In a mild shock -- mild because it's mentioned before the elections, but probably won't be when it really matters after the polls close -- Frank Bajak and Jorge Rueda at the Associated Press, in a story about how the last opposition TV station in Venezuela is being sold to an insurance magnate who is reportedly "friendly with government," noted the extraordinary handicaps that Venezuela's opposition presidential candidate faces as he attempts to unseat the Chavista successor to the late dictator Hugo Chavez in April's upcoming elections.
Specifically, the pair wrote:
Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in October elections, is already at a severe disadvantage in the April 14 vote. The government has the national treasury of an oil-rich nation at its disposal and takes over the public airwaves at will.
That statement doesn't even note the high likelihood of election-day intimidation, ACORN-like tactics, and, of course, the government's "input" into which votes are counted, and how.
Nonetheless, Bajak and Rueda's obviously true statement, though buried in Paragraph 27, is an important rebuttal to the tired argument which will inevitably be made that the results of this election, like the several which took place before it, will mean that the Venezuelan people have decided who their next leader will be in free and fair elections. It will mean no such thing. If Mr. Capriles somehow wins, it will be despite a 15-point handicap resulting from the influences the AP pair cited plus election-day shenanigans.
What follows are excerpts relatiing to the AP report's primary topic, the demise of the journalistic independence of Globovision, including a misleading understatement about conditions which preceded it (bolds are mine):
LAST ANTI-CHAVEZ TV STATION TO BE SOLD
The last remaining television station critical of Venezuela's government is being sold to an insurance company owner who is apparently friendly with the ruling socialists, its owners announced Monday, following an unrelenting official campaign to financially strangle the broadcaster through regulatory pressure.
The announcement, which civil liberties advocates called a crushing blow to press freedom, comes a month ahead of crucial elections to replace Hugo Chavez, with the opposition candidate accusing the late president's political heirs of multiple violations of the constitution, and repeated lying, to seek unfair advantage.
... Many journalists on the staff of 450 sobbed when informed of the sale, certain some would lose their jobs for openly confronting the government.
... Politically, the station is unviable because "we are in a completely polarized country on the opposite end of an all-powerful government that wants to see us fail," he (owner Guillermo Zuloaga) added. Third, Globovision's license expires two years from now under a recent government rule change.
The sale will wait until April 14 elections, which Chavez's hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, is highly favored to win. But there is fear that journalists at the channel could exercise self-censorship, a common phenomenon under the Chavistas.
... The feared disappearance of Globovision's independent voice would strengthen the hand of a government that began showing increasing intolerance for dissent even before Chavez died after a nearly two-year bout with cancer.
The state telecommunications agency has repeatedly sanctioned Globovision and threatened to shut it down, with eight administrative cases currently pending against it that could have led to additional fines and even closure orders.
In June, it was fined $2.2 million for running supposedly incendiary reports on a 2011 prison riot.
In the most recent case, it was accused of sowing panic for running spots challenging the constitutionality of the government's decision to postpone the swearing in of Chavez ...
That bolded sentence gives on the impression that the "intolerance" only appeared relatively recently, and that it's the work of the "government," not necessarily Chavez himself. Please. Chavez acquired "rule by decree" powers in December 2010. In a scene eerily reminiscent of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, Chavez sent in tanks with water cannons to break up demonstrations against a holdout station's closure in 2007. Chavez and his Chavista successors have worn out truth-telling journalists using the awesome and unaccountable powers of his government.
Their mission is virtually accomplished, with only a few editorially independent newspapers remaining. Yet look at all the praise U.S. apparatchiks described as "journalists," including some at the AP itself (Bajak among them), continue to heap upon the late Chavez and his socialist apparatus.
What a complete disgrace and betrayal.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.