STEVE FORBES: Could a Chavez-Style Media Crackdown Be Coming Our Way?

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Published March 24, 2010

| FoxNews.com

Recently, the Organization for the American States (OAS) released a new and discouraging, but not unsurprising report about the troubling anti-democratic trend in Venezuela, as Hugo Chavez continues to crack down on those who oppose him – be they in the judiciary, opposition parties or the media. The OAS’s 300 page report by jurists and civil rights activists from Antigua, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the United States points out the increasing role that violence and murder have played in Chavez’s consolidation of his power, including the documented killing of journalists.

Each day Chavez gets closer to his goal of a Castroite dictatorship.

The Washington Post, in an editorial on Monday, called the report “shocking” and suggested that those who continue to defend Chavez against his” Yanqui imperialist” critics ought to be thoroughly discredited.

Many of Chavez’s most ardent supporters here in the U.S. come out of the “media reform” movement, which believes that our corporate media has been thoroughly co-opted by capitalists bent on destroying the benevolent leadership of the likes of Chavez. They think that our capitalist-plagued media world is in dire need of reform.

The chief proponent of this thinking – which amounts to an unprecedented government intrusion into our own country’s media -- is Professor Robert McChesney, founder of the Orwellian-named Free Press, one of the most influential organizations in the growing “media reform” movement on the far-left.

Free Press’ curious stance on media reform can best be summed up by McChesney who suggests that, “Any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself."

Such radical hyperbole coming from the founder of a group called “Free Press” drips with irony. But it’s a rhetorical flourish that Dr. McChesney is apparently quite comfortable with. He has employed it repeatedly to argue that his version of media reform is the first step in the struggle to remake American society in a socialistic fashion. In his attack on the existing media “power structure” in the U.S., he calls for a “class struggle from below…In the end there is no real answer but to remove brick by brick the capitalist system itself, rebuilding the entire society on socialist principles.”

If any of this sounds eerily familiar, it should. It’s right out of Hugo Chavez’s playbook. Like Chavez, Free Press’ call for “media reform” harkens back to a bygone era when the radical left’s doctrinarian opposition to a genuinely free press was rooted in the totalitarian political theories of Marx, Lenin, Hitler and others.

All of this could be ignored as the comical rantings of a loony leftist professor safely ensconced in the tenured halls of academia, were it not for Free Press’ astonishing -- and growing -- influence on policymaking within the current administration and Congress.

As hard as it may be to believe, McChesney and his indefatigable band of media revolutionaries are being taken seriously by some policymakers in Washington. They are granted regular audiences with those overseeing our nation’s media policy at the FCC and FTC, and meeting regularly with members of Congress.

Their latest plan to defacto nationalize the media calls for the federal government to bail out newspapers with $60 billion in new government subsidies. As anyone familiar with Washington knows, money does not come free: Such subsidies will virtually invite the government into the fourth estate as overseers. Richard Nixon must be rubbing his eyes in disbelief. But Free Press tells us not to worry. Such media reform will have safeguards in place to protect the freedom of the press from government influence.

So how committed is Free Press to enforcing such safeguards once the government is invited into the media business? Judging from McChesney’s defense of Chavez’s media crackdown in Venezuela, not much.

In full-throated defense of Mr. Chavez in 2007, McChesney laments Western media’s skewed portrayal of theVenezuelan regime.

“Regrettably,” he notes, “U.S. media coverage of Venezuela…says more about the deficiencies of our own news media than it does about Venezuela. It demonstrates again…how our news media are far too willing to carry water for Washington than to ascertain and report the truth of the matter.”

And according to McChesney, the truth of the matter is that everything’s fine with Chavez. In Venezuela, McChesney notes, “aggressive, unqualified political dissent is alive and well in the Venezuelan mainstream media, in a manner few other democratic nations have ever known, including our own.” “1984” author George Orwell, if he were alive, would have used such a quote in a sequel.

But most galling in light of Free Press’ assurances that we have nothing to worry about by inviting the feds into the media business, is McChesney’s defense of Chavez’s crackdown on opposition media in Venezuela. Regarding Venezuelan broadcaster RCTV, a persistent Chavez critic whose license was revoked by the president himself, McChesney suggests that if the station were broadcasting in the United States, “its license would have been revoked years ago,” and that “its owners would likely have been tried for criminal offenses, including treason.”

All of this begs the question: Once the federal government starts subsidizing our own free press, how long until the feds start revoking broadcast licenses of government opponents and bringing pesky reporters up on charges of say, “corruption” or “subversion”? According to McChesney and the Free Press folks, it apparently can’t happen soon enough.

Steve Forbes is President and Chief Executive Officer of Forbes and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes magazine.

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http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/03/24/steve-forbes-venezuela-hugo-chavez-media-robert-mcchesney-free-press/