“Media Should be Defined by Participation”: An Interview with Venezuelan Community TV Tatuy

Carlos Camacho, a member of Venezuelan community television station Tatuy TV, discusses with VA.com the importance of community media for the realisation of participatory democracy in Venezuela, as well as the highs and lows experienced by the Tatuy TV project. 


Tatuy Community TV is a community media organisation based in the city of Merida, in the Venezuelan Andes. It came into existence in 2006 through the work of university students involved in alternative and community media projects in the city, with the aim of promoting grassroots communication and community self-organisation. The station is in the process of launching itself as a public broadcaster, after its concession for a public licence was awarded last year.

In October 2012, Venezuelanalysis.com’s Ewan Robertson spoke with Carlos Camacho, a member of Tatuy TV. Originally from Merida, Camacho studied Social Communication at the Catholic University of Santa Rosa in Caracas, before working with Venezuela’s public, community oriented television station, Vive, then voluntarily with Tatuy from 2009. Camacho has also participated with members of Tatuy in organising grassroots communication workshops in towns throughout Merida state.

Carlos Camacho (Ewan Robertson / Venezuelanalysis.com)

Camacho: When I began to work with Tatuy, it was at a very difficult time, because Tatuy had many highs and lows in terms of participation; at one point there were twenty people, then suddenly ten, five, then it returned to being fifteen, and so on. So when I began working with them permanently it was one of those stages of crisis, because there wasn’t any money, there weren’t people, and so we were worried about what we were going to do with the project. Furthermore, as there wasn’t any money and we were paying rent to operate from a small store, we didn’t have a place to go to; and as we had decided to close the store we were operating from, and so that the project didn’t die due to not having a place, we shared out the project’s things between our different houses.

Also, we had already been discussing who could lend us a space for the operation of Tatuy television. We spoke with CANTV [Venezuela’s state telecommunications company] who told us yes, then no, but then yes, then no again, so we didn’t really get a reply. We went to other institutions, but nothing, nothing concrete. Then one day, in conversation with some compañeros [a term referring to a friend, comrade or colleague], we met Juan Lowe, who is in charge of the CUTEM house, the Merida workers’ centre, and we began to talk with him. We participated in meetings with him, and so on, until one day he said “well, good, move yourselves here, take this small space”; a small room that was much smaller than the previous place, a room where there are two computers now, I’m not sure if you’ve seen it? [VA.com: Tatuy moved to the Karl Marx workers centre in Merida in December 2010, and have since greatly expanded the space they use within the centre, with a production room, meeting room, and equipped studio].

Well, that was the room they’d given us and no more. And, well, we began to have a practical work dynamic, we began a new phase of Tatuy, and as there were five or six of us and no more, we began to form the new [organisational] structure. Tatuy hadn’t really had a management structure, until now, where there is collective steering council, and different work areas, and the steering council evaluates, conceives of and works out ideas and issues that are relevant to the work of the [Tatuy] foundation.

Therefore, from then on, Tatuy had a steering council, and began to work according area; training and education, social organisations, or public relations as it can be called, production, and the area of administration. We began working in each of these areas, we opened a training school for some compañeros. Before moving to the new headquarters we had already decided to put three or four colleagues to work in Mission Sucre [a government social program promoting free access to university education], with the Bolivarian University, in order to incorporate students from these programs into the work undertaken by Tatuy. And thanks to that, many of our fellow compañeros who are currently working in Tatuy come from there; they were students, they did their internship with us, and now they work with us, which was the idea, the objective…that the seriousness with which we have worked with Mission Sucre has allowed us to open these spaces of training and education, which are very important for strengthening spaces of [community media] communication in [Merida] state. That is because, in fact, Tatuy has been the only serious proposal for revolutionary communication in Merida state, from my personal point of view.

VA.com: What was Tatuy’s objective when it was born as a project in 2006?

Camacho: The objective was this, and still is: to work in the community, not only with the aim of communication, but that communication should be a tool for the formation of social consciousness in society. And furthermore, to be embedded in this process with socialist values, values of the left, everything that’s been the revolutionary struggle in Latin America, and the processes that have been developing with President Chavez.

Also, in 2007, Tatuy submitted a proposal to CONATEL [the Venezuelan National Telecommunications Commission], a petition for a concession as a public broadcaster. This was practically a fight with the bureaucracy, until it was approved this year [when Tatuy was granted a licence to broadcast on public television, channel 48].

VA.com: And so Tatuy has always done work with visual material since its founding?

Camacho: Yes, thanks to the interests of various compañeros who began this collective, who are the founders of Tatuy. They realised that through the [dominant commercial] forms of communication, society was being damaged, and they said “here, we need to attack this through communication, by promoting revolutionary communication”. So, good, they began to work with community cinema forums. Then, with having a lot of experience of doing cinema forums in the barrios (poorer neighbourhoods), and using one of the participant’s severance payments, they bought their first camara, without even knowing how to work it: knowing how to turn it on and off, but without knowing what its functions were, and just how dangerous, just how important, a visual image could be. From then we began to educate and train ourselves. We got involved with people from the school of media, and the school of theatre, who also have experience in terms of visual images.

VA.com: And this year Tatuy began broadcasting on public television?

Camacho: Yes. In fact, the project was approved last year, for us to be a community TV station with a public broadcasting licence, but we didn’t know exactly when they were going to assign us with a channel. And it was in April, because we were thinking of going on air on for the tenth anniversary of the [failed] state coup [against the Chavez government] of April [2002]. We had been thinking about going on air at that time, but they [CONATEL] still hadn’t signed the contract for the concession. It was a few months after that that the news arrived that we had been assigned channel 48, and that the trucks were on their way to equip us with everything necessary for the studio, the antennae, etc. So, in June, the transmitter started up, and the antennae tower, the panels, the transmitter, were installed.

VA.com: Did the equipment come from CONATEL?

Camacho: Yes, exactly, so: in 2011, they approved the project that we submitted in 2006, five years before (laughs), when the community TV project began.

So, the project was approved last year. What is the project? Equip the community TV station, where the state assigns us a certain amount of equipment, including some cameras, a transmitter, and the master controls: mixer, server, audio consolidator, the minimum basic tools to get a TV station on air. The concession for the signal is for five years. It could be renewed, depending on the state’s criteria and on our work as a community TV station.

Now, I’ll repeat again. The objective of Tatuy isn’t the signal in itself, but education, the formation and transformation of consciousness, so that people identify themselves as part of society, which is a tool for the construction of a socialist society. Also, so that they see Tatuy as part of that society, and they identify with this communicational process for the transformation of our reality. Indeed, one of Tatuy’s slogans is “Tatuy Community TV: portraying reality to transform it”. Tatuy’s first audio-visual production was an interview with Manu Chau., carried out in 2006 or 2007, and when it was being edited, they [the founders of Tatuy] said to each other “and what should we put on the video, who are we? And someone said “no, put Tatuy TV,” and it stayed liked that”. The name Tatuy has to do with the first inhabitants of this area.

VA.com: Another question about the station. You mentioned that there are different working areas: how is decision-making undertaken between participants?

Camacho: Ok, well as I explained to you, Tatuy has an organisational structure with a steering council, then there are the rest of the participants. The steering council has four people, and they evaluate opinion trends, issues in the public sphere, media behaviour, and we have a space for media analysis, for those of us who work in Tatuy. We also have a section for education on audio-visual literacy, cinematic forums and all that. Along with the steering council, general meetings are held, where they inform us more or less what the issues are that we should address in each of the areas, [for example] in the area of audio-visual production, and in each branch of that area, in spots, promos, fictions, documentaries, reports, and in news, and in the branches of graphic design, and we have an area for music too.

Hence, we undertake our work in this way, for example in the area of news there are work teams assigned to a particular day. On Monday it’s Fabricio and Pedro’s turn, and they go out onto the street with their tasks set, as Jessica, who’s in charge of news, compiles information on what’s happening on the street through colleagues we have working in various institutions, the MINCI [Ministry of Communication], the [Merida] state government, the Bolivarian University, in various institutions, and information arrives to us from there as to what’s happening on the street, in communities. It’s not institutions [that Tatuy follows], but communities, because for us, at least in the area of news press, what we want to portray are the processes of organisation within society, so we go and we see this, how this is developing.

Also in the areas of fiction (arts) and the other areas too, people are called on to participate in production in that area. They sit down together, evaluate, define roles, who is going to do the camera work, edit, produce, and we work like that.

VA.com: Do the members of Tatuy TV have salaries? How do you survive economically?

Camacho: Ha, well as I explained to you in my story of how I joined Tatuy, there was a moment in which we didn’t have money, however we have always created projects, and we have received funding from various state institutions. Yet furthermore, something that’s been a relatively continuous source of financing, well I say continuous, more so than from state projects, has been the contribution of our compañero activists, our friends. That is, they work, and perhaps have a job in a state institution, but they personally contribute [to Tatuy] a certain amount each month: not to pay a salary, but to buy the minimum items for production. They contribute, as I’ve always said, so that we at least have a sheet of paper on which to print on (laughs), at least for that, and for a tank of water. But at least they always contribute. However, to obtain a computer, a camera, to put a kitty together to buy items, we have been financed by various institutions. We’ve made documentaries, small reports, etc., and this has more or less been the way: present a project, it gets approved, and the administration (steering council) is responsible for distributing the economic benefits.

Up to now, we don’t depend on a single state institution. The only institution, I’m not going to say we depend on it, but with which we have certain links, is with the Ministry of Communication and Information; which is the contract we have with the concession for public broadcasting, that’s the only link we have with the state right now. From the projects for which we have received financing, the majority of the resources have been invested in cameras and equipment, for production. Also some were used to give an incentive, not a salary that’s received to pay for food and rent, but enough so that people can eat, and we all chip in to eat somewhere, or cook in someone’s house, but it doesn’t cover a person for health, education, accommodation etc. However, we try to cover at least basic needs.

VA.com: Can you say more about what kind or programs you make?

Camacho: Well go figure, we [Tatuy] are now on air, but we’ve not done the official launch of Tatuy as such, it’s been delayed, because we’re in a test phase and we haven’t yet defined the kind of programming we need, as we still haven’t produced enough to launch the station. Right now we have, I would say, of the six hours of programming [daily] that we have [on the channel], we have two hours of our own material, and I think that’s a lot in any case. However the rest are external productions, films, documentaries from here [Venezuela], reports, etc.

Yet, the issues and programming by Tatuy are of processes of social organisation in society. That, more or less, is the subject; the identification of social organisations with collective, musical, cultural processes. This is the main issue, shared out over different genres, in one moment we could show a political report of someone we’ve interviewed, then we could show a musical performance, with activist compañeros from the left, and we can show reports and documentaries that we’ve made that portray the processes of change and formation of social consciousness in Venezuela, Latin America and the world.

VA.com: In your opinion, what are the main differences between community media, and state and private media?

Camacho: For me, a community media outlet is a media organisation that cares about and follows processes of organisation in society. [It is a media outlet] that participates in these processes, that guides them, forms them. Media isn’t just about whoever transmits it, but it is who participates in it, a community media outlet should be like that. In terms of the difference with state media, a state media outlet only reports information from the government, of the state. It reports the [Chavez] government’s advances, in the programming they have in terms of different issues, agriculture, culture, politics, sport etc. It only reports, it doesn’t participate inside of the process, and if it participates, it does so from afar, but it doesn’t get involved in the thick of it.

Meanwhile a private media outlet has many differences, and state media too, because the community media outlet, in its organising structure, it very different from the organising structure of a state or private outlet. Here in a community media organisation decisions are taken collectively; in state media, I don’t know, but I think not, because I worked in Vive and there was one president and various vice-presidents; and so the president made a decision, and the rest discussed to see if it would be implemented or not…and I don’t know what the organisational structure is in a private media outlet, but I imagine that it works in favour of those who manage the private television station.

A private media outlet always uses information as merchandise, and what they do is sell it. Meanwhile the state outlet doesn’t use information as merchandise, but they only use it in the state interest, and the community media outlet uses information as part of the process of organisation.

Furthermore, with community media: think about it. I, through the grassroots communication councils, have gotten to know many community media outlets that have a different logic from the way I think. I’ve known community TV and radio outlets where there isn’t the same dynamic that I’ve known [in Tatuy].  I once worked in Caricuao TV in Caracas, a community TV station. I did a training workshop in Catia TV [in Caracas]. Here in Merida state, there’s only Tatuy, and a community TV station in [the town of] Bailadores. In Tachira [an Andean state bordering Merida] there are many, because it’s said that Tachira is the Mecca, or the Genesis, of all the community TV stations in Venezuela, because it saw the first tests with [community run] radio transmitters, and then television transmission.

Now then, many of these [community] television stations don’t have the same logic [as Tatuy], because they sell advertising…there are norms for community media where advertising is attacked precisely because advertising is one of the tools through which the right-wing, or capitalism, is strengthened. Thus, there are many community media outlets in Venezuela that use advertising, and we; I, and I assume the position of the other members of Tatuy, are against this, because we cannot use advertising to get money: advertising plays with the needs of a person. However, many community media outlets in Venezuela are using it to earn money, which is very contradictory with the logic of grassroots communication, with what is formation of consciousness and organisation in society in its true sense.

VA.com: In your opinion, what is the importance of community media for the realisation of participatory democracy in Venezuela?

Camacho: There is a great debate within the media sector. The large media corporations have appropriated the term “communication”, and the term “media”, they’ve made us used to them [media corporations]. They’ve made us accustomed to the idea that the large media corporations are those that possess the truth, because they have “university training” and are “journalists”.

Therefore, we think that true communication is what is happening in the street, what the people feel, touch, perceive. Inside that process of organisation is a process of communication, and the people have the need to express their struggles and their processes. We think that the term “communication,” or “media” should be defined by one thing, which is participation: that communication should be a tool for social organisation and participation.

Furthermore, we’ve been given this adjective of “alternative” because many people thought that we were an alternative to “conventional” communication, that is, private media. Personally, I don’t think we’re an alternative to anything, but rather we’re the true form of communication, we are authentic communication. This is what media, not just community media, but media, should be. A media outlet should have this social profile, because that’s where there is a real transformation; linking all work with educational processes inside schools and universities, that’s why Tatuy has also participated in the University of the Andes, here in Merida, with various student movements; and with the working masses, Tatuy has also participated a little, in one way or another, in this process [the labour movement], specifically with compañeros from [state oil company] PDVSA.

So, I think authentic communication is that which has this profile, of social organisation, and because of that, it’s important for democracy, as the people can participate, they can participate in the construction of their new society, of society here. Community media also strengthens processes of organisation, people seek to portray themselves, to see themselves, but they also need to be taught how to do it. Because they suddenly say “yes, I want to be on television”…and fine, but the aesthetics of television, radio and print need to be learned too. Thus people, due to lack of knowledge, don’t know how to do all that, and that is where a cultural clash exists, and community media should be there in that struggle, to teach the people.

That’s what I think, or is my perception about communication. Many people say to me “well, you should know because you studied social communication,” and I tell them that the social communication I studied is totally different to what I’m living now, totally opposite to what I’m experiencing now. So, I don’t know, I think I wasted my five years of university study of social communication (laughs), because my practice, my praxis inside Tatuy, has I think been the best university in which I’ve studied.