MEDIA-LATIN AMERICA: Telesur Goes on the Air Under Fire from U.S.

Alejandro Kirk

MONTEVIDEO, Jul 22 2005 (IPS) - Sunday will be the first day of broadcasting for a new Latin America-wide TV network aimed at competing with U.S. and European international news stations.

Sunday will be the first day of broadcasting for a new Latin America-wide TV network aimed at competing with U.S. and European international news stations.

Telesur, an initiative led by Venezuela, the majority shareholder, is also being financed by the governments of Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay, and will gradually become available on local cable TV channels around the region and on the DirecTV satellite system, said Venezuelan Information Minister Andrés Izarra.

But the minister warned that the U.S. government could attempt to jam the station’s broadcasts, which will initially cover four hours a day: "Our technological capacity is limited, and the United States is obviously superior in that aspect…We do not rule out the possibility of having to seek other routes, besides satellite, to air our programming."

Even before the content of Telesur’s programming has become clear, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment Wednesday authorising Washington to create a station that would broadcast exclusively to Venezuela to "provide a consistently accurate, objective, and comprehensive source of news."

Through its embassy in Washington, the Venezuelan government responded that all continent-wide cable and satellite stations already operate freely in Venezuela, where most of the local media outlets are not only privately-owned, but are controlled by the opposition.

The sponsor of the amendment in the U.S. legislature, Republican Rep. Connie Mack of the state of Florida, described Telesur as a threat to the United States that would undermine the balance of power in the western hemisphere and spread Chávez’s "anti-American, anti-freedom rhetoric."

He also likened it to the pan-Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera.

The comparison is not a casual one, nor is the fear totally unfounded. Al-Jazeera, based in Qatar, and Dubai-based satellite TV channel al-Arabiya rapidly overtook the U.S. news channel CNN, Britain’s BBC, and other Western stations as the main sources of news programming on the Middle East.

The United States would not like to see a repeat of that phenomenon in Latin America, which is exactly what could happen, said al-Jazeera international affairs analyst Lamis Andoni.

If Telesur and TV Brasil Internacional – a similar Brazilian-driven project – "succeed on focusing more world attention to the developments, the discourse and the problems of their region, they will become the main source of (Latin American) news for all world media," she told IPS.

She pointed to what the Arab language station has done: "Al-Jazeera has amplified the Arab perspective and placed it on the world map. It also broke the monopoly of the Western media on world news."

According to information on its website, the Telesur signal will reach throughout the Americas, western Europe and North Africa, through the New Skies Satellite 806.

The director of Telesur, Uruguayan journalist Aram Aharonian, commented to IPS from Caracas that the new station "is the only alternative to the hegemonic message with which they bombard us from the North."

In political terms, Telesur represents "the determinaiton of the region’s national governments to play a role in fomenting and generating mass television programming that strengthens Latin American integration, on a foundation of diversity and pluralism," he said.

Among those contributing to the new station, Aharonian listed "independent producers, national, regional, community and university TV stations."

And the initiative’s critics? "Obviously those who want to continue seeing themselves through the eyes of CNN, TVE (Spain’s Televisión Española), the BBC or French television," he said.

Andrés Cañizález, a researcher at the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas and the director of the Jesuit magazine "Comunicación", remarked to IPS from Caracas that the project merits "the benefit of the doubt" because it is aimed at countering a real problem: U.S. control of televised images in Latin America.

But he said that in Venezuela, both the opposition-owned and state-run media have overstepped the line between journalism and propaganda, and warned of the risk of expanding that polarisation to the rest of the region.

According to Landoni, "The only prerequisite (for success) is that governments involved in the projects allow a high margin of freedom."

Aharonian noted that Telesur (Televisora del Sur, or Television of the South) is being launched with an initial investment of 2.5 million dollars. Venezuela holds 51 percent of the shares in the network, while Argentina holds a 20 percent interest, Cuba 19 percent and Uruguay 10 percent.

Telesur will have correspondent’s offices in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, the United States and Uruguay.

In Uruguay, the smallest partner, Telesur’s operations will be based in the offices of the public TV network Tveo, and will be broadcast via the signal of local cable station TV Ciudad, run by the Montevideo city government.

"The initial budget – including building projects and equipment, as well as operational costs – has totalled roughly 10 million dollars," Aharonian added.

These funds were put up by Venezuela, which has also contributed installations and facilities made available by the state. Telesur’s head office is located in Caracas.

The measure approved by the lower house of the U.S. Congress to counteract Telesur includes funding for a similar sum: nine million dollars.

Al-Jazeera did not inform IPS of its investment and operational capital, but al-Arabiya, a rival station supported primarily by Saudi Arabia to compete with the Qatari network, was launched in 2003 with an initial investment of 300 million dollars, according to the BBC.

These Arab stations have broken the Western news monopoly playing by their own rules. Despite being financed by autocratic regimes, both have developed a pluralistic editorial policy, and specialise in seeking out exclusive material, with the advantage of their uniquely qualified cultural and geographical knowledge of the region.

Telesur is based on a multi-state concept, with the participation of a number of different stations with their own agendas, limitations and visions. Nevertheless, Telesur’s programming will be directed by a central office, headed by Colombian journalist Jorge Enrique Botero.

"Almost by definition, government media are instruments of self-propaganda. Could Telesur be an exception? It’s possible, above all because of the involvement of Aharonian and Botero, who have proven throughout their long professional careers to have a good sense of timing, of knowing the right time and place for everything," professor Olga Dragnic commented to IPS.

"In accordance with the ideologues from both the North and South who fervently defend the U.S. postulate of the free flow of information, Telesur should be seen as the exercise of that freedom," added Dragnic, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela and a member of Media Watch.

What some consider nothing more than a propaganda tool created by left-leaning Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is viewed by others as a major step forward on the long march towards a new world informational order, begun 40 years ago by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Press Freedom

MEDIA-LATIN AMERICA: Telesur Goes on the Air Under Fire from US

Alejandro Kirk

MONTEVIDEO, Jul 22 2005 (IPS) - Sunday will be the first day of broadcasting for a new Latin America-wide TV network aimed at competing with U.S. and European international news stations.

Republish | | Print |