Ten years ago, analyses of Venezuelan television based on ownership patterns were telling of polarized content. Today, such assessments are limited and misleading. That the sum of state television outlets has a share of only 8-10 percent is not the whole story. Why? Because assuming that the private media are oppositional or that they give voice to dissidence is simply wrong.
It is necessary to ask: How much of the content presented by the two privately owned networks, that together have a share of 40-45 percent, is oppositional to the government? After the enactment of the 2005 media content law (Ley Resorte) and 2007 non-renewal of RCTV’s license, what content do Televen and Venevision broadcast out of fear? What do they not broadcast also out of fear?
Self-censorship, the Ley Resorte’s ultimate effect in the post-RCTV era has had chilling results and is an undeniable element in many Venezuelan media outlets. Unlike censorship, which is usually evident, self-censorship is difficult to trace. In my research on Venezuelan telenovelas, I have been able to witness and document the increasing presence of self-censorship (Acosta-Alzuru, C. in press. “Melodrama, reality and crisis: The government-media relationship in Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution.” International Journal of Cultural Studies). In many cases, self-censorship was more restrictive than the Ley Resorte itself. Self-censorship has become one of the two main survival strategies for the remaining television networks in Venezuela. The other one is strict obedience. In my research I have not seen a shred of resistance when these outlets receive an “exhortation” from the government to pull a show or ban a voice from being aired.