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Latin America Responds to TeleSur's Launch

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.”

But Atina user SinFronteras is much more supportive of the new network's objective and responds:

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.

Benjamin Dangl, the editor of Upside Down World, criticizes the Alternet article “El Jazeera” on Upside Down Blog:

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.

And concludes:

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.

Responding to a piece by the Uruguayan born General Director of TeleSur, Aram Aharonian, which originally appeared in Red Voltaire, the Colombian weblog, Atrabalioso writes,

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.

Special thanks to Ana Toniolli of Argentina, Bolivian-American Eduardo Avila and Iria Puyosa of Venezuela for their contributions to the post.

Update: The trilingual blog, Steve's Gallery, has a post in Spanish and one in English on Telesur and U.S. reaction.

Eduardo of Barrio Flores says only 6% of Bolivians subscribe to cable and would be capable of watching Telesur.

9 comments

  • Hi guys
    Interesting reportage, however sound a little bit strange to analyze the possible consequences/impacts of Telesur in the Latin American society instead of discuss about the strong influences of Anglo-Saxon television in our mind and opinion. I mean, today the Latin American community is constantly bombing with “international affairs” that are not really our priorities: Irak, London, Spain, terrorism, etc. their decisions, their consequences. Telesur could be the respond to tackle our reality (at least to initiate the conversation).

    We have more problems and challenges to face than the international affairs. Latin America needs at least to understand our needs and differences in order to fight for our dreams and people. (Poverty, economy, development, technology, youth, environment and so on)

    Regards,

    Pehuen.org

    Ps: In relation with the Chilean opinions, our class of society remains demonstrated: “Country Island” in the region, we have very much to learn still.

  • Thanks for the comment pehuen. The purpose of the post wasn’t to analyze the consequences/impacts of Telesur, but rather to try and get a feel of how Latin American bloggers were responding to the channel.

    Obviously I had to leave a lot out, but I tried to represent the response along with the majority opinion. In Chile, for example, response was very mixed and I tried to represent that, but in Venezuela, where the blogosphere is almost unanimous in their dislike of Chavez, I couldn’t find a single post completely supporting Telesur.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  • […] Yesterday I wrote a post for Global Voices on TeleSur. Chickity check yourself before you wreck yourself. (amazing what 90’s rap lyrics were able to get away with). Much more impressive is what Neha and Nevin have been up to. It’s pretty exciting how fast the project is taking off. […]

  • karl luck

    The world is in great need of a counter-balance to American/Zion media that claims they are Democratic, when it is clear that it is biased propaganda.

    If Telesaur is leaning left then so be it, as their needs to be a voice for the poor and oppressed.

    Thankfully, in Canada we have the CBC, but we also need Telesaur and Al Jazeera as we are totally fed up with the American media.

  • I think it’s almost patronizing to say that Latin Americans don’t want or need to know what’s going on in Iraq or Spain, but only should get regional news. I feel that is isolationary. But the problem of Latin American not having a clue what is going on in other countries is very real – no one, for instance, seems to realize how successful Chile is, for instance.

    As someone who’s worked hard – and with success – to get Latin America INTO mainstream American media (check out what Latam coverage was like three years ago, it was unbelievably barren – today, it is much better, though I would still like to see more) – I would hate to see Latin America shut itself out of world news and turn inward on itself.

    What I think is needed is not more state TV spewing red-shirted propaganda, but more regional networking among local TV networks in different countries. Locals always know best what is going on in their own countries, a regional networking, based on lowered regulations, could be marvelous for raising the quality of Latin American news in Latin America.

    Great roundup, Steve, enjoyed the different views.

  • […] Chavez continues to make more noise than actual change from Venezuela, but two new projects that really could play a big influence throughout Latin America is TeleSur – a hemisphere-wide cable news network that is meant to cover Latin America from Latin America instead of relying on CNN in Spanish, which is what most cable news junkies currently do. A combined project of Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, I think very few could argue that it doesn’t have a leftist slant. Then yesterday it was announced that a new state company, The Technological Industries of Venezuela, will work with a Chinese company to produce at least 80,000 affordable computers for every interested Venezuelan. […]

  • CHARLIE

    I feeling proud we have this channel. i am tired to hear cuban american and amrican to talk bad about shit, nothing possitive, this is way we can share our opinion ,see reality of latin american and get more close like latin people,cultures BE ONLY ONE TOGETHER BE BEST.
    Every body blame a chavez for all , like russian in 80″s .
    American show are good boy and russian bad boy in end american mask come down show the evil side, well time to change ….
    U.S.Is sad country who talk about right and freedon is more evil country in world.
    Them know media is a big power to influence people but now , telesur stop and give different way to see the thing.

  • greenguy

    The Corporate owned Media,was instrumental in helping our capitalist dictatorship invade and pillage the rest of the world.
    Some people still think Iraq,was involved in 9/11.
    ”Our” media is owned and operated by just a few individuals,who have no interest but to make more money.
    Now they Squeal like stuck pigs,when a Lefty Gov.has communication other than the Commercial kind for a change.

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