Friday 9 May 2014

Radical chic at 'Newsnight'

For those of you who love a good foreign news story (all five of you)...

Ken Livingstone, Owen Jones & Co. used to love Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and his socialist 'revolution'. Chavez died a year or so ago, and things haven't gone too well since. 

Until this week Newsnight had failed to report the large-scale anti-government demonstrations against Hugo Chavez's increasingly authoritarian successor, President Nicolás Maduro. 

As you probably know, left-wing Maduro won the last election by a whisker (and, very possibly, with a little help from electoral fraud) but since then his popularity (such as it was) has plummeted, with only 37% now supporting him (according to the latest polls), and the political violence in Venezuela has subsequently escalated, along with the government repression...a dramatic story for Newsnight to cover.

Having read comments at B-BBC (and other sites, including Is the BBC biased?) accusing the BBC of being - in the manner of people everywhere who are instinctively drawn to 'radical chic' - pro-Chavismo, and accusing them of largely ignoring the present upheaval in Venezuela, I was intrigued to see that Newsnight was reporting from Venezuela this week (on Wednesday's edition of the programme) - for the first time in ages. 

Would this Newsnight report refute such charges?

The short answer to that is, "No!" - despite Jeremy Paxman's introduction.

The report from Olly Lambert (above) - Newsnight's new 'filmmaker in residence'.....previously responsible for such efforts as Syria: Across the Lines, The Tea Boy of Gaza ["Award-winning documentary portraying life in the Gaza Strip before and during the Israeli re-occupation of 2006. This is the story of Mahmoud, a 12- year old boy who supports his family by selling tea in Gaza’s biggest hospital"] and My Child the Rioter.....focused on a high-rise slum in Caracas where a squatters' cooperative has been formed. He showed how lives have been transformed there for the very-much better.

It was a feel-good piece, rather 'magic realist' in character (in the manner, perhaps, of the late leftist Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez.) 

The film, subtitled and without a voice-over, was beautifully-shot, art-house-style.

In it three engaging characters - the President of the Residents' Cooperative, a single mum and a female grocer - expressed their joy at what has happened. 

All three praised the Maduro government for helping bring their miracle about. 

The President of the Residents' Cooperative and the female grocer also denounced the opposition, and expressed their fears that an opposition government would take their miracle away from them. (Ominous music as images of the opposition marching reinforced that message).

The female grocer said, "We support the government and our President, just like we did with Chavez". The President of the Residents' Cooperative denounced the anti-government demonstators as wealthy non-Venezuelans working "for foreign interests". The single mum felt sympathy for Nicolás Maduro. ("Running this building is hard enough. I imagine running this country must be even harder".)

All utterly one-sided, of course so, yes, Newsnight's first take on this story then has been to take the 'radical chic', Guardianista approach - i.e. to give us only the pro-Chavismo point of view, and to do so in the most sympathetic terms imaginable. [I very much doubt that Cuba's state news agency Prensa Latina could have been more sympathetic. Please watch it and see if you disagree.]

Will Newsnight redress the balance in the coming weeks? A beautifully arty film chronicling the struggles of young, likeable opposition students against the oppressive Maduro regime perhaps?

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