Servando Garcia Ponce is a Venezuelan journalist, political and historian. He has been a correspondent for the news agency TASS for many years, was president of the Venezuelan Journalism Association, and a director of the National Journalists College of Caracas.
Currently he is part of the Board of Directors and is Information Editor of the recently created Diario Vea (www.diariovea.com). He also runs the radio program Venezuela Avanza.
|Chavism is a profound process of change and of social transformation that goes beyond Chavez himself, says Servando Garcia Ponce.|
Credit: Raul Grioni and Donatella Iacobelli - Venezuelanalysis.com
Venezuelanalysis.com: At this time when it is well known in Venezuela that the sale of national newspapers that have a long history, such as El Universal and El Nacional have lost much of their circulation, why come out with a new newspaper?
Servando Garcia Ponce: Yes, it is true that the sale of traditional newspapers have dropped a lot and this is due to the political and partisan orientation that they have taken.
Previously they were papers that informed about what was happening in Venezuela and in the world. Ever since President Chavez’ rise to power they have turned into political instruments oriented towards the removal of Chavez from power. They are linked to very specific interests: those of Venezuela’s dominant political class and of transnational corporations of the U.S.
This obviously causes the distribution and sale of these newspapers to drop because they only awaken the interests of a very small group of consumers who identify with them.
They are papers directed towards the upper and middle classes, at a consuming public that is very small in Venezuela. This has hit them very hard. Newspapers that previously were very respected, such as El Nacional, which is perhaps the most emblematic case, and was the spokesperson and interpreter of Venezuelan intellectuals has recently lost all of its prestige due to its completely openly biased manner with which it treats information and opinions.
It still has a group of intellectuals that still support it, but they as well as the newspaper have completely separated and isolated themselves from the national sentiment. And this has impacted their sales.
For these reasons, ever since the start of the revolutionary process of change that President Chavez leads, a void in the area of information has opened up that must in some way be filled.
We realized that there is a captive audience that no longer buys the traditional newspapers for the reasons explained above.
VA: Do you think that Diario Vea is filling this void and that it is reaching the goals that its founders had proposed?
SGP: Yes, we are a group of journalists who form a cooperative to really inform this large number of people who are no longer purchasing the traditional newspapers and to inform them about the achievements of the government and to provide a different version of events and not just on a national level, but also on an international level – in order to get out of this globalized vision of what happens in the world that the big mass media want to sell us.
We are printing 70-80,000 copies daily, which are distributed on a national level. We have even managed to print 100,000, but it is difficult due to a lack of resources – and none are returned. It is always sold out. It even sells well in middle class neighborhoods that are the bastions of the traditional papers.
VA: How do these numbers compare with the circulation of other dailies with a national distribution?
SGP: We are in second place on a national level after Últimas Noticias, which has an average circulation of 120,000 per day. In some regions, such as in the East of the country, and in the city of Puerto Ordaz, which is a center of workers of heavy industries, and in Maracay, which is another industrial city, we have a greater circulation than Últimas Noticias. We are close on their heels.
VA: What is the current circulation of El Nacional and El Universal?
SGP: We have information that El Nacional has a circulation of 30,000. It had a dizzying decline. And El Universal is around that level too and the tabloids are practically broke.
For example, El Reporte Económico circulates merely 500 copies, the daily Tal Cual between 3,000 and 4,000, which are sold only in middle class neighborhoods of Caracas and only with a great effort. They wanted to sell Tal Cual, but no one wants to buy it.
The owners of El Nacional also want to get out, but there is no one who wants to buy it. They are bankrupt due to their editorial and informational line. They have been too manipulative with the information and have lost all credibility.
For example, the scandal about the torture practices of the North American soldiers in Iraq weren’t published in either El Universal nor in El Nacional when it was a scandal on a world scale. They delayed it for a few days before beginning to mention the issue.
They do not inform about things that are not convenient to them. About what happens in Iraq there is always very little information and very laconically. They inform about what the President of the U.S. says.
VA: It has been said that the global news agencies are in the great majority part of the unipolar media apparatus. How do you collect the information that you publish?
SGP: We are quite tied to France Press (AFP) which has information that is quite ample on the international level. Prensa-Latina, Aporrea.org, Rebelión.org, Granma, and other alternative pages on the Internet.
North Americans are also have their news hidden from them by their mass media. The girl who worked at the undertaker’s, in charge of receiving the bodies of the soldiers that died in Iraq, who took the pictures of those that were arriving in the U.S. and published them, they fired her because the U.S. government forbade that the coffins of soldiers coming from Iraq be shown. We managed to get this from France-Press which is not exactly a communist agency or something like that.
In the U.S. censorship is practiced. There is a resounding violation of freedom of expression. And then they have the cynicism to denounce Cuba and even Venezuela because here there is no respect for freedom of expression.
VA: Could one consider Diario Vea as a Chavista newspaper?
SGP: We support Chavez. Chavism is a profound process of change and of social transformation that goes beyond Chavez himself who is undoubtedly the leader, but who represents a great majority of the Venezuelan people who traditionally have been excluded from any participation in the social, economic, and political processes of the country.
The people support Chavez not just for his ideas, but also because they are beginning to see structural changes that the government has taken on and their results. This, on the level of public health, with education, with the economy, etc.
Diario Vea is not an official newspaper; it is an independent paper, but one which accompanies the process of change that the government of President Chavez has taken on.
The relations with the government are of friendship, no more, and of informing about the achievements, which is something that other national newspapers don’t do.
VA: Have there been at any point pressures from the government to impose a particular line of political opinion or of information – have they ever told you what you should or should not publish?
SGP: Not in any way at all. Until now that has never happened. On various occasions we published commentaries and articles that were critical of some government officials and we did not receive any pressure to silence us in that way.
We publish all accusations that come to us against government officials who do not comply with their duties. There is no pressure on the part of the government, but if there were we would not accept it. We are a cooperative of independent journalists who have nothing to do with the government.
VA: You, who has exercised the profession of journalist under previous governments, how were the relations between the mass media and the governments back then?
SGP: Well, the governments exercised pressure via the paper. The state had the monopoly in the import of paper and with this they blackmailed the newspapers. If a newspaper was too critical of a government, they limited their access to paper. With regard to now this is no longer the case. Previously the government was the exclusive distributor of paper.
There were other forms of pressure. These governments passed lists of journalists who they considered to be communists or of the left, so that no newspaper would accept them. There was a time when there was a boycott against El Nacional, which back then was a progressive newspaper, which the government of the time, via the National Advertising Association (ANDA) removed all advertising and almost caused the paper to file for bankruptcy. And the founder of El Nacional, Miguel Otero Silva, was removed from the editorial board at the request of the government.
VA: What have been the achievements of Diario Vea and what remains to be done?
SGP: We are informing truthfully, we have filled a space that other newspapers of national circulation have abandoned. We have also managed to recuperate the historical memory of the people because we have pages dedicated to culture, to national history.
We tell the true story of the past forty years of the so-called “representative democracy” which we now call the fourth republic to differentiate it from the current fifth republic and so as to in this way break the link with the past. This pseudo-democracy really was nothing but a farce, the result of an arrangement between the main political actors of the time, AD and COPEI, who for four year shared the political and economic power of the country.
The real story of what these governments were like has never been told. The repression, the assassinations, and the forced disappearances that existed throughout this period never have been mentioned before in the press.
We also want to try to be an instrument of organization and popular articulation and this is something that we still have not been able to implement. We still need to do this.
But we are just barely beginning. Diario Vea was founded and began to circulate in September 2003 and so does not even exist yet for a full year.
|Garcia Ponce's Diario Vea is distributed through an indepndent cooperative.|
Credit: Raul Grioni and Donatella Iacobelli - Venezuelanalysis.com
VA: How is it financed and supported?
SGP: The traditional way. Via advertising. And here is the problem for us, in that it is very difficult for us to acquire advertising because the majority of the big commercial and financial companies, such as the banks for example, are opposed to the process of change that we do support.
Even the government places more advertising in the press that explicitly opposes it. This goes to show that we are completely independent. Obviously, we also have government advertising.
The information that we publish for free for the government they then transform into paid advertisements for the opposition press, obviously in order to reach a larger number of people.
There is a business class that is conscious of the changes that are developing in Venezuelan society and place ads in our paper, but obviously these are not many.
The paper also maintains itself because we pay very low salaries.
VA: How many journalists work for the newspaper?
SGP: There are six who cover different areas and who also are reporters. We have many collaborators, especially in the provinces of the country, social organizations, unions, peasants, indigenous groups, that publish communiqués, news accusations, etc. and send them to us. Everyone who does not have a voice in the traditional newspapers. We publish these without any type of censorship, but sometimes we have to limit them for space reasons.
This is a new way to do journalism, just as Aporrea.org has transformed itself into a vehicle, for popular organizations to express themselves freely and to have access to a medium with a national reach, and in the case of websites, with an international reach, in order to present their concerns and problems. Our newspaper is of a tabloid type with many color photographs.
We have everything that a newspaper should have: sports, entertainment, crossword puzzles, etc. We have a website that is updated daily (www.diariovea.com) that is up to date with all the latest technology, and the design of the paper is completely digitalized.
Sundays there is a very comprehensive cultural and literary supplement which is being widely accepted on the part of the reading public, especially since many of the other papers have neglected this area very much lately, since everything is politics.
We always pay attention to intellectuals who come to Venezuela, so that we might interview them and get to know them.
Currently in Venezuela there are several international cultural events with many intellectuals and artists who come from abroad and who are attracted by the changes that are coming about in our country and we try to reflect this to the best of our ability.
This is a process that is very alive that is just beginning.
VA: How do you proceed with the distribution of the newspaper in the whole country?
SGP: We distribute it with a cooperative, not a private business as all of the other newspapers do. It’s not our cooperative, it is independent. Many cooperatives have sprouted up that did not exist before. There is a very strong cooperative movement here. Of 500 cooperatives that were registered in 1997, now there are 18,000 and almost another 100,000 in the process of registering. This is a phenomenon that is characteristic of the process.
Our newspaper, for example, is a cooperative of independent journalists who do not respond to any political party or to any economic group or to the government. It is how journalism should always be exercised, in a manner that is truly independent, without masters, but as professionals who exercise their profession according to their conscience.
VA: We would like to have your opinion as the experienced journalist that you are: What do you think is the future of Venezuelan journalism, in view of the profound crisis in which the traditional mass media are submerged?
SGP: Conventional commercial journalism, such as has been functioning in the past and until now , if it does not adapt itself to the new reality of the country, is destined to die. Now a large number of alternative publications have emerged that are not exactly dailies, but are weekly magazines, biweekly, and monthly. Nonetheless, the only daily that supports the revolutionary process is ours – it is the only alternative daily that in addition does not have an owner.
We can affirm that the true alternative media are the traditional commercial ones, since no one reads them and they have turned into a real rarity. One reads them every once in a while.
Revolutionary processes always produce an explosion communication media. Prior to the independence in 1808 there was only one newspaper in Venezuela. But when the independence process came about, in 1810, following the declaration of April 19 a ton of new papers appeared.
Also, following the fall of the dictator Marcus Perez Jimenez, in 1959, newspapers were opened that were closed bit by bit by the later governments, the governments of the “fourth republic.” President Betancourt closed newspapers and imprisoned many journalists.
During this time I was president of the National College of Journalists and I was imprisoned, after having recently returned from exile due to the dictatorship. They put me in prison as well as Eleazar Diaz Rangel, who is now the Chief Editor of Últimas Noticias.
VA: What do you have to say about those in the opposition who say that there currently is no freedom of expression?
SGP: they are the ones who deny freedom of expression. Now there is a level of freedom of expression that never existed before. There are no journalists imprisoned. If journalists had dared to say what they say of President Chavez, all of the slander and lies, during previous governments, I assure you, they would not have been free to walk around.
Now the mass media do not even want to pay taxes that they are supposed to pay. They believe themselves to be privileged because when they were in harmony with the earlier governments they did not have to pay taxes and now that the government wants to collect it from them, they say there is no freedom of expression.
I invite the foreign journalists who come here to see how things really work here with the private mass media – not just with the newspapers, but also with the commercial radio and television stations.
They should see what is said about the government, what they say of the President in the most irresponsible manner, of the revolutionary process, of the people who support Chavez, such as “lumpen,” inept drunks, monkeys, etc. This is how they insult almost four million voters who say they voted for Chavez in the last presidential elections.
VA: Nonetheless, there have been some cases of acts of aggression on the part of people who support the government against journalists who work for media that are clearly identified with the opposition. What is this due to?
SGP: There is a rejection on the part of the people because these journalists have abandoned their role and have betrayed their ethical mandate. So many times one sees talk show moderators who interview themselves, who ask questions and then proceed to answer them.
They have lost all impartiality – they are not moderators, but are just one more guest on their own program and of course always are against the government.
- Diario Vea oline edition www.diariovea.com