Getting our priorities straight

maduro_villegas_sibciIf you’re Venezuelan (and live here), a good night’s sleep is a rare occurrence.

The other night, because I had just read Ewald Scharfenberg’s piece on how much the government allocated to official media in 2015, a few of my waking madrugada minutes were spent flipping through the Sibci TV channels.

As I cycled through the stations, the figure he mentioned – 3,600,000,000 bolivars – kept ringing in my ears. Should a China-borrowing, tax-increasing, oil-price-dipping, inflation-driven economy be spending hand over fist on this?

Take TV FANB –the TV channel that premiered on February 4th as a much needed space for the Armed Forces to propagandize ([/sarcasm])– was showing a long winded debate about the role accorded to women in the military justice system during the revolution years. Over on ANTV –the National Assembly’s TV Network– Minister Aloha Núñez was praising Chávez’s role in vindicating indigenous peoples.

When the clock had struck twelve a few minutes earlier on VTV, the National Anthem was played in Chávez’s tenorish, somewhat off-key voice. It was pieced together with a montage of recent Venezuelan history, and timed to match negative lyrics like “el vil egoísmo que otra vez triunfó” with images of opposition hasbeens Carlos Ortega and Pedro Carmona Estanga.

And that’s just a glimpse. Content like this plays through a robust array of channels, websites and radio stations 24/7. It’s been playing for a very long time.

The aforementioned number is no guesstimate. Media scholar Marcelino Bisbal compiled it by adding individual allocations for media in the 2015 budget. Mind you, the real figure is larger. Many expenses, such as TV FANB, are not included, much less any additional funding they might add to the tab like they did last year.

Although this amount of money may not seem like much for a government that misplaced $25 bn and burns $12 bn a year in gasoline subsidies, Ewald warns that “the 3.6 billion bolivars slated for investment in the media surpasses the money allocated to the judicial and electoral branches of government”. El Nacional calculated it could build 301 new schools throughout the country with that kind of dough..

That figure could also mean 60 thousand people get a year’s worth of the revised minimum wage.

In fact, more money goes to official media than to the Universidad Central de Venezuela, for example, whose 2015 budget allocation was barely 39% of what they asked for.

Money-talk aside, there’s a discussion on principles to be had here. A government that wants to hike taxes and gas prices should first look to cutting corners in an openly biased media system that frequently tramples on the Constitution, the Electoral Processes Act and the Anticorruption Act.

Anabella previously warned us that people’s priorities aren’t reflected in next year’s budget, and this figure reaffirms her point with a bang.