With a trajectory of over 10 years, Tatuy Televisión Comunistaria is a reference point in Venezuela and abroad, producing a variety of content which is essential for anyone looking to understand and follow events in Venezuela. In this interview, we talked to two of its members, Juan Lenzo and Iris Rodríguez, about the history of Tatuy TV, how it’s organized, and how they see the role of community media in the context of the Bolivarian Revolution. We also talked about the series “Chávez the Radical”, one of the more recent projects by Tatuy TV.
Tatuy TV recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. How did it all begin?
Tatuy was formally created in August 2007. But we had already been working since 2006 out of political motivation. We are a group of young revolutionaries from Mérida trying to make use of communication/media as a tool for political struggle.
Our project started off as a travelling cine-foro (cinema-forum). We would travel to different communities in Mérida, show a film, and then have a discussion with the people. Out of this work, which lasted for months, came the idea of a TV station. So a group of 14 people gathered around this project and became the founding members of Tatuy TV. These people came from social movements, some were journalists, audio-visual producers or revolutionary militants, we had many different backgrounds.
So you go ahead and launch a TV station?
We kicked off the project for the TV station in 2007. To broadcast on television in Venezuela one has to apply for a permit in the radio-electric spectrum, which naturally belongs to the Venezuelan state. We started this process in 2007 but it wasn’t until 2012 that our request was approved and Tatuy TV went on the air as channel 48 in the spectrum.
What did we do between 2007 and 2012? Normally a TV station that’s not on the air doesn’t do much. But we had a lot to do! First of all we had to train ourselves, both in terms of the technical aspects and the conceptual, political/ideological ones. We also carried on with the cine-foro activities, interacting with communities, taking part in community and political organization tasks, as well as gearing up for what was coming once the station was up and running.
But were you already producing content?
Tatuy was born with the interview we did with the singer Manu Chao in 2006. That was the first production out of Tatuy. During these first years we did not produce much because we were still learning, but there was already some audiovisual production that essentially started to become more regular from 2009-2010 onwards. We also found ways to distribute content on the web, through Youtube and social media, which allowed us to distribute our content before our station went live.
And then the TV channel went live in 2012?
That’s another story, and a tragic one! We started broadcasting on June 14, 2012, thanks to an endowment from RED TV through the Cuba-Venezuela agreement. But we were on the air for only one and a half to two years, because we had constant, and suspicious, technical problem with transmission.
Our first serious technical problem was before the presidential elections of October 7, 2012, which Chávez won. Tatuy’s signal went down for several days. At the time we managed to organize and solve the technical issues, buy new equipment, and with the help of RED TV, which is a state company that services public and community media, we returned to the air.
Then Chávez died and in the April 2013 elections, when Maduro was running, we suffered another sabotage. We recovered once more, and later during the guarimbas (violent street protests) in 2014 we lost the signal for good. From that point on we could not recover, we could not guarantee the technical stability of the station to go on broadcasting.
Did this force you to rethink Tatuy TV’s mission?
Yes, at this moment we asked ourselves: what are we going to do? Because we did not have the resources to solve these technical problems. Even though the state has a policy of supporting community media, the support which Tatuy received was never reliable, despite the state having ample resources to ensure that an experiment like this one can go on.
This forced us to think about our vision for Tatuy. We knew that we had to keep producing content, to keep training ourselves, and to continue taking part in social and political struggles. We also understood that Tatuy is not an end in itself but as an instrument of struggle. Therefore we started thinking and discussing, that if we conceive of the TV channel as a cannon that fires content, then let us reinvent ourselves and become a munitions factory.
In other words, we create content that is then fired by other cannons. That’s more or less the logic that we’ve followed in recent years now that we are no longer on the air. Through this we’ve had a bigger reach and a bigger impact, which has allowed us to place our content, our ideas, in community media, not just in Venezuela but also throughout Latin America, as well as in Venezuelan public media, where we have a chance of reaching a wider audience.
So in some sense this crisis ended up being a gift. It was a crisis that was enough to put a fledgeling community station like Tatuy out of business, and in fact this has happened to almost all community media in Venezuela, which are struggling, broken, practically vanished. What allowed us to survive was this understanding of our role. And furthermore we did not want to become a private medium, where there’s an owner calling the shots, paying salaries. Rather this is an activists space.
Let’s talk about the role of the media. It’s easy enough to understand it for private media, and the same can be said for state media. But what’s the role of community media, speaking of Tatuy TV in particular?
This has been a topic of constant debate, community media and their role. We have to go back to the origins of community media, which appear as expressions of concrete struggles, and not the other way around. At a certain moment the idea of a community medium was flipped on its head and fetishized, so first you created the outlet and then you went out to look for a struggle and a community. This inverted process hollowed out community media and many of them became private companies, with advertising revenues, salaries, titles, hierarchical separation of tasks (e.g. someone responsible for collecting cables, someone dedicated to cleaning, etc). They would also have a director, and quite often a given political backer behind the outlet, like a mayor or an MP.
Chavismo in Venezuela, taking a protagonic and participatory democracy as the premise, has tried to create many different organizational spaces. There have been lots of efforts, some successful and others not so much. However, the goal has always been to strengthen this idea of protagonic and participatory democracy not as the end in itself, but as a stepping stone towards what Chávez proposed as the communal state. Therefore, in principle, a community medium should be charged with collaborating in this process of jumping from protagonic and participatory democracy to the communal state, to popular power, or what a class based analysis call the dictatorship of the proletariat.
These are then the tasks that a community outlet should embrace. We at Tatuy are very clear about our role. Tatuy is a weapon of communicational struggle in the media and other areas, with the goal of deepening the revolutionary process and building socialism as a historical project. This is our mission. If Tatuy does not fulfill this, and does not contribute towards this, then it ceases to make sense and we should look for different means of struggle.
How does Tatuy TV operate in terms of resources?
For us the most important “source” is voluntary work. Many of us work for the state (and right now the salaries are very low!), and the rest of our militant work is dedicated to Tatuy. There is a small group of people that currently work full time at Tatuy, either because they’re studying or looking for work. But that’s the basic principle, voluntary work and militancy. Another source of revenue for Tatuy is the contributions from these members that have jobs, as well as donations from comrades and collaborators.
We have also had projects financed by the state, but always in exchange for something. In other words, we are paid something in exchange for producing a series of contents, or workshops, or a community organizing process, etc. We’ve produced lots of stuff with resources from the social responsibility fund of CONATEL (state telecommunications company) for example, or from the federal government council, or from the ministry of communications, but always in exchange for something. Nothing has been gifted to us. But one thing that is very clear to us is that we have never accepted commercial advertising as a source of revenue, because we believe that amounts to surrendering principles. It would mean embracing a logic that would question the nature and political orientation of Tatuy.
Therefore that is how Tatuy has survived, with a militant, consistent and independent editorial line. Many people ask us: who is Tatuy’s ‘political godfather’? Which minister, or vice-minister, or deputy, is behind Tatuy?
In some sense it’s Chávez himself!
Yes, exactly, it’s Chávez and nobody else! That’s our response. Who is your godfather? Chávez! Everything that has been built, the conditions that allowed for a project like Tatuy, and our vision, they all emanate from Chávez’s legacy and the project of building socialism that he proposed.
In a private outlet, like you said, there’s someone who is the director and someone charged with picking up cables. Is there a rotation of tasks in Tatuy?
Yes. There’s no boss here, nobody is going to tell you that you need to pick up the equipment or clean up, and of course we’re not going to hire someone to do those things. If we are looking to construct a new model, than it has to materialize in our practice, not just remain in speeches. So we started with basic things, rotating tasks like watching over the space, cleaning, putting away equipment, making sure everything is in good condition, ensuring that the spaces are well kept.
But moreover, nowadays in the current crisis situation, a new interesting experiment has emerged. In order for our material needs not to interfere with our work, here everyone needs to know how to cook! Every day someone is responsible for cooking for everybody else, so that the others can focus on work, and this is rotated. The same thing applies to buying food supplies, everyone has their turn.
The same applies to the tasks that are more specific for a media outlet. There isn’t a single person in charge of taking photos because they are the ones that do it best. Here if someone doesn’t know how to use a camera they have to learn, just like they have to learn how to do video editing and montage. Everyone needs to be an integral member, as well as develop politically. So there isn’t a division of labor, certainly not between manual and intellectual labor.
How many members does Tatuy have at the moment?
We are 14, and 9 are women. That’s also something interesting, the fact that many comrades from revolutionary feminist movements have joined Tatuy, and we have looked to consider and develop awareness on the issue of the “care economy”. In other words, when we assign tasks we always need to be mindful of ensuring our collective well-being. How we take care of ourselves, our physical, intellectual and emotional integrity, so we can commit to our revolutionary work in the best possible conditions.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that we look to distribute work as fairly as possible, without any division of manual and intellectual labor, there are clear tendencies. There are people that feel more keen and comfortable for example doing photographic work, and therefore we also create the conditions so they can become good photographers.
Is there any relation between the work at Tatuy and the other jobs members might have?
That’s another interesting point. For example, I (Juan) am currently teaching political economy at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela. This task, of organizing a syllabus and teaching, was given to me by Tatuy. In other words, part of my responsibility at Tatuy is also to reach these spaces like universities. Similarly, another member of Tatuy is in charge of audiovisual coordination at the National University of the Arts (Unearte).
So then Tatuy has an impact on this front, which allows us to define study programs, methods, community programs. We have managed to increase our range of activities as a medium, and reach new spaces of struggle. That is to say that our impact is not just in producing audiovisual content but also in these other spaces, like classrooms, where we can socialize the knowledge and ideas that are being generated at Tatuy.
In practical terms, how do you decide which contents to produce, and how tasks are distributed for each project?
Every January we shut ourselves in here and meet, and sometimes we overdo it. That has been part of our learning curve, sometimes we would be halfway through the year still working on a plan! But in recent years we have been much more disciplined and precise in elaborating a yearly plan. So every January we sit down and discuss. We take stock of the political developments of the previous year and do a prospective analysis: what do we expect from the upcoming year?
Based on that we do a political analysis of the current context, in terms of political relations, popular subjectivity, and from there we start thinking about production lines. And we also evaluate previous productions, what impact they had, which should continue, which should be dropped, which should be picked up again, and as a result of all that we draw the editorial policy for the year. This policy in turn should be adjusted to a document that outlines the editorial framework of Tatuy, the broad strokes of our mission.
We have to ask: how did you come up with the idea of “Chávez the Radical”?
The starting point is the fact that Tatuy and its militants are political sons and daughters of Chávez. Our militancy, our process of political development, with the exception of a couple of older comrades, happens with Chávez. The thing is that, at first sight, Chávez looks like an ideologically eclectic figure, that one day meets with businessmen and the next day expropriates a company. So apparently he is a contradictory figure.
But we have an assessment, which we explained in an article that outlined our vision of “Chávez the Radical”, that essentially Chávez’s political trend as time went on was towards radicalization. This doesn’t discard the fact that at certain moments he had to take a step back, make tactical alliances, and negotiate in order to avoid conflicts with powerful actors that could not be confronted at the time. Nevertheless, Chávez’s political trend was always towards radicalization.
This radicalizing trajectory is actually the subject of our latest episode. Chávez kicks off his project convinced of the possibility of a “humane capitalism”, third-way politics. But after the coup in 2002, after the attacks from the US empire, Chávez said “I am forced to declare the anti-imperialist character of the revolution”. And following that, faced with the dynamics of class struggle in the Venezuelan political reality, Chávez sees it necessary to define a path, and the closest or more realistic way to guarantee the well-being of the people, was socialism. Therefore it was always a path of radicalization. If one looks at Chávez’s speeches, right before falling ill, these are the clearest, deepest, most radical and most revolutionary speeches he produced.
What is, then, the goal of this series?
Simply put, it’s to rescue and portray Chávez in this process of radicalization, this radical Chávez, which from our point of view is the authentic Chávez. Chávez’s radicalism is not an attribute, an accessory, it’s imminent, inherent to the figure of Chávez and his political project. That’s how Chávez was. So this is an homage to Chávez, to the radical Chávez, and beyond that it’s a tool for our struggle, because it allows us to take part in the ideological battle inside the Bolivarian Revolution having Chávez’s thought and legacy as the starting point.
In the current context of economic war and imperialist aggression, there’s a debate about the positioning of the media with respect to criticism. How does Tatuy manage this need to remain critical while at the same time the tendency to close ranks?
For us it’s clear that there are two enemies in every revolution. The direct, obvious enemy, starting with the US empire and the traditional capitalist right-wing forces. The bourgeoisie, as a class, is the historical, classical, open, obvious enemy. But there’s another enemy that’s is typical of revolutionary processes and which emerges from within, which Chávez compared with this political figure of the leopard (“gato-pardismo”), which is what we call reformism.
Tatuy believes the Venezuelan revolution has two main enemies, imperialism and the national bourgeoisie on one hand, and reformism on the other. These are two permanent battlefronts, chavismo cannot avoid it. Chavismo, fortunately, is not a homogeneous, obedient mass. It’s a space of conflict, where multiple visions are expressed, in short it’s a space of class struggle. Therefore above all we recognize that any revolution in Venezuela from here on out will go through chavismo. That’s one of Chávez’s great achievements, that there is a critical mass that accepted socialism as a historical and emancipatory project. This is no small feat.
So we insert ourselves in that arena of struggle. We are chavistas and we consider that inside chavismo there’s a struggle to be waged. There are reformist sectors, capitalist sectors, popular revolutionary sectors, and the struggle is to conquer hegemony inside chavismo, to conquer the subjectivity of chavismo. That’s the battle that we embrace. We critically assume revolutionary political construction, but always, without a doubt, inside chavismo.