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Themes Why I Became a Dissident » Marcel Granier

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Interviewed November 2010

Marcel Granier is the chief executive officer of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). Trained as a lawyer, he began working at RCTV in the 1970s and worked his way up through the ranks to Director General of the station. The station’s editorial policies supported democratic governance and criticized efforts by President Hugo Chavez to consolidate power and eliminate governmental checks and balances.

In 2007, the Chavez government imposed a requirement that RCTV reapply for its broadcast license then denied the application. RCTV operated successfully as a cable station until the government frightened away its advertisers. Granier continues to live in Venezuela and to speak out for democracy and human rights. 

R.C.T.V. has, for more than 50 years, been the leading television station in Venezuela. R.C.T.V. won that place among the Venezuelans by providing entertainment and information. Particularly in the field of information R.C.T.V. was a pioneer. We had the first television news program in Venezuela, as we had had before in radio.

So people would always refer to RCT to R.C.T.V. when they heard some news. And if they wanted to check if it was true or not, they would wait for the news program of R.C.T.V., which was the leading news program in Venezuela for many, many years.

After the advent to power from Lieutenant Colonel Chavez, things began to get very difficult for independent journalism. 'Cause the president was always threatening independent journalists, threatening media directors threatening media owners. So little by little, people started self-censoring themselves. I have never believed in self-censorship.

What happened to R.C.T.V. was that as the president got more open in in his Communist policies and in his involvement with countries like Cuba, Libya, Syria, Iraq Iran even visited Saddam Hussein once Belarus and Russia, and the media were critical of that, bec that had nothing to do with the with the beliefs of the of the population in Venezuela. He was more aggressive against the journalists who were bringing that I mean those policies to to attention.

So he started threatening them, or attacking them. Early in 2001, a group of journalists from from R.C.T.V. was attacked by a mob promoted by President Chavez. Then in 2002, they tried to burn down our main building, where close to 2,000 people were working at the time. That they did again in 2004.

Their threats to journalists kept growing and growing and become more menacing. Eventually, we had to bring a case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where we were able to prove that over 150 journalists working for R.C.T.V. had been attacked by mobs or police under the instructions of President Chavez.

Finally, in December, 2006, at the military gathering, he said that he would shut us down because we were golpistas (coup plotters). He was never able to prove that. So we haven't had the right to defend ourselves from those accusations. Nevertheless, everybody in Venezuela knows that Lieutenant Colonel Chavez is a convicted golpista. I mean he was involved in a coup d’état in 1992.

He participated while in prison in another coup d’état in November, 1992. And he participated in another coup d’état in 2002 whereas we have always had a very clear record of defending democracy and freedom and human rights.

Finally, in May 2007, he shut us down. Two days before that, on May 25, all our installations, more than 70 stations all over the country, were invaded by military forces with no orders with no legal procedure, with no decision from a judge or a public officer. But they took by force; they took our stations on May 25. And then on May 27, our license was cancelled, and our all our signals were shut down.

Then I felt very bad. I'd been working more than 40 years at R.C.T.V. It's been the work of my life. I had I mean some shareholders to respond to, more than 3,000 employees, several hundred clients and providers, suppliers. I felt very bad. I thought, "Well, what are we going to do next?"

In those months, when we were appealing the government decision, but we knew that the Supreme Court wouldn't decide it because it's totally dominated by President Chavez, we made some studies. And then we decided to try it on cable and satellite. Nobody had ever done it anywhere in the world something like that, to transform an open-air television, a terrestrial television station with all the resources it needs, into a cable and satellite operation. I mean that at the time, we were employing close to 3,000 people. And the largest cable operator was employing about 100 people, and were running like ten more than ten channels.

We were the number one by a fairly wide margin. Penetration of cable and satellite grew from 19 percent to over 65 percent. So we were able to recover most of our audience and our income. And then, all of a sudden, in January 2010, so ten months ago, the government decided that they didn't want us on the air anymore. And they gave the order by television, without any provision from a judge or a public officer. They insinuated to the cable and satellite operators that if they didn't take us off the air, they would sanction them. So the companies were frightened by the government threats, and took us off the air on January 23, 2010. 

Venezuela is a South American country of 28.5 million people with a history of multiparty constitutional democracy. President Nicolas Maduro took office after Hugo Chavez succumbed to cancer in 2013.

During the 1998-2013 presidency of Colonel Hugo Chavez, a series of constitutional and legal changes were implemented that make it far more difficult for citizens to change their government. The Chavez government systematically used public resources to secure its power, closed down independent news media, and used legal and extralegal means to harass and intimidate its critics.

Soon after his first election, Chavez called for a new constitution that would give expanded powers to the president and replace Venezuela’s bicameral Congress with a unicameral national assembly. The new constitution was approved by referendum in 1999. Chavez acquired substantial control of the military, the judiciary, the electoral commission, and the news media. The government closed Radio Caracas Television Internacional (RCTV Internacional), the country’s largest television network, and forced into exile the president of Globovision, the other major opposition-aligned network.

The Chavez government’s increasingly repressive methods generated strong public opposition, including a series of public protests by students, workers, and others who were not previously aligned with the political opposition. In the 2010 National Assembly elections, opposition parties received the majority of the votes, but under the new electoral rules the government took a substantial majority of the seats in the Assembly.

Venezuela’s vast oil resources allowed Chavez to implement policies that steered the country towards a socialist economy. The country’s oil wealth funded a major expansion of government social programs, much to the approval of government supporters in the lower class. Oil became the foundation of Venezuela’s relationship with Cuba, which has strengthened substantially over the last few decades due to shared ideology and financial and security interdependence. Venezuela has replaced the Soviet Union as Cuba’s major benefactor, financially supporting the Castro regime. Cuba in turn has supported the transformation and strengthening of the Venezuelan military. In 2004, the two nations founded the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a group of socialist and social democratic nations working toward economic integration. ALBA and its member nations often champion anti-American policies and sentiments. This alliance has led to close ties between Venezuela and nations such as Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Bolivia.

Immediately after Chavez’s passing, Vice President Maduro assumed the role of interim President. He then went on to narrowly defeat an opposition candidate by a 1.5 percent margin in the April 2013 presidential elections. Maduro has pledged to complete Chavez’s socialist transformation of Venezuela.

Recently, Venezuela has struggled with a rising crime and homicide rate, blamed by some on a recent economic downturn, the availability of arms, and the weak judicial system. However, Chavez and Maduro both have linked this increase in crime to the media’s portrayal of both fictional and real violence and have continued to influence what programming and content is available. Both leaders have expanded the security forces within the country, calling on police, militias, and the military to fight crime.

In Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, Venezuela earned “partly free” status, with an overall rating of 5. A rating of 1 represents the most free and 7 represents the least free.

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More on this theme from Marcel Granier

Marcel Granier: RCTV and Censorship Describes President Chavez’s assault on independent journalism and the Chavez government’s decision to close Granier’s independent television station. Marcel Granier: Failures of Chavez Explaining why President Chavez has been unable to establish a Cuba-style dictatorship in Venezuela.