This past Sunday a small group of 25 journalists in Caracas, Venezuela began pilot-broadcasting a new Pan-American satellite news network called TeleSur which, by September, hopes to be reaching audiences all throughout the Americas with at least nine regional bureaus including Colombia, Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Washington D.C, La Paz and Mexico. The launch of what just about everyone is calling the Al-Jazeera of Latin America, however, is not without controversy. Over 70% of the network's financing came from Venezuela (Cuba, Uruguay, and Argentina also pitched in) and critics fear the station will become a far-reaching propaganda mouthpiece for Socialist leader, Hugo Chavez.
Responding to the launch of TeleSur, Florida Republican representative, Connie Mack introduced an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2005, which allows broadcasting U.S. propaganda into Venezuela much as it does to Cuba via Radio Martí.
Both the commencement of TeleSur itself as well as the reactionary amendment sponsored by Rep. Mack have given plenty of fodder to bloggers throughout the Americas.
Rodolfo of Caracas, Venezuela responds with great wit to a TeleSur representative's characterization of the channel's goal of “endogenous communication,” referring to coverage of Latin America from within Latin America. He goes on after watching the channel's first day of programming:
I should clarify that personally, I think there is an imbalance of coverage regarding the countries of [Latin America], that we know each other very little and what we do know of each other is through the outlook of others. Which is why I think it could be useful to have a television channel that balances the distortion, but if the perspective of TeleSur is like what I saw yesterday, it's evident that this will not be the channel to do it. Because, when we try to examine our own selves it should be with plurality and not partial. And the perspective of Telesur is partial from the moment it begins promoting an inexplicable Socialism where the protesters all have red shirts or with promos full of protests from Colombia.
A post on Atina from Santiago, Chile entitled “Telesur is Born, Creating Controversy” has generated plenty of commentary from fellow Chileans.
Raúl Herrera who blogs at Gestion Holistica responded that “it is the audience that decides what they hear and read. Today with the Internet and blogs, this is even clearer. Chavez's adventure will be a loss of money that won't help resolve the lack of trust that exists today in Venezuela.”
If it is real democracy we're talking about, Chavez's initiative tries to achieve this principal because really there are no big media networks inside Latin America. From this perspective, a “new voice” is always welcome because, the more voices that participate, the better the information will be for the audience.
Ramiro Alvarez Ugarte, a journalism student in Buenos Aires writes, “it doesn't seem like a bad idea to have a large Latin American network of news, but in the hands of the state? Never.” But then, responding to Florida Representative, Connie Mack's characterization of Telesur as “a threat to the United States which tries to undermine the balance of powers of the Western Hemisphere” he continues:
A little exaggerated, Mr. Mack. And further, if it's true what he says, CNN is – like so many say – an imperialistic, North American mechanism of colonization which already helps to maintain the balance of powers of the Western world and the hegemony of (North) America!
Blog de Lechpe, written from Peru, has nothing but enthusiasm regarding what the channel has offered so far. He writes:
In the beginning, the programming will have a four hour duration, but later stretch to 24 hours daily. A very good initiative to confront the private conglomerates like CNN and Univision and also a way of to help regional integration.
The transmission began with a video where a group of people were asked if they new where Bill Clinton was from and everyone responded the United States. But when asked if they knew what country president Belisario Betancur was from, hardly anyone knew what to respond and only two people said he was president of Colombia. The future of the project looks very good to me, especially given their board of advisers. We'll see how it goes.
Though this article introduces a hopeful new South American initiative many in the US may not yet know about, it did not accurately represent the state of Venezuelan government funded media, and was unfairly critical of state-run media in favor of privately operated media.
After years of CIA sponsored media in Latin America, such as Radio Swan in Cuba, perhaps the Latin American state deserves to be allowed its own voice. Besides, isn’t the idea to have diversity of opinion in the media? The more diverse opinions are publicly expressed, the more citizens have an opportunity to make up their own minds.
Jeff Barry of the weblog, Buenos Aires, City of Faded Elegance, agrees and says in a comment, “it's interesting how a lot of people are immediately negative about TeleSur because of its state sponsorship. I'm continually amazed at people in the US, even well-educated ones, who regularly watch Fox News without realizing that it's so biased.”
But not all of Latin America is talking about TeleSur. When Eduardo of the blog Barrio Flores wrote to a cable provider Interac.TV in Cochabamba, Bolivia where TeleSur was supposed to start airing, they wrote him back with the following:
… we have no knowledge of this channel, but we will begin investigating its origin and distributor in order to put ourselves in contact with them and get to know the profile of the channel. In this understanding, the said channel will not be part of our selection of channels at the moment until we are able to evaluate its characteristics and costs.
We see then, the purpose: to harbor guerrillas … and to establish an economic blockade against Colombia while putting a smoke screen in front of the fact that the chancellor of FARC is in [Chavez's] territory with Venezuelan authorization.
Bugs’ Blog, written by a North American unionist living in Venezuela calls Connie Mack's amendment to begin broadcasting U.S. propaganda into Venezuela “hysterical overreaction,” and doubts that TeleSur will ever be allowed by congress to begin transmitting in the U.S.
Economia y Finanzas, written from Caracas, Venezuela has some interesting figures related to TeleSur:
The network has a declared running capital of $10 million. Fifty-one percent is Venezuelan; 24% Argentinian; 19% Cuban, and 10% Uruguayan. There is a total of 160 employees.
Venezuela in the News quotes veteran Venezuelan journalist, Rafael del Naranco, who called it just “more of the same” and wondered “how that collection of trash could be called television.”
Interest in the new initiative extends beyond the Americas as well. Andy from the Dutch blog, Media Network Weblog, follows the story of Venezuelan Information Minister, Andres Izarra, who resigned yesterday to run the network. Meanwhile, Friends of Al Jazeera reports that TeleSur's new head discussed at a news conference the possibility of collaborating with Al Jazeera, a Pan-Arabian media network with similar ambitions.
Eduardo of Barrio Flores says only 6% of Bolivians subscribe to cable and would be capable of watching Telesur.