People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 45

November 16, 2008


Three Years Of TeleSUR: New Television Of The South - II

Anjan Bera

UNLIKE other channels TeleSUR carries no commercial advertising. Rather it only runs public service announcements and musical interludes. At present the State-owned companies from the countries concerned, such as, Corporacin Latina de Fomento, Mercosur, PDVSA, PetroBras, Petroamrica, and various airlines and tourism institutions sponsor programmes.

However, TeleSUR is also willing to receive advertisements from private sources, but without any string attached, overt or covert. It has been made clear that State-funding will not continue indefinitely.

US Reaction

Expectedly, the USA and its allies came down heavily on TeleSUR. Even a week before the network took off, the United States House of Representatives voted on an amendment introduced by a Republican member Connie Mack. The amendment authorises the US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to start radio and television broadcasts targeting Venezuela for at least 30 minutes a day of 'balanced, objective, and comprehensive news programming.'

Mack again attacked TeleSUR when it had entered into an agreement with Al Jazeera by saying that the agreement would create a 'global television channel for terrorists'.

Interesting is the decision of the US Lower House to broadcast 'balanced, objective, and comprehensive news programming' and that too by authorising none other than the 'BBG'.

Little is known to the common people about the BBG and what they have been doing under the veil of 'supporting freedom'. BBG is a federal umbrella organisation responsible for all US government and government-sponsored international propaganda broadcasts. Every week, more than 155 million listeners, viewers, and internet users around the world are fed with the programmes in 60 languages of these BBG directed channels, namely, Voice of America, Al Hurra (against Al Jazeera), Radio Sawa, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and Radio and TV Marti. These are all direct instruments of the US government's propaganda, the sole of which is to manipulate public opinion in favour of its imperial hegemonic interest.

In fact, all these US networks began their anti-Venezuela propaganda long before the launching of TeleSur. The US government has been pouring a huge amount of money to run Radio and TV Marti to pursue disinformation campaign against Cuba. Now, they have targeted Venezuela. The US taxpayers are paying for government propaganda, but the American 'free' media are meticulously maintaining a golden silence.

TeleSUR is under direct attack by the pro-US regimes. For instance, 33-year old TeleSUR journalist Fredy Mu1oz was detained in November 2006 by Colombian security police and he was accused of terrorism. This was an attempt to stamp criminality on TeleSUR and threaten independent journalists.

The anti-Chavez US media and government propaganda machineries prefer to equate TeleSUR with the Qatar-based TV channel, Al Jazeera (launched in 1996) from the very beginning. They call it 'Al Jazeera of Latin America’ a very misleading and loaded expression to dilute TeleSUR's counter-hegemonic role. Al Jazeera was launched in 1996 as Arabic news and current affairs satellite TV channel with a US$150 million grant from the ruling Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa. In 2004 the Emir agreed to continue subsidising it on a year-by-year basis (US$30 million).

Al Jazeera gained worldwide attention, particularly in the West, following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, when it broadcast Osama bin Laden's video statement. In order to counter Al Jazeera, the US government in 2004 founded Al Hurra ("the free one"), a competing Arabic-language satellite TV station as a propaganda outlet.

Indoctrinated by Huntington's 'clash of civilisations' theory, the US ruling establishment is now lambasting Al Jazeera. Both TeleSUR and Al Jazeera are facing US tirade, apparently similar often, but they have little in common, whether organisationally or editorially. TeleSUR and Al Jazeera are fundamentally different.

Beyond Latin America

Is TeleSUR creating an impact beyond Latin America? An emphatic 'yes' or 'no' is difficult to utter. But in this age of corporate globalization when media's public service role is severely challenged by market fundamentalism and that too without any principled resistance in most parts of the globe, TeleSUR has already made an inspiring mark across the globe.

In this context I should mention some of the non-corporate initiatives in media in the recent past. In Latin America itself Brazil is also working for an international public TV channel, TV Brasil, which will focus on Latin America and the Caribbean with a lot of Spanish programming.

Another notable development is Paul Jay's English-language news network, Canada-based The Real News. 'No corporate ownership, no corporate underwriting, no government funding, no commercial advertising' are the guiding principles of the network, which has been launched in 2007. Jay plans to collect donations from people worldwide, not from the business, advertisers and government, as a matter of principle. The advisory board of the channel consists of eminent personalities like, Gore Vidal, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein and Tony Benn.

It is true that all these are not directly influenced by TeleSUR. But its worldwide impact is worth noting. In the Seventh Conference of Ministers of Information of the Non-Aligned Countries held in Isla Margarita of Venezuela in July 2008, TeleSUR was a hot topic of discussion. The action plan of the Margarita Declaration mentioned the achievements of TeleSUR prominently. The theme of the conference was 'Challenges and proposals for the objective dissemination of the voicdee of the South in the face of current trends in the fields of information and communication.'

President Chavez in his speech in the conference called for establishing ‘a grand social television of the world' with its offices, studios, cameras, and satellites dispersed around the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa. 'We have to do it now, in order to communicate among our peoples in our languages,' Chavez asserted.

However, for all practical purposes Chavez's idea of a TeleSUR-like global TV network seems to be a distant dream at this point of time. But, the truth is that TeleSUR has helped bringing the relevance of a non-hegemonic public service media back into agenda at the global plane. 'Another television' is not just a possibility, it's rather a reality.