Different Perspectives

CASE STUDY: Chávez and the RCTV shut-down

Introduction

On May 27th 2007, people flooded the streets of Venezuela in protest of the government’s decision to shut-down a cable television network. After 54 years, RCTV, Radio Caracas Televisión International, was silenced. The previous month, on April 12th, President Hugo Chávez said on TV that he viewed the media outlet as a threat to his power. This message was broadcasted nationally at the same time on every Venezuelan channel.

After years of political tension between RCTV and the government, the closure surprised few. According to President Chávez, RCTV was an insult to his way of administrating the country. He was convinced that RCTV was active in organizing the April 11, 2002 coup d’etat that removed him from power for two days. This event finalized his decision to shut-down the station.

The Venezuelan public was outraged. As the oldest of Venezuela´s few television stations, RCTV was recognized for having a critical eye when presenting issues of national importance. Students, citizens, and RCTV employees charged the streets to protest the President’s decision. This demonstration did not remain peaceful. The Venezuelan government met the protesters with force. In reaction to the initial brutality from the police, the protest quickly turned into a riot.

Media had to decide how to portray the story to its audience. Photographers took powerful photographs of the protests and riots, and these were distributed globally. But not all outlets used the images of conflict and emotion. Media around the world chose to frame the confrontation differently. Surprisingly, it was the Venezuelan media that did not select images from the street demonstrations--the photographs the national media chose did not represent the public’s reaction. It was the international media that exposed the struggle in the streets.

What media choose to show and tell can direct how audiences understand events and issues. Take a look at how the following publications used photographs of the RCTV closure. Comparing the coverage demonstrates how images matter.

Venezuela´s El Nacional cover image focused on a young boy viewing blank television sets--the blank screens symbolize the end of RCTV. The headline states: “Unforgettable Moments” (“Momentos inolvidables”). While El Nacional is known for being critically anti-Chavista, this May 28th cover is a rather impartial approach to the story. Despite the national need for understanding, El Nacional was the only Venezuelan newspaper to include a photograph on its front-page coverage of the story.

Outside of Venezuela, media chose to monitor the RCTV shut-down by showing images from the massive demonstration.

These images show other ways that the RCTV story was pictured. No matter the location, every event can be captured from a wide range of perspectives: the more cameras around the globe, the more ways of telling a story. Having audiences see multiple points-of-view is important, yet, in the RCTV case, only the international press published photographs of protestors and police. In this specific case, international media covered the demonstration in the streets whereas local media censored the controversial images.

Everyone views the world through a different lens--which means there are unlimited ways to interpret events. The media are the way by which interpretations are spread, manipulated, combined, and exposed. By monitoring stories and images from around the globe, one can break the limitations of one's own biases and perspectives and the restrictions of own's own politics, culture and society . There will always be something else out there beyond one's own frame.

Being media savvy is necessary in order to analyze and evaluate multiple messages within multiple photographs. The way to attain an informed perspective on a event or issue is to play a global puzzle. Collect as many media stories as possible. Be aware that those stories, those "pieces" are spread all over the world. Brought together--and read and compared--those "pieces" complete a larger panoramic view of an event.