(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 09, 2008
Three Years Of TeleSUR: New Television Of The South
IT'S three years since the the New Television of the South, TeleSUR, was launched. It's the first multi-state TV network in Latin America and its aim is to execute a communication strategy to promote regional integration. The network is now seen as a trend-setting model, both in terms of organisation and editorial excellence, across the globe. Even the last Conference of Information Ministers of the Non-Aligned Countries held in July 2008 praised TeleSUR for its role in promoting an "objective voice" of the developing countries. The impact is enormous and wide-reaching. The TeleSUR experience is now felt far beyond Latin America.
A Unique Model
Headquartered in Caracas, TeleSUR is unique in more senses than one. This first-of-its-kind multi-State initiative can be accessed not only in South America, but across the world as well. The network, created with an initial capital of $2.5 million, is run jointly by a public company which was promoted by Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay (no longer associated) and Venezuela. Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Paraguay joined later. Venezuela owns 54 per cent of the total share. Among other major shareholders are Argentina and Cuba, which own 20 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.
Secondly, it is the common political approach of the partner countries markedly different from the model based on the so-called Washington consensus in building an alternative premise of Latin American integration that made TeleSUR possible. What the Left governments in Latin America call ALBA or the Bolivarian Alternative, TeleSUR is concretising that in the sphere of audio-visual media, same as Banco del Sur (Bank of the South) set up in December 2007 is a Bolivarian Alternative to the IMF and World Bank.
Thirdly, it aims to forge a greater collaboration with democratic struggles and progressive governments in the region. TeleSUR stresses its Latin American identity and it is the first Latin American experience in mass television and the channel is the primary project of La Nueva Television del Sur. A pan-Latin American radio channel, RadioSur, was also planned initially, but it is yet to take off.
The very concept of such a multi-state media outlet was mooted incidentally by none other than Fidel Castro. The legendary Cuban leader conceived a Latin American alternative in regional broadcasting. He mentioned a 'Latin American CNN' or 'People's CNN'. Atlanta-based CNN launched its Spanish language service in March 1997. Castro’s idea was put into practice in mid-2005, and in which Cuba was an active partner along with other three Latin American left governments.
The test broadcastings of TeleSUR began on May 24, 2005. The regular broadcastings on a limited schedule started on July 24, 2005, the birth anniversary of Simon Bolivar. On October 31, 2005, TeleSUR began full-time 24x7 broadcasts.
TeleSUR is a Spanish language channel as it is virtually the lingua franca of the continent, except Portuguese-speaking Brazil. On February 13, 2007 TeleSUR has opened a new signal in Portuguese for the Brazilian audience. Right now the channel is not starting any English language programme. But that may be done in future.
At present, TeleSUR is broadcast across more than 20 countries through cable services as well as free TV stations. The news channel has correspondents in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, Uruguay, United States and in Venezuela of course. Nearly 300 people recruited from across Latin America are working for it.
One of the unique features of the channel is its Advisory Council which includes Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Prez Esquivel, poet Ernesto Cardenal, writers Eduardo Galeano, Saul Landau, editor-in-chief of Le Monde diplomatique and historian Ignacio Ramonet, Argentinean film producer Tristan Bauer, free software pioneer Richard Stallman, Hollywood actor Danny Glover and writer Tariq Ali from Pakistan.
TeleSUR Board of Directors too consists of distinguished media professionals from the partner countries. Board president Andrs Izarra is Venezuela's communication and information minister. Izarra was RCTV (Radio Caracas Television) news director and worked as a professional journalist in a number of international TV channels, including in CNN. Disgusted with RCTV's involvement with the anti-Chavez coup d'etat in April 2002 Izarra resigned from the channel and got involved with political activities. Within few months president Chavez inducted him in the cabinet. Izarra was so serious that he had resigned from the ministerial post and opted to head the TeleSUR board. Later, early this year he again joined the Chavez cabinet.
But not only Izarra, two very distinguished journalists are also on the board, Aram Aharonian of Uruguay and Jorge Enrique Botero of Colombia. Sixty-two-year-old Aharonian is the vice-president and general director of TeleSUR board. Botero is station's director of information. The other members of the board are Ana de Escalom, of Channel 7 of Buenos Aires, Argentina; Beto Almeida of Brazil; Ovidio Cabrera, ex-vice-president of Radio TV of Cuba. TeleSUR is thus providing a vibrant platform to the progressive media people of Latin America.
Confronting Media Onslaught
Latin America is perhaps a place in the world which is most vulnerable to western, especially American media onslaught. The region has always been confronted by the strong presence of US interest in the media sector. American media corporations provide technical and financial assistance to TV networks and other media outlets in various Latin American countries.
BBC, Spain's TVE and Deutsche Welle of Germany are also among the pro-Western channels that have strong presence in South American market. According to a study titled 'New Trends in Global Broadcasting' by Orayb Aref Najjar of Northern Illinois University, USA, published in the Global Media Journal (Spring 2007), the global Spanish-speaking market is as large as 330 million consumers of which only 24 million are located in the USA and 39 million in the EU (principally in Spain). Global media conglomerates are desperate to exploit this market and they never hesitate to pressure the governments into influencing their policies. Obviously such media establishments are quite comfortable with the pro-US rightist regimes in Latin America which pursue neo-liberal policies in every sphere of governance at the cost of the interest of their own citizens.
Internally, Latin America's privately-owned mainstream corporate media are junior partners of Western media conglomerates and they are more comfortable operating within the ideological ambit of neo-liberalism. Owned by rich oligarchies, known for their notorious political ambition, these media houses play key roles in mobilising right reactionaries and corporate oligarchies, against any sort of pro-people democratic changes.
However, it is not media alone. The Latin American corporate media outlets find their friends in-need in some hyperactive supranational forums, such as, Inter American Press Association (IAPA), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) which are openly dictated by the US government to oppose the Left. In the name of ‘defending media freedom’ they constantly interfere with the internal affairs of the Leftist governments and try to legitimise, under one pretext or the other, Washington's hegemonic policies in the region.
Besides these non-government forums, the USA has a direct official agency under the banner of a benign nomenclature, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). It tirelessly promotes right reactionaries and provides funds for 'supporting freedom around the world'.
NED's Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) sponsors the rightist media especially in Venezuela and other Latin American countries to instigate and consolidate anti-government agitations. On the one hand the US governmental establishments criticise the Leftist governments for funding TeleSUR, and on the other, Washington spends huge amount of public money to strengthen the so-called 'free' and anti- government media in Latin America to mobilise anti-government conspiracies.
Each and every person involved in any sort of anti-government conspiracy in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Brazil, Nicaragua, Argentina are sure to get liberal support from the NED. The struggle in the sphere of media in Latin America is indeed fierce.
The Left-ruled states in Latin America have been facing, what Chavez calls, a kind of media tyranny. It seems that the military dictatorship has been substituted by the media dictatorship.
The Latin American leftists have coined for this a new term called 'Media Terrorism', which has been used as a political weapon in the overthrow of democratic governments in the continent. There is a very significant explanation of what 'Media Terrorism' is all about in a document, the 'Caracas Declaration', which has been adopted in the Latin American Meeting Against Media Terrorism held in Caracas in March 2008 and endorsed by participants from 14 countries. It says 'Media Terrorism is the first expression and condition necessary for the industrial North's exercise of military and economic terrorism in order to impose imperial hegemony and neo-colonial dominion on humanity. As such, it is an enemy of freedom, democracy and open society and ought to be considered a plague of contemporary culture.'
The Latin American Left is now significantly contributing to the process of understanding the theory and practice of media hegemony in a more comprehensive manner.
FREEDOM TO OPERATE
However, contrary to imperialist cacophony on the so-called threat to 'free’ media by the Latin American Left regimes, the corporate media is quite free to operate in all Left-ruled Latin American countries. Freedom of the press, even for rabidly anti-government ones, is not curtailed. Even, the die-hard anti-Chavez platform, IAPA organised its March 2008 conference in Caracas itself, with the active support and patronisation of the Venezuelan anti-government private media oligarchy. The conference was expectedly an all out Chavez-bashing exercise with lots of provocations. But, IAPA did not face any counter measure on the part of the government.
Only in one case the Venezuelan government had to take legal action. In 2007, RCTV's license was not renewed as the TV channel had acted as an agent of the anti-government conspirators during the April 2002 coup. No law under the sun legitimises an armed violence to overthrow a democratically elected government.
BUILDING THE ALTERNATIVE
Along with a new discourse on media role, ranging from ownership pattern to contents, the Leftists of Latin America are simultaneously engaged creatively in restructuring the existing set up and resetting a new agenda. They are actively trying to create a pluralistic, viable and credible media system by implementing an alternative communication strategy. They have already made a recognisable progress in creating an alternative media model, both at the national as well as at the regional level. Venezuelan government articulated this alternative model as the National System of Popular and Alternative Communication. Undoubtedly Venezuela is spearheading this new experimental endeavour for an alternative media.
At the national level the Left governments are extending liberal support to the non-government community media, both print and electronic. The explosion of Venezuela's alternative and community media in the recent years is owed largely to the active State support which has helped increase citizens' participation in media, media's pluralisation and, more importantly, enhancing communication capacity of the people at the grassroots. In Venezuela, the community media have a strong national-level independent platform, such as, National Association of Free, Alternative, Communitarian Media (ANMCLA).
Apart from that another measure these governments have taken to set up and strengthen State-funded public service media, particularly, broadcast media. For example, in Venezuela, the Venezolana de Television (VTV) and some other State-funded channels are playing a very important role.
But the Latin American Left governments have quickly realised that the effort to redesign the media system at the national-level should be complemented by an alternative regional system at this present juncture. TeleSUR has come into picture in this context.
Setting a new order
TeleSUR is the first TV network to assume a commitment to present a Latin American vision of Latin America which has long been denied to the people.
Its aim, according to Andres Izarra, is 'to advance integration while portraying Latin Americans as we see ourselves through the production and diffusion of content sourced in the region'.
As Aharonian explains in his keynote address to Global Fusion, Chicago in 2006: 'We are now starting to see ourselves through our own eyes, to learn about ourselves, to recognise ourselves in hopes of a regional integration to come. For more than 514 years the politics of exploitation have been the policy of dividing us. Telesur is a television station intended to build new bridges, and to create new spaces of integration and encounters.
It is a place in which we can discover and reinvent ourselves through our own eyes. The idea is to get away from the stereotypes that characterise the views of others. With a language of our own, with a visual identity that allows us to see ourselves from a different perspective our own one.'
But such alternative vision of regional integration is based on certain democratic norms; it's an alternative to monolithic regime of hegemonic media.
TeleSUR focuses on the continent's diversity and plurality and its goal is 'to create a world-wide high quality structure for broadcasting progressive political contents', to quote Aharonian from the same speech.
TeleSUR is pursuing the same path that for years took refuge in alternative and community media. But unlike a limited marginal niche of the traditional community media, TeleSur is determined to capture a bigger mass audience.
'We will focus on doing the opposite of commercial television. We will search out the protagonist role of social movements, people, communities, and towns'. Aharonian was candid in his interview to La Jornada (March 2, 2005). This is exactly what TeleSUR has been doing.
Factory of Latin-American Contents
TeleSUR is well aware of the indispensability of inventing and reinventing new contents. Therefore, they floated another project: the Factory of Latin-American Contents (Factoria Latinoamericana de Contenidos—FLACO).
Financed by contracts with sponsors, it is an institute that compiles Latin American documentaries, cinema and other audio-visual programmes and helps making new programmes for TeleSUR as well as other channels.
TeleSUR's programming is guided by its 'Strategic Programming Committee', and the programmes are mainly educative and news-related. Apart from daily news bulletin covering Latin American developments, the network telecasts interviews of contemporary Latin American leaders and personalities, independent documentaries about contemporary regional issues, political, social and cultural, music and its performers, and, interestingly, biographies of Latin American personalities. Among the popular programmes are 'Destino Latinoamerica', a series of programmes about Latin American tourist destinations and CineSur, a regular show of films produced by independent Latin filmmakers.
At the beginning, TeleSUR used to telecast an abridged version of 'Alo Presidente', hosted by president Chavez. But it has been now stopped.
The network is gradually expanding its bilateral and multilateral arrangements for exchange of news and other broadcast materials. In February 2006 TeleSUR entered into an agreement with the Qatar-based network Al-Jazeera.
TeleSUR already signed an agreement with two regional Colombian channels, Channel Capital, from Bogota, and Telepacfico for transmit part of the TeleSUR programmes.