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Venezuela's propaganda: All the Ads that are Fit to Print?

By Alexandra Beech |

28.02.05 | In the age of new media, there are countless ways to fight an image war. While political pundits and politicians used to rely on expensive television, radio, and print media, today those with a computer and time on their hands can send messages out into the remotest regions on earth, where those with computers can read them. Thus, individuals, political parties, organizations, and even governments today manipulate information more than at any other time in history. While the Internet doesn’t have the reach of television and radio, millions can still access information about any given subject, including Venezuela.

This makes the News sections of search engines troubling, given that those with Internet access can post their articles in the “News” section of Google and Yahoo, two popular search engines. These articles are listed along with Reuters, the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, the Financial Times, the Washington Post, and other traditional media.

There is no government taking more advantage of this loophole on the information highway than the Venezuelan government. Surfing in the Venezuela “News” section of Google on Monday morning, page one lists six articles by the government-financed Vheadline, one article by the government-financed Venezuelanalysis, and one article by Prensa Latina, Cuba. (In case anyone is wondering, the Venezuelan and Cuban governments have merged in recent years.) In other words, Venezuelan and Cuban government propaganda dominate Google, with commendable efforts by Vcrisis, a site run by opposition activist Alek Boyd.

Recently, President Chavez and his Information Minister, (who also starred as a “journalist” in the government propaganda film “The Revolution will not be Televised”), have complained that the United States has launched an information campaign against them. Yet anyone looking for information on Venezuela would only find articles touting the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution, with titles like “Venezuela and China Keep Strengthening Economic Links” (Prensa Latina, Cuba), “China, Iran, Russia and Venezuela are making all kinds of oil deals” (Vheadline), “Venezuela Conference on the Social Debt Presents Alternatives” (Venezuelanalysis), “VENEZUELA: Unionists call for international support”, (Greenleft Weekly), and other pro-government articles.

While the Venezuelan government clearly dominates the Internet, it also continues to crack down on journalists inside the country. El Nacional reports that Televen finally caved in to government pressure and fired journalist Marta Colomina, who has virulently attacked the government for the past six years. Other journalists, such as Rafael Poleo and Patricia Poleo, and countless others have faced prison, death threats, and harrassment. As the freedom of the press erodes in Venezuela, we can only expect more government propaganda to fill all the airwaves and cyber space.

Now that Google is a publicly traded and US-owned company, it is time that the US government investigate whether the Venezuelan and Cuban governments can manipulate information coming through the search engine. In the very least, articles written by government employees should not be listed as “News”. Though Google cannot be expected to open a “Government propaganda” section, all websites used to promote governments should be listed under a section titled “Opinions” or “Advertisements.”

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