Pro-government media spew regime-issued propaganda extolling foreign allies helping build the local weapons system while private outlets merely go through the motions.
By Ana Julia Niño Gamboa
Under the motto “independence or nothing in science, in technology… in domestic warfare to defend peace and territorial integrity”, a Nicolás Maduro, donning military attire, on the 15th anniversary of the National Bolivarian Armed Force Strategic Operational Command (Comando Estratégico Operacional de la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana, CEOFANB), on September 25, 2020, ordered to establish, by virtue of an executive order, the Scientific and Technological Military Council (Consejo Militar Científico y Tecnológico).
Almost a month later the order had still not been complied with. However, on October 23, Maduro addressed the issue again. This time he made the announcement, again from Fort Tiuna (Fuerte Tiuna), in the capital city of Caracas, after a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders of the Strategic Comprehensive Defense Regions (Regiones Estratégicas de Defensa Integral, REDI) and the Comprehensive Defense Operational Zones (Zonas Operativas de Defensa Integral, ZODI). Then, he referred to the progress made in establishing the above Council, which would supposedly be launched on occasion the aviation’s 100th anniversary, on November 27. In both events, he underscored that he had been advised by experts from Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba. He added that the objective is making the Venezuelan weapons system independent, as well as facing the US government’s interventionist intent and the threat posed by the Colombian government.
In this investigation, comprising a month’s review of 28 online sources, namely 15 domestic media (seven government-aligned and eight private), two foreign media (from Russia and China), seven Twitter accounts and four official government sites, we intend to acquire knowledge on media coverage and access to public information in the hands of the government regarding the establishment of the above Military Council.
The results of the investigation demonstrate the systemic pattern of failure to disclose information by the Venezuelan government, while the little it does release makes its way to headlines but is elaborated on in a propagandistic manner. This is done with the intent of positioning its hardline stance against the U.S. government and the purportedly better performance of two world powers that are fighting for their influence on the post-COVID-19 geopolitical chessboard: Russia and China. On the other hand, it seems that the private media do not seem to be keen on the idea that this issue deserves widespread coverage. In most cases, a mere reference to the news is noticed, yet without the depth required to provide the necessary context in order to measure the importance of this issue and its impact on national life. As for what the public media publish, the evidence shows that they replicate the same message in a sort of circular quotes that end up reaching what was released on government-aligned TV network, which broadcast live the two central events of this investigation.
Nicolás Maduro’s government announced the creation of a Scientific and Technological Military Council that, in his words, would ensure Venezuela’s independence and allow it to have its own weapons system. For this purpose, he assures to rely on the cooperation of Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba that would basically support him with “arms and strategy”.
The announcement is significant in many ways: First, because of its timing, in the midst of the complex humanitarian crisis that has intensified with the advent of the coronavirus to national soil, plus an evident disruption of public income; secondly, because it is a national security issue that concerns every citizen. To all this we must add the alliances with the governments of Russia and China which have gained considerable momentum, and which seem to form part of Nicolás Maduro’s strategy to make new friends against imperialism that, in the Chavista narrative, is embodied by the United States of America.
Consequently, we proposed ourselves to follow up on this news trying to gather data that would go beyond mere statements. The announced project unfolds, at least in the media, on three dates: On the first two, it is a simple announcement, the third date is the deadline set for completion. The following table reflects this.
Table 1: Key announcements regarding the Military Council
SEPTEMBER 25, 2020
|On occasion of the 15th anniversary of CEOFANB, “I issue the order to establish, with immediate effect, resulting from the efforts we have been making, and by means of an executive order, the Military, Scientific and Technological Council conducive to military independence and the Venezuelan weapon system, to make our own weapon system”.|
OCTOBER 23, 2020
|Following a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders of the REDIs and ZODIs, “in the next few weeks, on occasion of the 100th anniversary of Aviation, we will establish the Military, Scientific and Technological Council that will ensure Venezuela’s independence regarding its weapons system […]”|
|NOVEMBER 27, 2020||This is the promised deadline for launching the Council on the centenary of military aviation.|
In view of the times in which this data are presented, we conducted a review on the selected media outlets from September 25, date on which the information is known, and October 23, which is the second milestone. We extended the days to complete the review on one full month of coverage, that is, until October 25. To this end, we checked several official government sites and reviewed coverage on 15 domestic media (seven government-aligned and eight private), expanding our research to two foreign media (from Russia and China). On this occasion, our searches comprised Twitter, (seven accounts), because in most cases it functions as the preferred platform for the government to make its decisions known. In total, we worked with 28 sources reviewed online, over a month’s period, as detailed in the table below.
Table 2: Sources reviewed
|GOVERNMENT-ALIGNED MEDIA||Ciudad Caracas, Correo del Orinoco, La Iguana TV, Telesur, Últimas Noticias, Agencia Venezolana de Noticias (Venezuelan News Agency), Venezolana de Televisión|
|PRIVATE MEDIA||Tal Cual, El Nacional, El Universal, Caraota Digital, El Pitazo, Globovisión, Efecto Cocuyo.|
|GOVERNMENT WEBSITES||Ministry of Information and Communication, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Foreign Affairs|
|INT’L MEDIA||RT Actualidad (formerly Russia Today) and Xinhuanet (both its Spanish-language site and the subdomain hosted by Telesur)|
|TWITTER ACCOUNTS||@NicolasMaduro, @avnve, @CancilleriaVE @PresidencialVE @Mippcivzla @CeballosIchaso @vladimirpadrino|
Our research is eminently qualitative, in this case focused on an online review of the above media and platforms. In both cases, we had to resort to advanced searches (from Google and Twitter) because these media sites are not search-friendly. Thus, we intend to verify the availability or unavailability of information regarding Venezuela’s relations with the governments of Russia and China. On the one hand, the pattern of opacity prevalent in the government with regard to providing public information under its control is widely known. Furthermore, we are also interested in ascertaining the coverage of these events or lack thereof, which are of public interest, by the private media.
We are not referring to a specific number of news items, we are only making a critical approach to the media’s interest in view of the ramifications of the relations between these countries, which have consolidated in the midst of the pandemic caused by the coronavirus and, we repeat, the systemic concealment of public information by the government.
The alliances between the Venezuelan government and those of Russia and China generate a genuine interest because of their complexity, their opacity, and the issues involved: Health, humanitarian aid, vaccines, technology, and now military security. Additionally, they acquire a dimension stretching beyond our borders and putting the focus on the geopolitical impact on Latin America. Obviously, Venezuela is on the radar of these new “brethren of Chavismo”; but there are serious and well-founded doubts as to whether this interest favors the population and democracy, or whether we are just another token on the global chessboard of interests. This feeling is not futile and is fueled by the same narrative of the government, formerly voiced by Hugo Chavez and currently by Nicolás Maduro. The reason for this is that both spokespersons in position of authority have put the threat coming from the United States at the core of their discourse. Indeed, during Chávez’s administration, military material was bought from these countries in the framework of military cooperation. Following the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on local government officials, the efforts for the maintenance of this arsenal were compromised, and this is made known each time the government propaganda extolls the presence of Russians and Chinese in Venezuela. However, we must also add the war-mongering tone patent in Venezuela’s troubled relations with neighboring Colombia and Brazil.
From the review of private and government-aligned media, official government sites, and Twitter accounts, we have found that information is practically non-existent: i) The executive order whereby the Scientific and Technological Military Council was established is not available in government sites, nor are there data alluding to its publication in the Official Gazette; ii) The few media covering the topic only replicate the information as initially covered by state-owned media, i.e., Venezolana de Televisión, because it was the network that broadcast the events of September 25 and October 23 live (this occurs as well with the coverage by the Venezuelan News Agency). In practice, the events are reviewed in a rather shallow manner; iii) it is not possible to gain access to the cooperation agreements governing the intervention of the countries allied with Chavismo, especially that of Russia and China; iv) Curiously on the RT Actualidad (Russia Today’s Spanish-language channel) and the Chinese agency Xinhua websites, there exist mere references in this regard (both in the subdomain hosted in the Telesur website as well as in its home page), albeit not in depth, instead, aligned with the narrative of Venezuela’s national media.
1) The government’s communication policy continues to be marked by its opacity, even in those matters sensitive to public interest. This is not the exception: The formation of a Military Council regarding the very security of the country is a matter that concerns all Venezuelans. The agreements governing these cooperation relationships, especially with Russia and China, are part of the issues that should be discussed without qualms, because we are not referring to sensitive content that compromises the security of the nation.
2) The pattern identified above is tantamount to a serious scheme of propaganda and conspiracy theories orchestrated by the government to justify and position the virtues of the governments of Russia and China in the face of the imperialistic excesses of the U.S. government. The truth is that all the public information, which should be available to citizens, the media, and journalists, ends up becoming propaganda talking points that jeopardize the right of access to public information and cause information disruption.
3) The sources reviewed do not provide fact-checked news; they limit themselves to repeating the information without even attempting to offer a perspective-providing context and allowing citizens to understand the importance of issues vital to all.
4) The media in general continue to be increasingly in debt with the citizens regarding the issues that should be central to the public agenda. The presence of Russia and China in practically all aspects of the country’s life is not an issue that can be neglected for long, as we are already lagging behind in this regard.