President Chavez presenting 'Alo Presidente'. His programmes are notorious for spoteneity and longevity - He once talked for more than eight hours non-stop. Photo courtesy of -

President Chavez presenting 'Alo Presidente'. His programmes are notorious for spoteneity and longevity - He once talked for more than eight hours non-stop. Photo courtesy of -

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been celebrating this week as his television and radio program ‘Alo Presidente’ marked its 10th anniversary. The program, which goes out live every Sunday, is watched by both supporters and opponents of the Chavez regime. The show involves the unveiling of new policies, retorts to criticisms, lambasting foreign and opposition leaders, live phone-ins from a carefully selected audience and even celebrity guests. These guests have been as diverse as Diego Maradona and Danny Glover to a live phone call to best chum Fidel Castro. It has become an arena for Chavez to strengthen his loyal support base and further manipulate the power of the media for his own gain. He has truly developed the Chavez ‘brand’. The BBC’s Will Grant sums up the programme aptly:

 “Whether Venezuelans dismiss Alo Presidente as a crude propaganda tool or consider it the best thing on television, the programme looks set to remain on air for as long as Mr Chavez remains in office.”

Others have not been so diplomatic and reiterate the idea that television can be a top down and elitist medium used by dictators:

‘Chávez will go down in history as one of the major operators of a media outlet invented for dictators, that is, television. The stages in the short and violent life of the media are becoming distinct. And after the era of the press and the movies, beginning with the 1940’s, the era of radio and TV started for 55 years. Perfect tools to prevent the message from returning and allow the transmitter to speak to the entire world with no answer: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin.’ (Antonio Pasquali, communication theorist – see here for the link)

This all comes after fresh concerns from United Nations (UN) and Organisation of American States (OAS) officials that Chavez’s government is threatening free speech and intimidating the media. It’s all part of a long running battle between Chavez and the private media whom he seeks to control. The government is currently ‘investigating’ a leading anti-government television station; Globovision TV network is being accused of “media terrorism” by the government who claim that they incited panic and anxiety in its coverage of a minor earthquake on May 4th. It would seem that the station did what a credible media establishment should do – tell the facts and give a balanced account of the event. By openly criticizing the government for its slow response to the quake they’ve now been branded as ‘media terrorists’. Globovision is now the only anti-Chavez channel left on air as the rest have been intimidated into submission by arrests, revoking of licenses and raiding the homes of television executives.

Chavez has now imposed sanctions against the network. Frank La Rue of the United Nations, who monitors freedom of speech warned that these kind of actions “generate an atmosphere of intimidation in which the right to freedom of expression is seriously limited.”  Chavez’s retort was somewhat predictable. He accused the UN of having a media imperialist agenda and imposing the will of the West on Venezuela.

Chavez came to power in 1999 and his regime has been met by both adulation and loathing at home and abroad. Venezuelans remain split on their president: some say he speaks for the poor and is a man of the people whilst others fear he is becoming increasingly autocratic. A referendum in February 2009 saw the people vote for a change in the constitution allowing Chavez to run for office an unlimited number of times. It would seem ‘Alo Presidente’ might be around for another decade. This latest erosion of civil liberties and crack down on the opposition highlights the power that Chavez exerts over the media in Venezuela. He crushes any stations that criticize him and uses his own dedicated and thoroughly self indulgent Television programme as a blatant propaganda exercise.