Sunday, June 05, 2005

Finally, a well financed, politically progressive challenge to the hegemony of the big (American) media conlomerates. It'll certainly be an experiment worth following....

MEDIA-LATIN AMERICA:
New Regional Network of the South is BornHumberto Márquez
CARACAS, May 24 (IPS) - Telesur, a regional public TV network envisioned as a Latin American version of the Arab world's Al Jazeera broadcasting group, was officially launched Tuesday at a ceremony in the Venezuelan capital. The fledgling broadcasting company is jointly owned by Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay and Venezuela.

"After 513 years of looking at ourselves through foreign eyes, we Latin Americans are beginning to see ourselves through our own eyes," said the director of the new regional network, Aram Arahonian, a Uruguayan journalist based in Venezuela for the last 18 years, at the official ceremony. Venezuelan Information Minister Andrés Izarra, the chairman of Telesur, reported that the new network has already invested roughly 10 million dollars in facilities, equipment, and the leasing of a satellite.

The first brief broadcast on Monday consisted of a 10-minute video reflecting what Telesur aims to be, nationally televised in Venezuela and aired on TV networks in other countries of the region. These first images emphasised the social struggles and progressive movements of Latin America, including statements from indigenous organisations, scenes of street protests against free-market economic policies and U.S. meddling, and footage of students attending schools in poor, working-class neighbourhoods. Also shown were photographs of leftist icons like legendary Cuban-Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara and former Chilean socialist president Salvador Allende, overthrown in a 1973 military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.

Telesur "will indeed be biased, towards promoting Latin American integration, diversity and plurality, and against the uniform point of view imposed through the privately owned media's control of information," Aharonian told IPS. The Telesur director added that the new network is a response to the current "media latifundia", an allusion to the system of land ownership in which enormous areas are controlled by a single private owner.

Left-leaning Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been a driving force behind Telesur. He has promoted the initiative at numerous international forums over the past year, asking, "Why do we have to be told everything we know about ourselves by a network from the North, like CNN? Why this media dictatorship?"

When former Ecuadorian president Lucio Gutiérrez was removed by Congress, Chávez admitted he found out about it on CNN. In response to a reporter's question of whether the new network will be fully devoted to spreading the messages of state TV networks in the participating countries, Aharonian stressed that if it were only used to broadcast speeches by Chávez and other presidents, "we would have to take it for granted that no one would watch it. If this were to turn into a propaganda tool, we would all leave."

The brief promotional segment that premiered Monday will be repeated in a number of countries until Jul. 24 - the anniversary of the birth of Simón Bolívar, founding father of South American independence and fervent proponent of the integration of the region's nations - when full-length programmes will begin to be aired, followed by 24-hour broadcasting as of mid-September.

News and current affairs will account for 40 percent of all programming, according to the Telesur board of directors, which includes Beto Almeida from Brazil, Jorge Botero from Colombia and Ovidio Cabrera from Cuba. In addition to a full-length newscast, a morning news and analysis show and other current events programming, brief news updates will be aired every half hour. Other regular segments will include a showcase of Latin American filmmaking, past and present, entitled Memories in Development (a play on the title of the classic Cuban film Memories of Underdevelopment), and another featuring movies from non-Latin American countries other than the United States, called Nojolivud (the Spanish phonetic spelling of "No Hollywood").

Another segment, Memories of Fire, will be entirely devoted to documentaries. "Last year, there were 646 documentaries filmed in Latin America, according to the figures we have gathered, but only 21 of them have ever been shown. We will be providing a space for all of these productions," said Aharonian. There are also plans for regularly scheduled shows dedicated to music, regional travel and tourism destinations, agriculture, and survival in the large urban centres of Latin America.

Telesur plans to air programming produced by both privately owned and national and local public TV stations, as well as community, university and independent producers. The network will also have a branch devoted to promoting regional TV production dubbed the Latin American Content Factory. But while the programming directors will be open to submissions from all sources, their decisions will be based on high standards of quality in terms of both content and form, said Aharonian. When Telesur is fully functioning at the end of the year, viewers will be able to tune in throughout the Americas, in western Europe, and in the northwest tip of Africa, according to the network management.

"This is a challenge we have always dreamed of pursuing," said Gabriel Marotto, the Argentine media undersecretary. "We are counting on providing a different vision of our reality, and on the fact that this will be a TV network run by states, and not by governments," he added.

Venezuela owns 51 percent of the shares in the Empresa Multiestatal Telesur, Compañía Anónima, as the Telesur broadcasting company is officially known, while Argentina owns 20 percent, Cuba 19 percent, and Uruguay 10 percent. "But more than a financial or commercial operation, the participating states are taking part in Telesur for a political purpose, which is to foster the integration of our peoples," stressed Izarra.

In view of the notable absence of Brazil - which has come to play a leading role in regional integration - Izarra noted that the project is still open to the incorporation of all other Latin American nations. Venezuela provided the start-up financing for the network, while the other shareholding partners are contributing programming, equipment and staff, he added. Botero, the head of news and current affairs programming, reported that local bureaux have already been opened in Brasilia, Bogota, Caracas and La Paz, and will soon be followed by others in Buenos Aires, Havana, Mexico City, Montevideo and Washington, D.C.

(END/2005)

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