There is a common perception in the US that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has a big media advantage over the opposition in the upcoming elections. The Committee to Protect Journalists, in its latest report on Venezuela, states that “a vast state media presence echoes the government’s positions,” and refers to the government as having a “media empire.”
From the Wilson Center’s latest report, we read: “Media coverage is not even moderately balanced. … In television, the government’s predominance is overwhelming; it was estimated that by 2007 it controlled seven national television channels and 35 open community channels.”
These statements should be questioned. While the government does have an extensive television presence, state TV had only 5.9 percent of Venezuela’s television viewing audience in 2009-2010. These data were gathered by AGB Panamericana de Venezuela Medición S.A., a local affiliate of Nielsen Media Research International, and are presumably as reliable as Nielsen ratings in the United States. The data were collected through equipment boxes placed in each home, measuring minutes of each channel watched. A representative sample of 1,000 households was constructed and data were gathered over ten years.
Thus, the above statements are similar to claiming that PBS TV, the public TV in the United States, dominates U.S. broadcast TV. Most of the major newspapers (e.g., El Nacional, El Universal) are also strongly against the government. According to CONATEL data, only about 14 percent of radio is publicly owned; and since there is more strongly anti-government radio in Venezuela than TV, the opposition almost certainly has more advantage in radio than in other media.
Indeed a recent study by the Consejo Nacional Electoral shows that it is Capriles that has benefitted from a media imbalance.
Chávez, of course, regularly does cadenas – speeches which interrupt regular TV programming. But it is difficult to judge whether these speeches can balance the overwhelming private media bias against the government.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. (www.cepr.net ). He is also President of Just Foreign Policy (www.justforeignpolicy.org ).