time (how I feel for people whose workplaces are subjected to that noxious crap), I'd certainly feel the impulse to bust into their office and tear-gas Steve Doocy. But it would be wrong.

This stuff pisses me off, period, but it pisses me off extra badly right now because of the damage it could do to the Honduran popular movement, which is under siege and needs international attention and support.

At 10:36 AM, August 05, 2009, Blogger Nell said...

Of course there's a U.S. squeeze play on Chavez, but if the media intimidation is part of his response it's an incredibly stupid, unstrategic one that plays into his enemies' hands and hurts the Honduran resistance to the coup.

U.S. bases in Colombia are a horrible development, something I totally oppose. Obama's administration is absolutely no improvement on Bush's wrt Colombia and Bolivia on the issues that count. He's a corporate tool and a warmonger who knows how to put an attractive, democratic, multilateral mask on the same old repressive shvt.

At 3:54 PM, August 05, 2009, Blogger Darlene said...

Freedom of the Press is the only thing that makes Democracy work. The first thing a totalitarian government does when it takes over is suppress the news media.

At 4:10 PM, August 05, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...


I don't think Chavez runs a totalitarian government. He hasn't even shut down Globovision--I think he permits opposition that differs ideologically from him. But i'm no expert on Venezuela and need to look into that more given the way events seem to be developing.

Controlling the media doesn't require suppression. That is a poor and outdated method, and totalitarianism isn't the danger of the day. The U.S. media is bad and may actually even be getting worse, which I wouldn't have believed possible a few years ago.

At 6:11 PM, August 05, 2009, Anonymous Jenny said...

Ah okay, thank you. At least the recent move is better compared to previously.

At 7:17 PM, August 05, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...


You know more about current events in Latin America than I do, and i greatly appreciate all your informative posts, but I'll give you (and your readers) my take on this for your consideration.

The Honduran popular movement certainly does need international attention and support. I just think writing about press restrictions undertaken by Chavez and Ortega achieves the opposite. The Right will raise that point and use it as a justification, and as a practical matter it may end up looking like you agree that something Chavez and Ortega did was unjustified or wrong and that therefore the Right is partly correct. (I know that certainly isn't your intent.)

So I share your anger about what is happening in Honduras, but I'd keep Chavez and Ortega and everywhere else out of it.

I have a different problem with your criticism of "the Obama administration" as being as bad as "the Bush administration" on these issues so far. I think your view results from a common misunderstanding of how and by whom power is held within our government. "The buck stops here" is a great slogan and a fine ideal for Obama to strive for, but it isn't a true statement of the facts about much of the operation of the United States government. If it were true, then I'd probably agree that Obama is "a corporate tool and a warmonger who knows how to put an attractive, democratic, multilateral mask on the same old repressive shvt." And in a way, I do agree with some of that, because that certainly is an inescapable part of being President. There are some obvious reasons that people like Dennis Kucinich and Tom Harkin don't become President nowadays, and that Henry Wallace didn't back in the 40s.

But it isn't true that Obama has ultimate control of all policy. Obama has power, and at critical and decisive times will have more power than anyone else, but he's at the top of an enormous staff chart. Only a tiny fraction of matters reach him, and most of those only with limited information for him to consider broad issues and give broad instructions, which are then implemented via delegation to subordinates and subordinates of subordinates and so on down the line.

Plus, Obama can be given dramatic political problems by the Pentagon, the intel services, and the bureaucracy, and many of the people employed in those institutions hold right-wing views.
Undoubtedly some of them think Obama is truly a foreigner, not a real American, that he's a Manchurian candidate, a racist, whatever the GOP happens to be peddling. The military and intel community is predominantly Republican, and don't assume they are on the liberal side of the GOP. Some of them are completely nuts, some just Machiavellian, but probably very few of them liberals. I'd say the bunch of them are generally a strange combination of disciplined, loyal, patriotic, dedicated, crazy, brutal, cynical, and dishonest.

I don't get the feeling that Obama is a personal fan of war or violence, let alone cruelty and brutality, and he's certainly not a "bring it on" ultra-macho tough talking President. He's not going to be signing executive orders authorizing torture, let alone looking to start preemptive wars, but his hand can be forced in connection with events, the driving force of history. Unfortunately, events can be manipulated.

So look for movement behind the curtain, apply pressure to counteract it, and make the real forces of reaction and repression bear the responsibility for the actions they try to foist on us all. Obama needs to be pushed forward, not knocked down.

That's my take. Again, thanks for the extremely informative posts.

At 1:45 PM, August 06, 2009, Blogger Darlene said...

Ovid, I am so impressed with your last comment that I tried to find a blog by you. I was unsuccessful. If you read this and have a blog, please notify me at:http://www.darleneshodgepodge.com/

At 5:32 PM, August 08, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ovid, that last part excusing Obama all sounds very familiar, so if you are the same person that says similar stuff at Jon's blog, I won't repeat my objections in detail. I'll summarize--

1. There's no evidence that Obama's opinions are dramatically different from those of his Administration.
2. If Presidents are as weak as you say, who cares what they really think?

Donald Johnson

At 11:43 PM, August 08, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...

Donald Johnson: Am I the same person who says similar stuff at Jon's blog? I guess yes is the answer to that. (I'm sure that was obvious to Nell too.) You can repeat everything or nothing. I'll keep trying to explain that last view of mine to the Good Souls on the left whenever the occasion arises until I get worn out (but I am a little tireless) or until I find something better to do, which I hope will be soon.

I don't think we need to rehash everything here. In my opinion Nell has been doing a fantastic job covering the situation in Honduras, and her links have been great too.

I view this battle brewing again in Central and South America as between ideological groups which cut across borders, and which are stridently at odds within the United States, and I don't think that all members of the United States government and military are necessarily as loyal to the President as they should be on all these issues. I suspect more than a few members of our military and goernment feel that the disloyalty is actually Obama's, even if he really is an America citizen (Good Lord). How could those people who are still in the GOP not think that? The whole party has gone nuts.


Sorry, but I don't have a blog of my own right now. I'm a poacher. But thank you very much for the complement.

At 10:25 AM, August 09, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think there are a great many liberal intellectuals who are on the imperialist side. It's not good vs. evil, with good liberal Presidents on one side vs. evil imperialists entrenched in the bureaucracy on the other. There are gradations, with many "liberals" in favor of a more nuanced, subtle form of imperialism that does much better on the PR front, here and abroad. Some troglodytes on the right eschew subtlety, which can give the impression of more disagreement than might actually be the case.

Donald Johnson

At 1:39 PM, August 09, 2009, Anonymous Ovid said...

Donald Johnson:

I'm not about to argue that somebody who sought out the job of running an empire isn't an imperialist in some way. Woodrow Wilson was an imperialist in that way too, but he certainly wasn't the same kind of imperialist as Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt wouldn't ever have put the right of colonial people's to self-determination in the fourteen points. He likely would rather have died.

FDR once told some activists who wanted him to do something to make him do it. By that he meant they should create the political climate that would make what they wanted possible, or better yet smart. That was wise political advice by FDR, and that point is what almost everything I say about this is driving toward. Calling Obama names and making him the issue does not get that done. If anything, it weakens him and strengthens his adversaries, who are the real problem. Maybe it's confusing that some of them hold positions in his administration and the military, but that's the way the government has always worked.

At 2:30 PM, August 09, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wilson the white racist is a poor choice for you to make your point.

Namecalling Obama is fun, but ultimately irrelevant one way or the other-- the serious point is that he shouldn't be given a pass when his Administration does something wrong simply because you imagine he would like to act otherwise.

Anyway, this is a distraction as you said at Nell's other post at ATR, so I'll stop.

Donald Johnson


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