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BAD doctor Hugo Chavez trying to be another Silvio Berlusconi? Is Venezuela under Chavez heading towards dictatorship? These are some of the questions that are being raised after the country's oldest private broadcasting network, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) was asked to shut shop.



The authorities refused to renew the broadcasting licence of the network, which over the past five decades became an inextricable part of the cultural fabric of Venezuela. RCTV, which was promptly replaced by a “public service channel”, was accused of taking advantage of its wide viewer base to spread anti-Chavez propaganda.

Venezuelans are continuing to take to the streets to protest against the government's decision. And there have also been rallies that have celebrated the closure. International observers —mostly neoconservatives in the West —and Chavez's opponents in Venezuela are alleging that taking a private TV network off air is tantamount to curbing freedom of expression. True,. in a democracy, you have to maintain a plurality of views or opinions. But the fact is that around 80 per cent of Venezuela's media are privately owned and the Press is apparently free to be critical of the government. So, it won't be right if we say that the “dangerous radical” is trying to control the media to impregnate the masses with his revolutionary ideas.

It's interesting to note how the media can be used as a tool of propaganda by all kinds of people, be it capitalists or socialists. But we often tend to forget that viewers are no passive dupes. They can make their own conscious decisions about what's right for them and what's not in their interest.

An opinion poll in Venezuela last month apparently showed that about 70 per cent people were against the closure of the TV station. But most of those who opposed the move were reportedly more upset about losing their favourite soaps and games shows that were broadcast on the channel than about the alleged curtailing of free speech. Also, when RCTV backed a coup against Chavez in 2002, people took to the streets demanding the return of Chavez, their favourite leader. At that time, apparently, RCTV tried to ignore the popular demand by broadcasting cartoons!

Well, you just can't take the public for granted.


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