A few months ago, one of the leading businessmen in Venezuela, Lorenzo Mendoza (CEO of Empresas Polar), asked President Nicolás Maduro to take the necessary actions to reactivate national production, and to stop the “blah, blah, blah.” It was not just a witticism from Mendoza or a random criticism. Without exaggeration, last May, Maduro spoke on average for 96 minutes every day on the television. And Venezuelan law requires all national and radio television stations to carry his speechifying in what are called “cadenas.” There’s no escaping.
Maduro inherited the tactics, habits and mannerisms of rambling on in front of the cameras from his mentor and benefactor, former president Hugo Chávez.
According to numbers gathered by @cadenometro (on the social network Twitter), which can also be seen on the NGO website Monitoreo Ciudadano, President Maduro had 16 national cadenas on radio and television with a total time of 20 hours, 6 minutes and 42 seconds in May. Since many of the poor don’t have access to cable or satellite television, this means that the only message that those who can’t afford international television (about 40 percent of the population) can watch and listen to is Maduro… all the time.
In May, each of Maduro’s cadenas represented 38 minutes and 56 seconds. Then there were the 17 announcements broadcast on the Venezuelan public TV station, VTV, that took up an average daily time of 57 minutes and 21 seconds every day along with Maduro’s rantings. In total, Maduro talked in front of the cameras for the equivalent of a full-length movie every day in May—albeit a very repetitive movie with only one character. (Could Netflix be next?)
According to a recent analysis published by the Caracas newspaper El Nacional, Maduro used 78 percent of his addresses in 2016 to harshly criticize the new National Assembly (after the opposition gained control of the parliament), and to defend the economic model of his government. He insists that private entrepreneurs are guilty for the acute crisis that Venezuelans are suffering, saying nothing about the possibility that government policies may be at fault.
As many have pointed out, this one-sided dominance of media—public and private—is an infringement of freedom of expression. For example, in the past few weeks, Maduro has taken to using the airwaves just when there is an important debate in the National Assembly—blocking the broadcast of the debate for Venezuelan citizens. Not by accident too, the president addresses the country via radio and television when the opposition party Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) stages its own press conferences. The net effect is, rather than hearing or seeing the issues and ideas of the opposition, Venezuelan citizens are forced to endure yet more speechifying by their verbose president.
There’s also another issue with these cadenas and the endless bloviating: the cost to the Venezuelan state. The average advertising value per television broadcast minute is 714,436 bolivares (amounting to roughly $1,300 on June 6th, according to the state’s floating rate). But on the flip side, all the mandatory coverage of Maduro’s rantings and ravings saves the government millions in propaganda expenses: who needs an expensive bureaucracy to develop and print or air the government’s slanted messages when you have a talkative president and a requirement that the media cover his every utterance…. for free?
Well, it isn’t exactly for free. Freedom of expression, informed public debate over the country’s disastrous economic policies and Venezuelan citizens—especially the poor—are paying the price.
Andrés Cañizález is an analyst and senior researcher at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. You can follow him on Twitter: @infocracia.