The news media and risings against elected governments.

updated 23/02/14 with more links to detailed coverage;  and 24/02/14 extra links at the end.

The dominant news media in the UK are very selective in what they report. Latin American visitors often remark that their region hardly seems to exist, at least according to the news. Yet we get all kinds of information about what can only be described as local news from the United States – much more than from our European neighbours even.

But the selectively goes further: we are exposed to a seriously slanted coverage of many events and this is often tantamount to the exercise of propaganda.

In recent weeks, there have been large movements demonstrating against the elected governments in Thailand, Venezuela and Ukraine. There has been far more coverage of the events in Ukraine. Much of this has been selective, with the story typically couched in terms of prospective membership of the European Union. The demonstrators in Kiev have been portrayed as heroes, but a significant number have come from extreme nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, armed and displaying neo-Nazi and white supremacist symbols. They have attacked other activists, including communists and anarchists. So regime change in Kiev (assiduously promoted by the EU, the UK and the USA) will lead to what?

None of this is to exonerate the (elected) Ukraine government that has used its powers arbitrarily, and most recently turned guns on demonstrators, killing many. But we might say to our rulers here, remember Afghanistan (where salafist guerillas were funded, leading to Al Qaeda and the Taliban), and be careful what you wish for.

In Thailand the government is supported (wisely or not) by those in the more impoverished regions of the country. The monarchist, metropolitan right has little chance of defeating it. So again a strategy of intimidation and violent direct action has been used to force out the government. Concessions are not enough for them.  See this collection for more insight to the struggles there.

Venezuela is the clearest case. A reforming government with a frequently renewed majority mandate has faced a (failed) coup d’etat, a management lock-out in the State oil company, economic sabotage, and a propaganda storm of lies and misinformation from the private media (now Venezuela has media laws similar to those in much of Europe which reduces the slander and libel). The opposition has used the democratic constitution, including a referendum to recall the president, unsuccessfully. As Julia Buxton points out in an article this week, the strategy has now changed, back to that of violent confrontation, including molotov cocktail attacks on State buildings and killings of Chavista activists. The government has used restraint and sober analysis does not support the allegation that it has attacked demonstrators. Progress was being made to reform a corrupt police force (police forces actually) and the current sour grapes mobilisations are distraction from that (the opposition has no electoral option this year and failed to defeat President Maduro, Hugo Chávez’s successor, last year).

No government is perfect, and the Venezuelan government has its flaws, especially in terms of the consistency and effectiveness of the implementation of its enlightened social policies (I have been researching this in relation to disability policy, for instance) and in its ecological impacts (it is yet another Latin American extractive economy, in this case reliant on its vast oil resources). While it has been a force for good in the region, supporting reforming governments and taking regional initiatives to counter-balance US domination, its alliance with some regimes (Iran, formerly Iraq, for instance) although tactical in its struggle against US destabilisation, give cause for concern. But on balance it has a very impressive record of poverty reduction, enfranchisement and empowerment of the formerly excluded 80% who live in the barrios. (For a more academic review of the civil society discourse and the limits of extraction-based decolonisation see this by Venezuelan academic Edgardo lander)

And that US destabilisation stands behind the repeated attempts to overthrow the Bolivarian revolution, as this peaceful, electoral and civic process is called. This has been exposed by investigative journalists such as Eva Gollinger, and you only have to look at coverage on US news channels to understand the demonisation that continues. The reason is clear: Venezuela supports the Cuban welfare state, the redistributing government of Bolivia, the Sandanistas of Nicaragua, the citizens revolution of Ecuador. Again these governments all have flaws – what government doesn’t? But they stand with the poor, the oppressed, the excluded – they are indeed a threat to the neoliberal world government of Washington, the IMF, the WTO and their crony capitalist clients. They help us, and the popular majorities of América that indeed ‘another world is possible’ – even as it is being stolen from us by the inexorable, hydrocarbon-eating, greenhouse gas emitting, capital accumulating, globalised system of theft and pillage, now also in power in Russia and China.

Popular movements can be difficult to ‘read’, especially when rising against problematic governments (think of Egypt, Syria, Libya). Maybe a taxonomy of protest movements would help. It could be described in terms of these questions:

  • Who benefits from the agitation, and who stands to lose?
  • What is the language and imagery of the movement (does it characterise the excluded, the poor and disadvantaged minorities pejoratively, for example in racist terms?).
  • What is known about funding for the movement?
  • Who are the leaders? What is their record in promoting redistributive policies and ending exclusion and disadvantage?
  • What is their stance on things like social ownership?
  • Do they use inclusive and democratic ways of organising?
  • Which social classes and sections of the population do the people demonstrating come from?

And just be cautious about accepting the news stories that come from the mainstream media – and that includes ‘liberal’ sources like the Guardian and El País which have been absolutely poisonous on Venezuela.

A couple more links:  Does Venezuelan Television Provide Coverage That Opposes the Government? – Mark Weisbrot

Venezuela: same old, same old… Rodrigo Acuña on the parallels with the 2002 coup.

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