Because of my interest in the role of media in politics and global affairs, I watched The Revolution Will Not be Televised, a behind the scenes documentary of the Venezuelan coup d’état of 2002. The film focuses on the events leading up to the coup and how they were presented on the public and private news channels of Venezuela. With his plans to bring more of the country’s immense oil wealth under state control, Chavez had angered many business elites and attracted the attention of the US. Marching through the streets of Caracas, supporters of Chavez collide with a group of marchers protesting his plan, and violence erupts. Far from being neutral reporters of the facts on the ground, the private stations showed footage favorable to those wishing to overthrow the administration of Hugo Chavez. Choosing misleading camera angles, the private news agencies make it seem as if the Chavez supporters are firing on the opposition, when in fact both sides were fired upon simultaneously. The leaders of the opposition seize the opportunity to appear justified and take control of the presidential palace. Demanding that Chavez resign, they threaten to bomb the palace and those inside it. Chavez surrenders himself to their custody without resigning the presidency. The opposition moves in swiftly and swears themselves into power, addressing the public via the privately owned news channels – the public access channel, Channel 8, has been disabled.
With the help of the Palace Guard (a paramilitary group loyal to the Chavez administration) the opposition leadership is removed from the palace and the Chavez cabinet is restored to power. The public at large is kept unaware of this thanks to the continued obstruction from the private news agencies. In a recently reactivated Channel 8 studio, the Vice President is sworn back into power, pending the return of Chavez. This move, according to the Chavez administration, was to restore constitutionality and calm in the country. Soon after, Chavez is released by the opposition and flown back to Caracas to re-assume the presidency. In an address to the nation, Chavez urges everyone involved to return to their homes and remain calm. He also says that those who oppose him are welcome to do so, but democratically and in line with the Venezuelan constitution.
The film itself came under criticism for having a clear pro Chavez bias and for displaying some events out of order to support this bias. Events preceding the coup are left out, which to some critics means a critical level of context was missing from the story. State run and privately owned media outlets continue to be at odds with each other, supporting the opposition and the new administration respectively (after Chavez’s death this March, his party retained the office of president with the election of Nicolas Maduro, previously Chavez’s Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs). While it is no secret that Chavez and the US did not see eye to eye on a number of things, US involvement in the coup is a serious allegation. US involvement is alluded to several times in the film, but what makes these accusations easy to believe is what is at stake: control over a large oil-producing country.
While the events in the film are now over a decade old, the concern over media bias is a timeless issue. Privately owned media sources here in the US each have their own agenda and political preference, and this is to say nothing of public sources of news and reporting. With yet another conflict brewing in the Middle East it is more important than ever to be informed by a variety of sources and to encourage those who represent us both here and abroad to seek nonviolent solutions.
Caselli, Irene. “Nicolas Maduro Sworn in as New Venezuelan President.” BBC News. BBC, 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 12 Sept. 2013. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-22220526>.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Dir. Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain. Perf. Hugo Chavez. 2003. DVD.