The initiative of Telesur Communications, born in the Bolivarian government of Hugo Chávez with the support of Cuba, Argentina and Uruguay, and the enthusiasm of the Latin American people, involves much more than a far-ranging television company. Telesur is working toward the construction of another view, its own view, a much-needed collective view.
In the social scene, the word “another” is a synonym for a new construction. Another possible world, another Latin America, another communication. It is the search for a way to be different, needed, fair and dignified, apart from anything imposed by the system that oppresses and alienates us. That is why Telesur — television from the south — gives us “another view,” its own undertaking, which opposes in a fundamental manner the view of us the north has shown.
It is true that Telesur is not the only communications project that confronts the media oligopolies as it provides that “other view.” In fact, every day there is a greater number of alternative communications media that work in the construction of an information system independent from the economic interests of the large entrepreneurial groups.
The community, popular, counter-hegemonic media make it possible for the people, their organizations and social movements to join and gain access to communication, building it from their own life experiences.
In that way, community radio and TV stations, independent dailies and magazines, Internet pages, and documentary producers disseminate the information none of the commercial media dare to disseminate, because it runs counter to the economic and/or political interests of a powerful few.
That’s no small feat. For example, the alternative and community media in Venezuela helped defeat the coup d’état that business groups, in collaboration with the government of the United States, staged against duly-elected President Hugo Chávez in April 2002. It was an entrepreneurial, military and media coup, because the large commercial media played an essential role in the disinformation of the people (they still do) and weakened the signal of the only TV channel — state-run Venezolana de Televisión — that could provide truthful information about the ongoing events.
It is also true that community media are not as massive as the commercial media, because the production and distribution costs do not allow it. That’s where Telesur’s initiative gains its true magnitude. Telesur is a television network with worldwide reach that can compete with the most powerful TV networks, all the while providing that “other view” that we together build in the south.
In the words of Jorge Botero, Telesur’s director of information: “The world’s unipolarity, everyone looking to the north in an act of veneration that borders on servitude, has to be broken. To us, there are many horizons other than those viewed from Washington and that is why our channel’s motto is ‘Our north is the south.'”
When control is business
In Latin America, less than one-third of the TV programming originates in the region. Seventy percent of the programming is imported, and within that volume, 62 percent comes from the United States. According to the United Nations’ World Report on Development, “For the United States, the largest export industry is entertainment: movies and television programs.” (1)
The culture industry is not only a form of control but also big business, and that has become increasingly evident in recent decades with the advances of technology. In her article “The media count one single world, minus the south,” researcher Ana Delicado explains that “In 1980, Unesco released the MacBride Report under the title, ‘One single world, many voices.’ Information was not a merchandise but a social good. The United States, Britain and Singapore accused Unesco of wishing to restrict freedom of the press and private initiative and of preaching pro-Soviet slogans. It was a clear warning: at stake were not only commercial profits but also the political interests of the superpower.” (2)
Since then, there has been an increase in the globalization of the media and the concentration of mass media in the hands of a few entrepreneurs. Ana Delicado points out that “the United States, the European Union and Japan control 90 percent of the information worldwide” and adds that “Of the 300 leading information companies, 144 are in the United States, 80 in the European Union and 49 in Japan.” (3)
Regarding specifically Latin America and the Caribbean, Venezuelan writer Luis Britto, in his article “Telesur and the media war,” reveals that those who inform in our region are “agencies dominated by oligopolies: CNN by Time Warner; ABC by Disney/Cap Cities; NBC by General Electric and CBS by Westinghouse. Only one [agency] has Latin American links: The Cisneros Group, which controls Galaxy Latin America (the introducer of DirecTV) and Caribbean Communications Networks, which handle television, radio and the printed press.
“The Cisneros Group is associated with the GM Hughes Electronics Corporation of the U.S., with TV Abril of Brazil, and Multivisión of Mexico. In addition, it dominates Univisión, a network that control three-fourths of the Hispanic audience in the United States; Imagen Satelital, the most important cable-TV provider in Argentina; Venevisión of Venezuela; Venevisión International Film Group, and Chilevisión.” (4)
Our right to information
On May 24, 2005, Telesur began testing its satellite signals and on July 24, on the 222nd anniversary of the birth of Simón Bolívar, launched its first broadcast in the presence of the network’s management and its advisory council, composed of 26 intellectuals, writers and personalities in the communications and culture circles of various countries, among them Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua, Luis Britto of Venezuela, Eduardo Galeano of Uruguay, Fernando “Pino” Solanas of Argentina, Ignacio Ramonet of France, Danny Glover of the U.S. and Tariq Ali, a Briton of Pakistani origin. Three months after that first broadcast, on Oct. 31, the programming was increased to 24 hours a day.
Telesur was born as a multi-state partnership involving four countries: Venezuela (51 percent), Argentina (20 percent), Cuba (19 percent) and Uruguay (10 percent). However, Luis Britto said, “Telesur must have an independent criterion.
“The first gesture is eloquent: Andrés Izarra, who held the posts of Ministry of Information and president of Telesur, resigned from his ministerial post. Tariq Ali emphasizes that the team must be free to do whatever it deems convenient, even if that implies criticizing the participating governments. For example: Telesur’s first newscast featured the street demonstration that denounced the impunity that met the death of 136 farmers at the hands of gunmen presumably paid by land owners.”
He adds that “In order to criticize, one must begin by criticizing oneself” (5). In that regard, before Telesur made its first broadcast, President Hugo Chávez told an opinion program in the state-run Venezolana de Televisión: “I expect to see criticism of my government; I myself am the harshest critic of my performance” (6).
On the basis that information is an inalienable right, one of the strengths of Telesur is its handling of the news, with an international coverage hallmarked by its own agenda, and with permanent correspondents in Bogota, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Mexico City, Havana, Montevideo, La Paz and Washington, along with a network of stringers.
Telesur is a great project that will grow as it overcomes adversities and obstacles of every kind, not only the hurdles met by any counter-hegemonic initiative but also those that are raised in the path of any grand-scale communications project that needs signal relays in several countries, pacts with cable and TV companies, the gathering of material, technology, resources, etc.
With the intention of fomenting the participation of Latin America’s civil society, the network’s Programming Department sent a mass call to organizations and movements to form a “network of networks” so that Telesur may become “a real tool that will contribute to the process of integration of our peoples” (7).
The media war
Obviously, one of the obstacles that needs to be overcome is the imperialist offensive of disinformation, which operates through the media oligopolies and is directed by the government of the United States and the most reactionary sectors of Latin America. As journalist Stella Callini said, “Telesur is without a doubt one of the most creative models of resistance to the project drafted in the United States that would recolonize the people of Latin America in the 21st Century,” and that is not well received in the circles of power.
In response to the project of anti-imperialist communications, on July 20, 2005, before the TV network began its programming, the U.S. House of Representatives expressed great concern and approved the broadcasting of programs that would counteract the new network, Telesur. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., said Telesur “is a threat to the United States. It tries to undermine the balance of power in the western hemisphere” (8).
The same mechanism of disinformation was utilized in Cuba against the means of communication established by the Cuban Revolution. In reference to this fact, President Chávez reminded us that “just like Fidel Castro has been able to neutralize Radio Martí’s signal, we too shall neutralize any signal” (9).
To the U.S., the imperialist war includes all fronts; military, counterinsurgent, economic, political, communications and media. That is why — as the Bolivarian Revolution strengthens in an alliance with Cuba, projects of Latin American integration against the FTAA arise, and social and insurgent movements continue their struggle — Latin America faces an offensive that will acquire a greater magnitude in the interest of dominating a region that contains an abundance of resources, with an economic benefit that attracts the power of the north.
In the words of Hugo Chávez: “The imperialist giant is entering a dangerous stage of desperation. There is nothing more dangerous than a desperate giant.” Challenging that giant is not only in the hands of revolutionary or nationalist governments but also in the hands of the people of Latin America; therein the importance of joining Telesur, this grand project that propounds the construction of that “other view” from the south.
As journalist Beto Almeida said: “Through the rebellion of the antennas, it is now necessary to structure a broad — and absolutely free — relay of signals. The time has come to install thousands of receivers in union halls, rural settlements, community associations, student organizations and cultural centers. This is how we shall continue to conquer new spaces — and continue to advance” (10).
(1) United Nations Human Development Report 1999, Globalization with a Human Face, Chapter 1, pg.10, http://stone.undp.org/hdr/reports/global/1999/en/
(2) Delicado Palacios, Ana, “The media count one single world, minus the south”, http://ecuador.indymedia.org/es/2004/11/7329.shtml y en http://www.nuestraamerica.info/leer.hlvs/3968
(4) Britto García, Luis, “Telesur and the media war”, Altercom, http://mail.kein.org/pipermail/incom-l/2005-August/000731.html
(6) Navarro, Ernesto J., “Telesur vs. Telebush”, http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=18286
(7) Mujica, Florencia, “Telesur, a call to all”, http://www.alternativabolivariana.org/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=319
(8) Britto García, Luis, “Telesur and the media war”, Altercom, http://mail.kein.org/pipermail/incom-l/2005-August/000731.html
(9) Navarro, Ernesto J., “Telesur vs. Telebush”, http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=18286
(10) Severo, Leonardo, “An interview with Beto Almeida”, http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=18848