With dismay but not surprise I read the news about Venezuela’s dictator Hugo Chavez making a move to shut down the only independent TV station in his country, RCTV—one that routinely opposes Chavez’s communism and takes a stand for restored freedoms in that South American country. Thousands of protestors took to the streets in a remarkable demonstration for freedom of speech and press, demanding that Chavez restore the license to the station instead of letting it expire. Even worse, over the weekend military forces swept in and seized the TV station’s equipment before the deadline expiration.
Rhetorical question: Why are military forces need to seize domestic broadcast equipment?
In RCTV’s place Chavez is placing a new station patterned after his brand of communism. It will be one more in the many stations already bowing the head to Chavez’s communist propaganda machine.
Venezuela is not the only communist or former communist country to have media woes with government authorities. Two years ago Ukraine’s State TV journalist bolted against the government and made their own decision to report news in a more fair and balanced way instead of only towing the government line. In Mongolia a small group of protesters lead a temporary take-over of State TV in 2003 demanding the station air more balanced reports about the nation’s politics after a stunning defeat for the ruling party. When the protesters were breaking down the door to get in the lead anchor went on the air and said that a group of “drunk people” had attacked the station. That same year the Putin government in Russia eliminated the last vestige of independent TV reporting not controlled by the government.
Why is it that totalitarian and socialist regimes insist on controlling media and eliminating free and open debate on the airwaves? Just last week I sat with a Mongolian man who told me, “Mongolian’s don’t like to comment on news stories unless they know all the facts (I guess Mongolians have never heard of “gossip” or “speculation?”), but on your TV you encourage people to comment and discuss the news openly before all the facts might be in. That’s not a Mongolian trait (he claimed). We see that as orchestrated by foreign influence.” Of course such a claim is pure poppycock. Of the hundreds of phone calls we take a day virtually all of them are from Mongolians, screened and placed on the air by Mongolians, discussing Mongolian issues from a variety of Mongolian perspectives. The live calls are so popular that since Eagle TV introduced the practice (originally more than 4 years ago) almost every other station (Mongolian owned and controlled) has duplicated it in one form or another. So the issue isn’t so-called “foreign influence,” rather it is an issue of control.
Totalitarian and socialist regimes tend toward media and speech controls for three important reasons:
Political ideologies that are not founded first upon the idea of human freedom usually ascribe to some form of “management” or “control” of their subjects. In such systems, like communism, the State is the supreme authority and the people attain their rights from the State, granted as a privilege. But free societies take a contrary and more philosophically correct view. They view the collective citizenry as that which gives government its power, and the government exercises that power on behalf of the people for whom it works. Free societies rightly view a government not sanctioned by its people as an illegitimate government.
This may not seem like a “political” analysis, but consider that the whole philosophy from which a totalitarian system springs always, always has at its root the idea that people must be managed or controlled, and that there is a small class who must wield that control for so-called benefit of its citizens. Those same people also decide what those benefits are. Totalitarian and socialist systems are systems that have an innate distrust of its people and thus tend to breed distrust by its own populace.
Every totalitarian system ever produced is predicated upon a philosophical system that cannot stand on its own apart from the exercise of oppressive or repressive power. This is true in religious systems as well as political systems. The great political evils of the 20th century—Communism and Nazism—could not be philosophically defended through a free and open exchange of ideas. They failed to win the masses without coercion, control, and murder. Unless deceived or driven by fear, most people will not openly or willingly embrace a repressive ideology. The same is true of Islam of Islamic governments. Even the Islamic world’s freest nation, Turkey, has seen its government make moves to solidify Islam as the State religion while hundreds of thousands stand against the move in protest. Unless deceived or driven by fear, most people will not openly or willingly embrace a repressive ideology. Ironically, it is the arrogant lust for power that prevents the totalitarian from recognizing the indefensibleness of his philosophy. He’s like a guy who has had too much beer. He might feel full, but thinks he can hold down just one more.
A free people tend to support and encourage the free exchange of ideas. But totalitarian rulers and systems predicated upon philosophies of human control (like Communism, Nazism, and Islam), cannot stand in the open light of day when their ideas are debated. Not all free societies have the right ideas, nor are all free people matured in their political notions—that’s human nature. Our political understanding grows just as our understanding of nature grows. But if we start from a philosophy that honors a free market of ideas then we allow those mistakes and immaturities to be explored and improved upon. A political philosophy of repression eliminates the good ideas along with the bad, in favor of that which is even worse, as we are seeing in Venezuela.
I used to think the days of communism were dead. How wrong I was. Communism isn’t dead; it just wrapped itself in a Lite Beer can—same skanky taste, half the calories. Sure. But what does it really do for you other than make you drunk?