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....

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.


Friday, June 03, 2005

While I'm a fan of the 'Daily Show,' McManus, of the fine watchdog group Grade the News, is absolutely on the money here. As a college professor, I encounter evidence that young people are "tuning out" the news every damn day. It has gotten to the point where I actually had to explain to some students exactly what Bush's Social Security reform proposal was so that I could proceed to criticize the news media's coverage of it. Of course, as our collective quality of life deteriotates in the coming years thanks to the misrule of the plutocrats, maybe some of them will develop an interest in current affiars. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

When the 'Daily Show' Becomes Your News
By John McManus, Grade the News. Posted June 2, 2005.
What does it say about journalism when young people use “fake news” as their primary source of information?

So many people -- particularly young people -- tell me they now get most of their news from Comedy Central’s "Daily Show," I decided to record it for analysis.
Jon Stewart is a brilliant comic. Watching his show I learned more about national stories like the confirmation hearings for John Bolton, the Bush administration’s proposed United Nations ambassador, than I read on the front pages of some American newspapers.

But the "Daily Show" makes no pretense of being real news. It skims the events of the day for the comic or ironic. It pokes fun at journalism’s hallowed conventions of accuracy, objectivity and fairness. And while you may learn something about national and international events, it doesn’t cover local news.

What does it say about journalism when intelligent people claim a program that prides itself as “fake news” is their primary source of information about current events?
Turning away from real news makes no sense. Not for those interested in democracy’s promise of self-government, certainly. Not even for those seeking more entertaining alternatives to news.

It defies economic logic.

When a product becomes more useful, more available and cheaper, you would expect its popularity to soar. It happened with automobiles, television, computers and cell phones.
But oddly, not journalism. News has never been so valuable, so accessible and so inexpensive. Yet study after study shows Americans under the age of 40 have never valued it less.
News is about change

The purpose of journalism is to help people make sense of change. Driven by technology, the world around us has never changed so rapidly.

A hundred years ago, if you knew little about the world you got along fine. Then, what labor was paid in China didn’t affect workers in California. Only the most cataclysmic distant events mattered at home.

Today ignorance of world affairs can take food off your table as corporations hire globally and fire locally. What’s being discussed by militants half a world away today may take more than your job tomorrow. The radius of news that matters now spans the planet. Distance is obsolete.
The reach of government has also expanded from 100 years ago, making political news more valuable. Government decisions now affect almost every aspect of life – from the quality of air and water to schools, transportation, job availability, public safety, even spotted owls.

Technology has also exponentially increased the volume of news available. On cable, satellite, and the Web, a world of news outlets has bloomed – from main stream media to bloggers -- almost all offering information for free.

Yet polls, circulation numbers and Nielsen ratings show unmistakably that Americans under 40 are following current events less than their parents. Even less than their parents and grandparents did when they were young.

Eighteen to 24-year-olds may be the Internet Generation, but a recent poll found only 11 percent use the ‘net to learn of current events. Not surprisingly, other polls show those under 40 know less and care less about politics.

A democracy, more than other forms of government, is a continuous contest for power among many constituencies. Nearly everything not nailed down by the Constitution is up for grabs.

Groups that don’t know what’s going on are sure losers in our system.

Young people at risk
The effects of youthful disengagement from news may already be evident. Arguably, young people are the least likely to benefit from the Bush administration’s policies.
• The burdens of war always fall hardest on the young, who risk life, limb and psyche.
• The proposed privatization of Social Security won’t change the system for those about to retire, but it raises risks for younger workers.
• The Medicare drug benefit is aimed at the elderly. The federal health program helping the most young people is Medicaid. The administration proposes to cut billions from its budget.
• And the growing federal budget deficit is shifting debt from current to future tax-payers.
Madison's warning
When you abandon the news, you don’t lose your vote. But you may lose its effectiveness.
Unaware of their records and policies, you may elect politicians indifferent or hostile to your interests. And when people organize to promote their agenda before school boards, city councils, county supervisors, state legislatures and congress, your place at democracy’s table will be taken by someone else.

Almost 200 years ago, James Madison warned that “knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

In the information age, Madison’s words ring truer still.

John McManus is director of Grade the News — a media research project focusing on the quality of the news media in the San Francisco Bay Area.