Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Monday, June 29, 2009

This Revolution will NOT be Televised

Early Sunday morning, members of the armed forces invaded the house of the democratically elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and forcibly removed him to a waiting airplane that took him to Costa Rica.

This military coup d'etat continues to be under-reported. In the age of instant posting of images from the streets of Iran, the invisibility of developments in Honduras is a reminder that the internet still doesn't actually reach everywhere. Unfortunately, with the decline in resources dedicated to foreign reporting by the mainstream media, the absence of widespread access to the net means this revolution will not be televised.

There is evidence that those responsible for the coup are aware of the need to keep the story invisible. CNN reports on the suppression of live reporting by the Spanish-language Telesur TV network. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that CNN and CNN en Español were among the media outlets shut off the air in Honduras. And the Washington Post adds that AP reporters were also detained while reporting on the unfolding crisis. Honduran newspapers are reporting what my sources had told me: that individual channels, journalists, and international media were singled out for censorship specifically to keep Honduran citizens from seeing coverage of statements by President Zelaya or others opposing the illegal coup.

Media disinformation or misinformation, in the absence of citizen reporting and in the wake of active suppression of reliable, independent media, is leaking into the mainstream press. From the beginning, coverage has overly simplified the issues involved, painting Zelaya-- a member of the pro-business, centrist Liberal party who comes from a wealthy cattle ranching and timbering family-- as a "leftist". El Pais of Spain published a more accurate, first-person account from President Zelaya of his own positioning as moving from neoliberal/conservative to more populist:

Q: What is your model?

A. Look. I locate my Government as center-left, because I practice liiberal ideas, but with a socialist tendency, social, very closely aligned to integrating the citizen in his/her rights.

Q. But you are not a man that comes from the left...

A. That's right, I actually come from very conservative sectors.

Q.. And when did you fall off the horse?

A. Ha ha... No, better, when did I get on the horse... Look, I thought I would make changes from within a neoliberal scheme. But the rich will not give up a penny. The rich will not give up any of their money. They want it all for themselves. So, logically, to make changes you have to incorporate the people.

What makes it difficult for US media to give an accurate picture of the conflict involved is the tendency to see everything through the lens of US interests. So many media outlets use a shorthand equation in which Zelaya = Chavez to signify a more complex set of alliances that the Honduran President has forged with the ALBA block. Unfortunately, this equation echoes a claim reproduced countless times in Honduran media that President Zelaya's advocacy of a popular opinion poll concerning support for a constitutional convention was nothing more than the first step toward a permanent presidency like that of Chavez in Venezuela. Most US media repeated the claim that the Sunday poll was on a referendum on presidential term limits.

The Honduran constitution, adopted in 1982, explicitly forbids any attempt to alter the term limit on the Presidency, which was set up to be limited to a single, four-year term. But even an anti-Zelaya website concerning the "cuarta urna" (fourth ballot box) correctly described the actual content of the proposed poll of Sunday June 28 as the following:

¿Está usted de acuerdo que en las elecciones generales de noviembre de 2009 se instale una cuarta urna para decidir sobre la convocatoria a una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente que apruebe una Constitución política?

Do you agree that in the general elections of November 2009 a fourth ballot box should be installed to decide whether to convene a National Constitutional Assembly that would approve a political Constitution?
In other words, the poll would have led at best to a proposal to hold a referendum on initiating a constitutional convention during the November presidential elections. Approval of such a call in November would hardly allow an entire new constitution to be produced before Zelaya was to step down in January.

Why are the English-language media stories so badly misleading? In part, there is the question of stereotypes: dividing the world into us versus them, so that if a foreign leader has relations with Venezuela (which is one of Honduras' main suppliers of oil, and which has provided development aid as well), they are on the anti-US side. In part, there appears to be too much recirculating of the first English-language stories, which were eerily like direct translations of the Honduran press that in recent days has been a model of journalistic editorializing. Even when editorial changes were made, those initial errors or shadings ("leftist President", the referendum on changing presidential term limits) were reproduced, now actually worse because presented in a less lurid, more matter-of-fact way.

But mostly, to this observer, it seems clear that the international media have not been paying any attention to Honduras, and have no idea what the issues are in the country and what the realities are on the ground. And as long as the congress of Honduras can keep the media out, there will be little on which to base substantial analysis of the crisis.

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