Garzón, ‘clowns’ and freedom of speech and dissent on the left… June 22, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in media, Media and Journalism, The Left.
According to a report in todays Guardian he has fallen foul of the Venezuelan government. Apparently in reference to the non-renewal of the license for opposition TV station RCTV he said that “closing a medium of communication was not the best means for guaranteeing freedom of speech”.
The response from the Chavez administration had been rapid. The Guardian notes that…
Mr Garzón’s intervention prompted a furious response. The deputy president, Jorge Rodríguez, told a rally that the judge was a “clown” who spoke on behalf of privately owned media organisations. The foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, said the judge’s comments were “cowardly and sad”, and echoed anti-Chávez propaganda from Washington. “It appears he has become a mercenary”.
The president of Venezuela’s supreme court, Luisa Estella Morales, said Mr Garzón lacked ethics and morals.
It’s not a big thing, but Garzón is a man of the left, or as the Guardian notes:
The strength of the response reflected official sensitivity about criticism of Mr Chávez, even if indirect and from a figure who would normally be considered on the same side of the ideological fence.
Indeed he would be. A quick perusal of wiki indicates that Garzón was not merely the man who issued an arrest warrant for Pinochet, but also was active in seeing that Argentinian junta members were open to prosecution on genocide charges for the murder of Spanish citizens. He has been strongly antagonistic to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and was against the Iraq war. George Bush is also under ‘threat’ since Garzón plans to sue him.
He was a member of the PSOE, and tellingly adheres to a strongly pro-Madrid line on the Basque issue (which must make for some intriguing conversations in his head about previous PSOE administrations and their stance and activities on that issue – although his work was pivotal to the later conviction of a PSOE minister due to acts related to the GAL).
But all in all he is broadly of the left, certainly the humanitarian left (and distinctly not of the ‘cruise-missile’ left).
Whatever about him, the response from the Venezeulan government appears disproportionate. I’m always a bit troubled when governments use injudicious language. We saw a good example of same in this country in the not too distant past where a government minister was able to make allegations about a journalist. And the point is that government is often a bully pulpit.
As to the rights and wrongs of the issue, in principle Garzón is clearly correct in so far as any abridgement of press freedom, even that of such a partisan voice of that which he (indirectly) defends. He’s not alone in that, Human Rights Watch amongst others is disturbed by the action.
Problem is that the victim does appear to be at least in part the architect of its own downfall. And this sits on a line where it is hard to see it as a massive infringement of press freedom.
Yet the principle remains and to my mind to close any media outlet necessitates considerable deliberation.
But what is truly depressing is the sort of proto-Jacobinical language that is used. Garzón is no ‘clown’. He is indeed quite the opposite, whatever one might view his position on individual issues. He is not an enemy of the Chavez government. He has simply enunciated a principled position. And even if that position is one that the Chavez government disagrees with, as indeed is their absolute right, it demands a better discourse than ‘clown’ or ‘lack of ethics or morals’. It’s pointless to – often correctly – accuse others of bullying by their words and actions and then take the lift down to their level. That rather macho rhetoric is empty and counterproductive.
And that goes for a broader discourse within the left. Those with opinions that are different, difficult to listen to or to accept also demand a respectful hearing, even – perhaps particularly – in a context where agreement cannot be reached.
That too is difficult, but it’s the right thing to do.