It was a sunny afternoon on that National Youth Day of February 12th. A young Venezuelan ran through the streets of Caracas, escaping from the tear gas thrown by the police. What had began as a peaceful student rally to the headquarters of the Attorney General in protest of the Government’s imprisonment of several students in the State of Merida, had suddenly turned into a hostile environment of confrontation.
Bullets and rocks went over that young man’s head. One stone hit him hard in the back. A helmet bloodied his nose. Suddenly he stopped from running. Another Venezuelan man had fallen on the street, struck by a bullet. He felt it was his duty to carry him in his arms and make sure he was laid in a safe place.
He had no way of knowing this, but at that very moment a Venezuelan network was showing an episode of Flipper on television. Hours later and in another location, that young man would lose his own life.
Three men dead and 66 wounded was the day’s final tally of casualties. It was a day in which Venezuelan television networks opted to ignore the constitutional principle of informing in an opportune, truthful and impartial manner. Flipper, it seems, joyfully jumped through the air on that particular episode broadcasted by Televen. Apparently networks deemed that the jump was important.
But not only Flipper got the spotlight. In the hours of greatest turmoil in Venezuela, television did everything it could to black out the events. Over at Venevision, a Mexican girl confided to her friend El Chavo that she wanted a dog but could not afford one. So she managed to get El Chavo to play dog for her. At Globovision, an expert on child sleep disorder gave out recommendations on the best time to put a child to bed. Eight o’clock suited her. But Flipper, oh Flipper won the ratings.
It seemed that the programming of the day was already settled way before the day even began. Earlier in the week, in view of the recent protests in Merida, the director of the Venezuelan National Telecommunications Commission had warned that the broadcasting of violent actions on National Youth Day could breach the contents of the Law of Social Responsibility on Radio and Television. Apparently the director has divination powers.
Only Venezolana de Television, network owned by the State with a propagandistic view of the Revolution, broadcasted images of the tumultuous events occurred near the Office of the Attorney General with their usual cries of “right-winged fascists” who had dared alter the peace of the Bolivarian Revolution. Clearly, the assumptions of the National Telecommunications Commission’s director were meant to be complied by all channels except for the one that should belong to all Venezuelans. The rest got stuck with Flipper.
The broadcast of the events by the Colombian NTN24 network, served as the only source of truthful information for Venezuelans. A foreign network which, despite the silence of national media, decided to give Venezuelans with access to cable television the details of what was going on beyond the sea where Flipper swam. Shortly after, cable operators were ordered to shut off the NTN24 signal. No explanation was given. It looks like the Venezuelan government was keen on having its citizens watch the part were Flipper receives a peanut for a prize.
Later on, in a national address obligatorily broadcasted by all channels, the President of Venezuela announced to the world that he knew exactly what had happened at the student rally because he had seen the images and had proof of the identities of the “fascist parasites”. One watches that particular episode of Flipper repeatedly and cannot help but wonder, where in that damn dolphin’s synchronized swim did the President see that?
The media blackout in Venezuela regarding events that affect all Venezuelans not only was a slap on the face to the country but also an insult to a young man who gave his life twice for this country. One as a rescuer; the other as a victim. No matter the threats to the media, nobody who feels the need to leave home to fight for the liberties that correspond to all citizens deserves to be shunned by a barrier of censorship. Least of all by Flipper.
Toto Aguerrevere | @totoaguerrevere