May 26, 2005

A Latin-American Aljazeera?

A new Latin-American television network had its first test transmissions on Tuesday.

Telesur logo

Telesur — a joint venture bankrolled by the governments of Venezuela, Uruguay, Argentina, and Cuba — plans to broadcast news, documentaries, and other programming produced in Latin America. The hopes that some Latin Americans have placed on the network has already led it to be nicknamed El Jazeera and Al Bolívar. Detractors, however, are calling it Telechávez because of the network's funding from the leftist government of Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez

Telesur's website describes its programming this way:

24 horas diarias de programación hecha en Latinoamérica, por latinoamericanos. Pluralidad de voces, variedad de enfoques. [24 hours daily of programming done in Latin America, by Latin American. A plurality of voices, a variety of approaches.]

Telesur has has already obtained satellite time, and its programming will be available to viewers in North and South America, as well as in western Europe and Africa. Current plans call for news and current affairs to take up 40 percent of the network's airtime. To support this goal, Telesur has already opened bureaus Brasilia, Bogota, Caracas, and La Paz. Additional bureaus are planned for Buenos Aires, Havana, Mexico City, Montevideo, and Washington, D.C.

Although Telesur has barely gone on the air, the network already has its critics, who say it will be a propaganda mouthpiece for the governments that are funding it, especially that of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

But Telesur's president Andres Izarra, who is also Venezuela's information minister, denied any ideological agenda.

"This will be a window through which we will be able to know and view ourselves... but it's not a weapon to promote political models and views," he said.

Marcelo Ballvé of Pacific News Service says that Telesur will have a tough row to hoe if it wants to attain the stature of an Aljazeera:

It's true: Latin American audiences need a broadcaster with a Latin American lens, open to documentaries and capable of reporting on Latin America with empathy, sophistication and depth. Even on local 24-hour news channels and CNN Español there is often better coverage of European and U.S. news than of coups in the Andes.

But can Telesur become more than a niche player? In the Middle East, Al Jazeera's success was due to its ability to project a relatively independent voice in a landscape dominated by censored media. In Latin America, media began slipping out of state control in the 1980s. In that sense, Telesur is the reverse of Al Jazeera: a statist reply to a mostly privatized landscape.

Venezuelan officials say Telesur content may be incorporated into the broadcasts of state-owned channels like Venezuela's state TV; the municipal TV station in the city of Montevideo, Uruguay; and Argentina's Canal 7 network. These media, in turn, would create programming for Telesur.

What are these TV stations like? Argentina's "long-suffering" and "poorly programmed" Canal 7 (according to local media historian Pablo Servín) has the worst ratings of Argentina's five free networks. State media here also are tainted by a history of serving as mouthpieces for governments, including the junta that disappeared and tortured tens of thousands of people in the 1970s.

That is another question for Telesur: the far from exemplary history of state-influenced media in the region, baggage that Latin Americans are familiar with, since they unwillingly viewed the boring or propagandistic programming for decades. Telesur will interact, on a day-to-day basis, with broadcasting partners that still respond to state media bureaucracies. Telesur's board includes at least two veterans of state media: a Cuban media worker and the chief of Argentina's Canal 7.

Telesur expects to be broadcasting a limited schedule of news and documentaries beginning in late July. A shift to a full 24-hour schedule is planned for September.

Telesur's website [in Spanish] is here.

Via BBC and Pacific News Service.

Posted by Magpie at May 26, 2005 12:00 AM | Media | Technorati links |

Es muy difícil pronosticar lo que puede suceder con esta cadena prácticamente gubernamental en el mundillo de la TV latinoamericana, y especialmente en el ámbito de los países del Cono Sur, que recientemente han votado sus gobiernos de izquierda. Habría que esperar un poco para ver el desarrollo de esta TV, pero creo que va a influenciar principalmente a la zona del Caribe y norte de sudamérica, por la influencia del Sr. Chavez en ella.
It's very difficult to preview what can happen with this nearly "official" TV chain, in the "world" of latin american TV, specially in the southernmost countries of S: A. where people has just elected their new "leftist" governments. It should de wise to wait a little to see the magnitude of this TV, but I believe it will influence mostly the Caribbean and Norther part of South America, because of the influence of Mr Chavez in it.

Posted by: Raul de Uruguay at May 26, 2005 07:24 AM