By Michael Barker
venezuelanalysis.com, September 20th 2007
So given the US government’s evident hostility towards Chavez’s emancipatory politics, it is not too surprising that their incessant propaganda is duly amplified by their corporate mouthpieces, the US media. Similarly, British-based media watchdog, Medialens, have amply documented how supposedly progressive media outlets (e.g. the BBC) have contributed their part to the global disinformation campaign being waged against Chavez.
It is all too obvious that in the eyes of the world’s ruling elites, Chavez is promoting the ‘wrong kind’ of democracy - that is, popular democracy instead of low-intensity democracy (or polyarchy).
To remedy the democratic problem that Venezuela poses to the interests of transnational capitalism, the US’s main democracy manipulating body, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), has been busily financing opposition groups within Venezuelan civil society. Most famously such ‘democratic’ interventions have seen the NED and its cohorts facilitate the unsuccessful coup that temporarily removed Chavez from power in 2002.  More recently though, a central prong of the US government's War on Democracy  has been to criticise Chavez’s domestic media policies, which have been widely reported in the international corporate media as being hostile to “freedom of expression”. 
Considering the miserable state of affairs of the US’s ‘mainstream’ media,  it is strange that earlier this year this same media vilified the Venezuelan government for failing to renew the licence of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). The irony of this situation is especially delightful because the CIA-linked  RCTV is “one of the oldest and largest opposition-controlled TV stations”, was an active participant in the US/NED-backed coup of 2002, and has been busy leading mediated attempts to oust Chavez from office ever since. 
While it has been well reported in the progressive media that the NED-linked media watchdog Reporters Without Borders  has been at the forefront of recent efforts to de-legitimize Venezuela’s media policies,  this same progressive media has for the most part overlooked the role of similarly ‘democratic’ human rights groups in facilitating such attacks. Noteworthy exceptions to this trend include two recent articles written by Greg Grandin  and Gregory Wilpert respectively: the latter of whom notes that is
The focus of this article, however, will not be on such ‘human rights’ groups or on dubious activities of Reporters Without Borders, but in contrast to previous articles this article will draw attention to the ‘democratic’ activities of a little mentioned South American media watchdog which goes by the name of the Instituto De Prensa Y Sociedad. 
The Instituto De Prensa Y Sociedad (IPYS) – otherwise known as the Press and Society Institute – was founded in 1993 by Laura Puertas Meyer, and the Institute obtained their first NED grant in 1998 to help them “develop a national network to protect journalists” in Peru. Meyer’s involvement in founding IPYS is particularly noteworthy because he is presently the executive director of the Peruvian chapter of Transparency International, which perhaps not coincidentally is a key global ‘democracy promoting’ organization. IPYS’s linked to Transparency International do not end there, as in 2002 Transparency International’s Americas programme coordinator, Marta Erquicia, joined forces with IPYS to launch an annual award for investigative journalism.  Furthermore, it is significant to observe that George Soros’s  Open Society Institute sponsors the award, and two of the five members of the prizes jury have ‘democratic’ ties: these two judges are Gustavo Gorriti (who is a member of IYPS, has received the ‘democratically’ connected Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award in 1998,  is listed as an individual endorser of the UN Democracy Caucus, and is a member of the Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium for Investigative Journalism),  and Tina Rosenberg (who serves on The New York Times editorial board, and on the advisory board of the National Security Archive).  Considering all these ‘democratic’ ties it is ironic that the two winners of this Soros-sponsored award in 2006, Tamoa Calzadilla and Laura Weffer, won because of their reporting on the “irregularities in the investigation of the [Danilo] Anderson murder case” – Anderson being the Venezuelan state prosecutor “in charge of identifying those responsible of [the] failed  coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.” 
The current executive director of IPYS Peru is Ricardo Uceda, a reporter who formerly
IPYS Peru can boast other ‘democratic’ links as they have worked alongside the NED-funded Association for Civil Rights, an Argentinean NGO that
IPYS Peru obtained renewed NED support to continue their work protected press freedom in Peru in both 2000 and 2001. Of more relevance to this article though, was the creation, in 2002, of a Venezuelan branch of IPYS. Like their Peruvian chapter, IPYS Venezuela has obtained ongoing support from the NED, and in their founding year they received their first grant to organize a forum
However, perhaps most significantly, today – that is, on September 18, 2007 – IPYS Venezuela received the NED’s coveted Democracy Award.  As their website notes, the NED’s Democracy Award is given annually
Here it is significant to note that the three aforementioned media freedom groups – IPYS, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance – are all members of a media network known as the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). Their affiliation to IFEX is especially noteworthy because 16 of IFEX’s 72 members have received funding from either, the NED, the Westminster Foundation or Rights and Democracy (the NED’s counterpart organisations in the UK and Canada respectively).  Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, to name just two, are perhaps the most notorious media organisations that can be counted among these 16 ‘democratically’ tied groups.  (A full exposition of IFEX’s ‘democratic’ links will be outlined in my forthcoming article Polyarchy and the Public Sphere.)
Finally, it is also important to point out that Democracy Award winner, Kavi Chongkittavorn, serves on the executive board of the International Press Institute (IPI).  This affiliation is indicative of Chongkittavorn’s ‘democratic’ credentials, as IPI is not only an IFEX member, but this group’s interests have historically been closely aligned with those of American foreign policy elites, as in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the IPI actively opposed UNESCO’s proposed New World Information and Communication Order.  This is significant because in 2000 IPYS was awarded the IPI’s Free Media Pioneer Award: an award which is cosponsored by Freedom Forum, which provides a further clue as to the political nature of the award, as emeritus chair of Freedom House, Bette Bao Lord, is also a trustee of the Freedom Forum. Similarly, Allen H. Neuharth, the founder of Freedom Forum, is also a member of the advisory board of the World Press Freedom Committee.
IPYS Venezuela through it ongoing demonization of Chavez’s media policies is currently fulfilling a vital role in the US-led war on Venezuelan democracy. This should be even more worrisome for progressive activists as the NED notes IPYS
First and foremost, to counter the negative influence of the ‘democracy promoting’ establishment on nongovernmental organizations (like IPYS or Human Rights Watch) it is crucial that progressive citizens committed to a participatory democracy work to develop alternate funding mechanisms for sustaining grassroots activism. Then perhaps as James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer (2001) observe in their seminal book, Globalization Unmasked, progressive NGOs and activists will be able to
Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker [at] griffith.edu.au