English | News | 29 octubre 2012

Carter Center highlights inequality in Venezuela presidential campaign

Carter Center points out Chávez abuse of public media

The Carter Center’s independent study mission to Venezuela today released a pre-electoral report (PDF), which assesses the preparations for key elements of the process including voter registration, campaign conditions, voting conditions, integrity of the vote count, and the dispute resolution process. […]

Because The Carter Center does not have an election observation mission in Venezuela, it will not provide a comprehensive assessment of the quality of the electoral process as a whole. Instead, the Center will issue a report following the election based on interviews, reports of national observer organizations, analysis of Venezuelan laws and regulations, and personal observations over the five-month period.

Campaign Conditions

Media access: Venezuela media conditions have changed dramatically over the last decade, from a clear predominance of privately-owned television, radio, and print news outlets (mostly in the political opposition to the Chávez government), to the growth of state-owned media outlets now including five television channels and several major radio stations that promote the government’s program and ideology. Nevertheless, the market share of the state-owned media, particularly television, is quite small. According to media consultants, Venezuelan state TV channels had just a 5.4 percent audience share; 61.4 percent were watching privately owned television channels; and 33.1 percent were watching paid TV).

Campaign publicity: Venezuela law allows each candidate to buy three minutes of television spots and four minutes of radio spots per station per day. However, the law also allows the government to run free government institutional ads, which look very much like campaign ads, for up to 10 minutes per station per day. The National Electoral Council (CNE) has not defined government ads that defend official governmental policy as campaign publicity. Meanwhile, the CNE has defined opposition-sponsored criticism of government policy as equivalent to campaign publicity, and also banned some opposition-sponsored ads that criticize governmental policy.

Furthermore, the president can command obligatory broadcasts of his speeches (cadenas), which has resulted in 40 hours and 57 minutes during the official campaign from July 1-Oct. 1. This situation has led opposition MUD to claim repeatedly that there is not equity in campaign publicity.

Tone and quality of news coverage: Venezuelan media remain polarized and tend to report without contrast in coverage, presenting only one political point of view within a single news piece. Some media outlets tend to report only negative views of the candidate they oppose and positive views of the candidate they support. However, other Venezuelan media have made important attempts to present a more balanced view in terms of opportunities for both campaigns to convey their message.

Campaign finance equity: Venezuela remains an outlier in the hemisphere in providing no public financing at all to political parties or candidates. Although campaigns are required to report on donations and expenditures to the CNE, there are no limits on either and the disclosures are not normally made public. Under these circumstances, it has been very difficult to assess campaign finance.

Use of state resources: Use of state resources for an incumbent’s campaign is illegal in Venezuela. The CNE has warned the Chávez campaign to remove some posters from government buildings, but NGOs monitoring the campaign have indicated broad use of government resources to support the Chávez campaign, such as vehicles to transport campaign workers and supporters. Without disclosure of expenditures, it is difficult to assess the extent to which state resources are being used in the campaign.

By law, government officials, including elected and unelected authorities at both the national and local levels, cannot engage in campaign activity while exercising the duties of the offices they represent. Government spending on social programs and services is legal though, and a normal advantage of an incumbent running for reelection. This year in Venezuela, the government has taken advantage of high oil prices and public borrowing to greatly accelerate public spending, with a visible increase particularly in housing construction for the poor, leading many analysts to predict an economic reckoning in 2013 for whoever wins the election.

Full report on the Carter Center website