Why Izarra got sacked

With this tweet, Andrés Izarra confirmed the end of his tenure as Comunications and Information Minister (MinCI), a short time after the comandante presidente made the change public on his own Twitter account. Chávez made six changes to the cabinet last weekend and this one was the most surprising of the bunch.

Why? After all this time, he has been the main engineer of the “comunicational hegemony” that changed Venezuela’s media landscape and inspired other Latin American presidents to follow suit. The use and abuse of the Public Media System was for me a key element of Chávez’s victory, side by side with the “petro-checkbook”.

Some believe that Izarra was pushed out by the new Vice-President (and still Foreign Minister) Nicolas Maduro. The reason was an impasse between them during a campaign rally in Catia, one of the most populous sectors of western Caracas. The incident was taped and later shown by U.S. spanish TV network Univision (from 0:20 to 0:55)

It’s hard to believe that this event alone was the cause of Izarra’s fall from grace. If so, what could be the reason behind his dismissal? Maybe, it was the low ratings…

Even if the Public Media System has severely dimished our public sphere (with the help of the cadenas and the pressure against private outlets), they still don’t reach the numbers of private media counterparts (for those that don’t have cable or satellite TV). People prefer to turn off the radio or the TV as their last resort: watch a DVD, have a talk, text, or even – gasp – read a book.

That is probably unacceptable for the Chavernment, given the massive amount of money it spent on equipment, like the state-of-the-art new studio VTV got for their election coverage. One particular case is the gamble made on the Olympics to push TVes (the replacement to RCTV) out of obscurity. It backfired big time. It didn’t matter if they had the exclusive rights, people didn’t watch as the whole broadcast was simply terrible.

Izarra is still not completely out of the game, as he continues in charge of Telesur, the international news network that offers the Chavista view of the world. Maybe he will be put on a low profile position, so he can return later or perhaps he will sent to another Ministry. The reward of an embassy overseas can’t be ruled out either.

What can be said about his replacement, Ernesto Villegas? Well, he’s a journalist and this is the first time he joins the Chavernment in a political position, after avoiding the PSUV’s nomenklatura during all these years. He’s one of the few “high profile” anchors on public media and ran the state-owned newspaper Ciudad CCS. He’s more tolerable that Vanessa Davies, his brother Vladimir is even a high-profile talanquera-jumper.

What’s next for comunicational hegemony?

In the short term, things will go on as usual, as the comandante presidente has called for a new “media offensive”. A redundant thing to say, just by looking state media one week after the election. They’re basically still campaigning: celebrating the 7-O victory while pushing Chavista candidates for the upcoming regional elections. Maybe in January, the outlook will be more clear.