May 27, 2009

Without RCTV: Venezuelan TV is deformed

Today, two years ago Venezuelan network RCTV was closed. An arbitrary measure that was very telling of the government's character. 

Beyond the terrible loss of a key part of our freedom of expression, the absence of RCTV from the open airwaves has produced an immense deformation in Venezuela's television industry:

  • Because RCTV is now only on cable, its revenues have dropped dramatically and so has its level of production.  Furthermore, the network is now almost exclusively devoted to producing remakes and adaptations of literary novels. These telenovela are of uneven quality regarding their scripts, casts and production values.  This has the detrimental effect of  impoverishing the Venezuelan telenovela industry.
  • Obiously, both Televén and Venevisión now get higher shares. However, Televén doesn't really compete with Venevisión's high numbers. Hence, the latter wins almost every time slot in the programming grid.
  • Without competition in the domestic market, Venevisión aims towards the international market.
  • Regarding telenovelas, this means a new "norm" of 120 episodes, regardless of the storylines and their success (or lack thereof). (This is a bit of  a dumb "norm" when we consider the high international sales of Doña Bárbara, which boasts 190 episodes). In this sense, there is no respect for the story, nor for the audience. Because, even though extending a telenovela can be disrespectful to the viewers, not giving it enough episodes to develop correctly also denotes lack of respect.
  • The lack of competition in the domestic market ensues a lackadaisical attitude regarding the network's promotion and presentation of its products. I don't see nearly the same energy regarding press releases and  interview opportunities that Venevisión used to show when competition with RCTV kept Venezuelan TV alive.  Also, the network's public relations efforts have ceased to be proactive, for the most part. 
  • Regarding programming, it seems that it doesn't really matter if a telenovela is premiered at the wrong time of the year, as it happened with La Vida Entera, whose premiere coincided with regional elections and the professional baseball season. Nor does it seem to matter if transmission is irregular. After all, the local market is secured. (For 8 consecutive weeks, La Vida Entera did not air every day, as it should have).
  • Because RCTV produces less and  Venevisión has the local market won, the quality of the work goes down. So do the salaries of those who work in telenovelas and television. 
  • In this sense, it's actors who are the most affected. Their job sources are seriously diminished (the problem is even worse when we consider how the government is asphyxiating  both the theater scene and the film industry) and the two networks offer salaries that, in general, do not reflect the experience, talent and dedication of most Venezuelan actors.
  • Political polarization, which has invaded almost every aspect of Venezuelan life, also affects the viewing habits of some audience sectors that refuse to watch Venevisión because they believe the network "sold out" to the government when it decided to eliminate political discourse from its programming. This is as sad as those members of the public, who are pro-government, and who've decided not to watch RCTV on cable. These decisions give political ideology the reign over media consumption, when each individual should be completely free to decide what they like or not, and what they will consume. Without realizing it, they're playing the President's game of "divide and conquer." 
  • It doesn't help our television that we lose our critical skills because of our political position. As Venezuelans, we must require RCTV, Venevisión and Televén to give us the best possible television. We should not routinely excuse some media outlets because they've been shunned of the open airwaves and blindly indict others for still being there. 
  • Maybe the worst problem is the immense fear to be closed by the government that exists in the media outlets that are still on the air. This fear has been transformed into the worst and saddest kind of censorship: self-censorship.  And even though the government has a media law to control media content, it's self-censorship which invasively and excessively regulates the content of a majority of private media outlets in Venezuela. Fear is never a good motivator.
After two years of the closing of RCTV, the panorama doesn't look good. Venezuelan TV is seriously deformed. And, so is our telenovela industry. However, I must say that censorship is always superficial and is never smart. Neither is self-censorship. We can always "turn it around" with intelligence. The ball, then, is in the audience's court. We read what we want and decode as we wish:

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