Guns. Drugs. Violence. To varying degrees, all three pose problems to many communities across the globe. In one South American country, though, the blame for a rising crime rate has been placed squarely on an unlikely vice: soap operas.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says that soaps, particularly the Spanish-language telenovelas, are to blame for his country's spiraling crime rate because the telenovelas glamorize "anti-values" to younger viewers. In his state of the union speech last week, Maduro took aim at one particular soap De todas maneras Rosa. The serial, broadcast by Venezuela's biggest broadcaster, Venevision, follows a former beauty queen who fatally poisons her own mother to hide the paternity of her son.
On Monday night, Jorge Arreaza, Maduro's vice president, met with broadcast and pay TV operators to review the prime time lineup, warning that they could be in violation of a 2004 law mandating "socially responsible" programming. Critics say that Maduro is simply trying to deflect the real reason for the rising crime rate.
Venezuela's murder rate has quadrupled in the last 15 years of socialist rule. By some estimates, more than 24,000 people were slain last year in Venezuela, pushing the homicide rate to 79 per 100,000 inhabitants. The United Nations has ranked the country as the fifth worst globally. By comparison, in 2012 the U.S. murder rate was 4.7 murders per 100,000 people, and Japan's rate was just 0.4 per 100,000 people.
The Venezuelan government disputes the claims, but officials have not released official crime statistics.
By many accounts, Maduro's attention to the crime rate is the result of the high-profile murder of former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear. Robbers shot Spear and her ex-husband to death, while their five-year-old daughter looked on.
"There are almost no guns in Venezuelan telenovelas," soap creator Barrera Tyszka said. "There are a number of things that aren't shown for fear of being fined."
Maduro may see putting the blame on television as an effective political strategy by focusing attention on the breakdown in societal and family values, a broader problem that can entangle all politicians, regardless of party affiliation, Briceno Leon said.
Barrera Tyszka, the soap opera creator, said the president's campaign also reinforces government control of the airwaves, providing it with another tool to bully channels whose news coverage it frequently attacks as part of a right-wing conspiracy to destabilize the nation. Media self-censorship is already high after several years of the government imposing multimillion-dollar fines and even taking channels off the air for allegedly slanted coverage.
Reportedly, the Venezuelan government has imposed multimillion-dollar fines and even taken certain channels off the air for programming that questioned the government.
Do soaps encourage bad behavior? Should viewers understand that entertainment is not the same as asking viewers to emulate the action? You can share your thoughts in the Comments section below this article or you can click here to send us feedback.