Today is the end for Venezuelan media company RCTV. Chavez’ stated reason for shutting them down is due to the involvement of the station in the failed coup attempt of 2002. At the same time, though, the station has been a reliable opposition station ever since, and failing to renew their broadcast license now is a convenient way to get rid of their voice.
However, that’s not what makes the article I’m referencing a farce. A writer for Monthly Review, an American socialist publication since 1949, believes that this isn’t a free speech issue. His justification, of course, is laughable:
This sovereign decision of the Venezuelan government not to renew RCTV’s concession has prompted claims that freedom of speech is somehow under threat in Venezuela.
But many discussions of freedom of speech rely on a fundamentally flawed assumption: that existing media outlets in some way embody “freedom.” The debate surrounding RCTV is no exception. It is this flawed assertion that has been openly embraced by the Venezuelan opposition and equally openly challenged by those who reject efforts to paint the non-renewal of the broadcasting concession for Venezuela’s RCTV as an issue of free speech at all (see my previous comments here).
Decades spent under the hegemonic shadow of the discourse of “civil society against the state” has led us to assume that all that is not under state control is free, thereby conveniently obscuring the unfreedom of economic, specifically market forces. So for the non-renewal of RCTV to be a free speech issue at all, one would have to make the ultimately doomed argument that RCTV, under the direction of Marcel Granier and media conglomerate “1 Broadcasting Caracas” (1BC), somehow represents an expression of the people’s freedom rather than the freedom of its small group of shareholders.
You see, according to this author freedom of speech doesn’t mean that you should be free to say what you believe. It only means that you should be free to speak in support of the principles of freedom. And who’s better suited to arbitrate whether or not they’re advocating freedom that a bunch of socialists?
This is a strawman from the start. His first statement, “But many discussions of freedom of speech rely on a fundamentally flawed assumption: that existing media outlets in some way embody ‘freedom.’ “ is an outright falsehood. Speech of the wicked is no less worthy of protection than speech of the virtuous. The fundamental assumption is that if the government begins deciding what speech is and is not acceptable, it leads to a slippery slope where only government-approved messages are allowed. Defending against government’s power to shut down unpopular speech is the only way to ensure the government doesn’t have the power to shut down any other speech it doesn’t like. I think that situation is quite clear here, as Chavez is using the failed coup as an excuse to put down opposition media.
This entire premise for his article (which mostly goes on to point out that the owners of RCTV are capitalists and tied to the previous regime, and the new TVes, which will replace RCTV, is “democratic”) is based on the flawed assumption that freedom of speech should only be extended to those you agree with. I’ll freely admit that the owners of RCTV are advocating not for a free society, but a return to pre-Chavez society in which they were the rulers. That doesn’t mean that shutting them down isn’t a free speech issue. As an advocate of free speech, I know that I often have to defend the free speech rights of groups that I absolutely abhor, such as Fred Phelps and his minions, in order to ensure that my own free speech rights are protected.
Socialists believe they’re advocating for freedom. The problem is that their definition of “freedom” is largely different from everyone else’s. Their definition of freedom involves a lot more government coercion than any I’ve ever heard of. RCTV isn’t advocating for freedom, but neither is Chavez, and when Chavez pulls RCTV’s license, he is most certainly trampling on their free speech rights.
In fact, I’d go a step farther and say that when government assumes the power to only allow “licensed” broadcasters to broadcast, they’re stepping on freedom. But that’s an argument for another day.
When government broadcast licenses are revoked due to content, it’s an abrogation of free speech rights. That’s true whether the content is pro-freedom or not. I have a feeling if the US government shut down Monthly Review for advocating anti-freedom ideas such as socialism, this author would be crying about his rights as well.