PDVSA TV is live, but is anyone watching?

PDVSA has a TV Channel. Nobody's watching, but you're paying for it.

Didn’t you know? For a couple of years now, our State oil company PDVSA has actually been broadcasting on its own TV channel. The catch is that many Venezuelans have hardly watched it, or are even aware of its existence.

Why? To find possible answers, there’s a great new story by journalist Alicia Hernandez in the news portal Armando.Info. Though not fully available to non-subscribers, it does have a lot of stuff that reflects the inner workings of the communicational hegemony and its many flaws.

Like many things in the last 16 years, it all began with a crazy-ass, shoot-from-the-hip idea by the late Comandante Eterno. Back in August of 2012 (right in the middle of his swan song, overmedicated presidential campaign) he suggested that the company should have its own TV channel, and told then Oil Minister/PDVSA Chairman Rafael Ramirez to get to work on it. The oil company already had its own radio network with 12 stations (and which got their licenses renewed last year in order to “continue the revolutionary struggle”), so they already had their foot in broadcasting.

Two years later, PDVSA TV started its test broadcasting period. Flash forward to today, and the station can only be watched in State-owned CANTV Satelital and in the experimental digital terrestrial television system TDA (the full digital switchover should happen in 2020, but honestly, who knows). According to the local cable & satellite TV chamber CAVETESU, the station has not asked to join the programming grid of any private provider. Now that’s low penetration.

Its programming consists of constant reruns, and even if the main mission of PDVSA TV is to be “the first station in the world dedicated to oil policy…” it also shows children’s programs and cooking shows.

For the record, other hegemony stations do the same: the military channel TV-FANB shows Cantinflas movies, Vive TV shows Studio Gihbli, and VTV now dedicates plenty of its programming time to simulcast either with Telesur or Russia Today (RT).

The Armando.Info report also shows the disorderly way the station was created, to the point where no one knows much about who was behind it from the start. The article suggests it involved former Communications Minister Andres Izarra and Telesur staff, but nobody confirms this. Nor is there any information about its current working personnel or budgets past or present.

Even the current head of the Venezuelan broadcasting authority (and former Communications Vice-Minister) William Castillo doesn’t know for sure if PDVSA TV really works for the Information and Communications Ministry (MinCI) or the Energy and Petroleum Ministry -the entity PDVSA is attached to. Still, PDVSA TV is mentioned in MinCI’s 2014 annual report, but not in the Oil Ministry’s last two. For the record, PDVSA radio network is under MinCI, but is not part of the State Media System, (SIBCI).

When I read the report, I was curious to see if there was another major oil company with its own TV channel. There’s the case of MAV-TV, a cable station owned by Lucas Oil dedicated to car-related stuff. In Russia, oil giant Gazprom has its own media subsidiary with plenty of outlets – the Russian HegemonCorp, so to speak. The thought of a State Oil Company getting into the media business doesn’t sound logical, but this is the new PDVSA we’re talking about here.

In the B.C. (Before Chavez) era, PDVSA was actually involved in broadcasting with a series of educational programs it sponsored on VTV back in the 80’s and early 90’s. From “Petroleo en Gotas” (Oil in drops), a series of documentaries which presented the inside of the industry, to “Cuadernos Lagoven” (named after the extinct Lagoven company), a series of shows on different cultural and historical themes, which were based on the print version, the company has never been far from the media. There was also “Venezuela, tierra magica”, documentaries more focused on Venezuelan geography and nature.

The difference is that the purpose was to educate, not indoctrinate.

Still, don’t take my word for it: go to YouTube and watch some of those videos linked above. Try to find anything close to political propaganda. I dare you.

Watching those grainy videos gave me a nostalgia trip, partly because those were interesting programs. And also because they showed them during the commercial breaks of “Festival de los Robots”, which was one of my favorite shows when I was just a kid.

Having the country’s largest (public) company involved in broadcasting is not necessarily a bad thing. Forcing it to feed us poorly-constructed political propaganda that nobody watches – that’s something else entirely.