Stuart Adams

“The Media in Venezuela and Bolivia: Attacking the “Bad Left” From Below”, written by Pascal Lupien, discusses media representation of government supporters in Venezuela and Bolivia. In both of these countries the leaders are supported by large numbers of the population, which poses a problem for the anti-government camp, who cannot contest the elections without criticizing the democratic system that they themselves are a part of. Instead, they turn their criticism to the people who support the government and use different rhetorical methods to discredit the legitimacy of their votes.

The paper begins with exposition that briefly discusses the problem of high market concentration for media outlets in Latin America that gives those who control these media outlets large amounts of power to shape public opinion. It then clarifies the mechanism by which these media outlets shape public opinion, that being the process of framing wherein the reporting and analysis of events is done so in a way which contains an inherent structure of interpretation. The critical aspects of the paper are also introduced when the idea of freedom of speech is introduced as being in conflict with the small number of media outlets which dominate public debate, as well as “plurality of ideas” being central to a well-functioning democracy.

The article then discusses multiple case studies which discuss the way which private media in Venezuela and Bolivia have attacked the voter base for Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. Following the elections of both of these leaders, private news media claimed that the followers of these two leaders didn’t know what they were voting for. The former elites in these countries, not accustomed to the idea of sharing political power with people who were not part of this established elite, claimed that the leaders held people under control which was mystic or religious. In addition, they claimed that these same followers were less concerned about making their political decisions based upon rational self-interest, but upon the immediate benefits that they would receive from going to the polls and voting these leaders into office. To contrast this, the anti-government voters were characterized as hard-working, rational, and more worthy of deciding who would be elected.

The paper also identifies racial stereotypes used in both Bolivia and Venezula to characterize government supporters. In Venezuela, the pro-government forces are characterized by private media as being of darker skin, which brings the Indigenous and Afro-Venezuelan communities into the pro-government camp in the eyes of the medium’s target audience, the white-skinned elite. By playing off of the tensions of an already divided society, this racist portrayal is meant to make white-skinned elites fearful of the newly empowered lower class, and make political opposition to the government less about civil society and more about personal safety.

In Bolivia, the use of race as a framing tool by media is centered largely upon the indigenous population. Reforms to the Bolivian constitution gave indigenous communities a degree of autonomy to enforce traditional forms of community justice and required that leaders elected in indigenous communities speak the language native to that community. During the approval process for the changes to the Bolivian constitution, Bolivian media portrayed the indigenous population as a group which would challenge the sovereignty of the state and impose indigenous religious practices upon all Bolivians. The societal tensions fueled by this portrayal erupted into violence against indigenous people, including beatings in public squares, which were not covered by private media.

The article concludes with an overview of the efforts made by the Bolivian and Venezuelan governments to increase plurality of voices in media. The first is increasing creation of state media, giving more space for pro-government messages to be heard, though this type of diversification tends to lead towards increasingly aggressive messages. The second is socially-controlled media, which is meant to develop civil society in order to ease the tensions between pro and anti-government factions. The third is the development of community-generated television and radio, which has been done to a large extent in Bolivia, which has had a network of miner’s radio stations since the 1940’s, and where community-generated radio content still has widespread distribution. In Venezuela, more emphasis is put on developing television content, and the government offers workshops and equipment for those who want to produce television content, however, though these community TV stations receive some funding from outside organizations, they are mostly supported by government funding in order to stay operational.

Selective sourcing is a topic which is featured prominently in this paper that we’ve also covered in class. In the coverage of Bolivia’s new constitution, the need for elected leaders in indigenous areas to speak the local langue was analyzed as “unfair” and “worrying” though analysis on the opposite side that indigenous people speak Spanish was not addressed as a topic of equal consternation, because the experts who were meant to provide perspective on the issue were not unbiased but were meant to echo the ideas promoted by that medium.

The idea of “The People” is particularly contentious in this paper because the anti-government faction wants to discredit the leaders who were put into power by large majorities. This is clearly a decision made by “The People”, but no wanting to admit that they are in the minority, label the supporters of government as “the masses” or “the mob”, to remove the connotation of an engaged citizenry and replace it with that of an unthinking mass which doesn’t think beyond its immediate benefit beyond the polling place.

Lupien’s discussion of the efforts made by the Venezuelan government to increase the amount of community-generated content will become less and less of relevant policy choice if high-speed internet access grows in Venezuela. In developed and developing countries around the world, the amount of user generated content grows vaster every day. In the developed world, there are newspapers which are published entirely online, and have little restrictions put upon them by publishers due to the rule of Net Neutrality. In China, the internet is becoming such a venue for media pluralism that the Chines government has begun massive censorship in order to silence dangerous dissenting opinions. If access to this venue of information continues to increase, than the problem of finding a widespread publisher of political ideas will take care of itself.

The policy decision of increasing outlets of media controlled by the state is an inherently bad idea because of the fear which the anti-government faction feels towards the new populist government. Beneath the messages contained in the media coverage broad cast by private media lies a message that the establishment is deeply fearful of losing all that it has as it becomes the minority group in society. The increase in aggressive rhetoric that has come with increased government presence in public media could lead to increased societal instability, risking the very thing which the government wants to protect through putting its message into broadcast media.

I found this essay through JSTOR using my SUA access and using the search terms “media” and “Latin America”, but had to use EBSCOhost credentials when I couldn’t access it through JSTOR itself.

Work Cited

Lupien, P. 2013. The Media in Venezuela and Bolivia: Attacking the “Bad Left” From Below. Latin American Perspectives 40 3: 226-246, doi:10.1177/0094582X13476004

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