Caracas, Venezuela, July 25, 2005 —Venezuela launched Telesur today, a new continent-wide television channel that is supposed to “show Latin America through Latin American eyes.” The channel was launched yesterday accompanied by a wide variety of comments from the channel’s advisory board and various short videos. Telesur’s sponsors are the governments of Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, and Uruguay.
The principal speakers for the event were the Telesur’s president, Andres Izarra, who is also the Minister of Communication and Information, and Aram Aharonian, a Uruguayan journalist who has lived in Venezuela for many years and is the publisher of the monthly magazine Question.
Izarra explained in his talk that, “Telesur is an initiative against cultural imperialism and against imperialism in any of its expressions. But this should not be interpreted as an initiative against the people of the U.S.” He went on to highlight the friendship that exists between the people of Venezuela and of the U.S.
Aram Aharonian, Telesur’s director, said, “We are convinced that there is no way to change reality unless we first see it as it is. … this is the largest problems we Latin Americans face. Eduardo Galeano says that for 513 years we have been trained to see ourselves with other eyes, with the eyes of foreigners. Today we begin to see ourselves with our own eyes. We are tired of being told who we are, how we are, and who we should do.” Telesur would allow Latin Americans to see themselves with their own eyes.
Aharonian went on to say, “Nowadays the mediatic dictatorship is trying to supplant the military dictatorship. Big economic powers are using the media and are saying who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist.” According to Aharonian, the mass media need to be democratized.
One such form of democratization occurs via community media. According to Aharonian, “No one doubts the importance of community media, which are truly horizontal spaces of information and step forwards in the democratization, but are by themselves insufficient. We could have hundreds of community media, but if 93% of the audience is controlled by a monopolistic structure, we will advance very little in the direction of democratization.”
Rather, said Aharonian, “It is time to think big, to construct an audio-visual medium with global reach that disseminates a real vision of our social and cultural diversity. It is about a global high quality structure for the transmission of progressive contents; for presenting the reality of the continent in an immediate, truthful, believable, balanced, contextualized form, which stimulates public opinions that are favorable for the integration of our peoples. … It is about promoting cultural diversity so as to strengthen historical memory and the collective identity of our peoples.”
In other words, with Telesur, “We have begun to dismantle the mediatic Latin American latifundio, in which we find ourselves, towards the democratization of the television spectrum.” The term latifundio, normally refers to large unused landed estates.
Also present was the Telesur advisory board, which included a wide variety of left intellectuals and personalities from Latin America, the U.S., and Europe. Included in this board are the Pakistani-British filmmaker and writer Tariq Ali, the Nicaraguan Poet and former politician Ernesto Cardenal, the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, Ignacio Ramonet, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, Richard Stallman, the U.S. journalist Saul Landau, the actor Danny Glover, the singer Harry Belafonte, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, among others.
In his talk to the Telesur audience, Tariq Ali said, “It is extremely important that the states that set up Telesur should see themselves as enablers, that they create the possibility of a completely new type of television channel, so that in terms of the media, we challenge the dictatorship of corporate capital with the democracy of truth. Even though there are many different channels in the world, they all say the same thing. So this notion of diversity is a false notion. This is a television station whose job it should be to encourage creativity, diversity, and debate, including with our enemies.” He then went on to draw a parallel with the Arabic television station Al Jazeera, with which Telesur has often been compared.
The director of Le Monde Diplomatique, Ignacio Ramonet, highlighted how important it has become for countries to enjoy sovereignty over the information that they manage. He mentioned as an example that the April 2002 coup was largely enabled by the media but also undone by a people that has begun to question the media. “A country that does not control its information, that country is not sovereign,” said Ramonet.
The popular film actor Danny Glover, saying how “overwhelmed” he was about the creation of such a TV channel as Telesur also raised a criticism, noting, “I do not see any Afro-descendants from this region on this advisory body, nor indigenous people, and very few women.” “It is critical that we keep in mind who we are talking to,” he added.
President Chavez called in to the inauguration via telephone shortly thereafter and said to Glover, in English, “Danny, I am with you,” with reference to his criticism. Chavez also said, “This [launch] has been a homerun,” and that, “This channel will be vital for the integration of Latin America.”