TeleSUR, a Latin American channel "South" of global media issues

Article  by  Gustavo GOMEZ MEJIA  •  Published 17.11.2010  •  Updated 24.11.2010
TeleSUR is a multistate company based in Caracas, Venezuela, whose official ambition is the "integration of Latin American peoples".

Summary

Introduction

Set up as a multi-state company based in Caracas in Venezuela, Nueva Televisión del Sur – better known as TeleSUR – is a television project which states “the integration of the Latin-American people” as its official aim. The project consists of a TV channel that is “freely broadcast by satellite” and on its website, which acts as the centre of its multimedia content. The “El Canal” section on their site introduces TeleSUR as being “the only 100% Latin American information channel, established in 2005 as the reference for communicating our America to the world, with news being broadcast 24/7”.
 
TeleSUR started broadcasting on the 24th July 2005, the anniversary of the birth of Libertador Simón Bolívar, hero for the independence of South American countries. From the moment the Venezuelan government endorsed the project in 2005, TeleSUR has claimed to be a “Bolivarian” project, revived by Hugo Chávez’s administration, which obtained the support of many left-wing South American State leaders in order to create the channel. TeleSUR has brought together Venezuela (51% of shares), Néstor Kirchner’s Argentina (20%), Fidel Castro’s Cuba (19%) and Tabaré Vázquez’s Uruguay (10%) as a multi-state public company with an initial capital of 2.5 million dollars.  10 million dollars more have been invested in technology by the Corporación Venezolana del Petróleo, a State company that is a subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) [+][1].
 
After the victories of both Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, these two countries also joined forces with TeleSUR in 2006 and 2007 respectively. A transfer of 10% of Venezuela’s shares thus completed the channel’s shareholding: Venezuela (41%), Argentina (20%), Cuba (19%), Uruguay (10%), Bolivia (5%) and Ecuador (5%) 2. Since 2007, Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua has also been considered as a shareholder of TeleSUR, although its exact holding has not been specified. In 2009, Uruguay’s holding was reduced to 7%. Lula da Silva’s Brazil, concentrating on the launch of its own international TV channel “TV Brasil”, has not become financially involved in TeleSUR, but gives it airtime in Brazil [+][2].
 
Figure 1: Logo and signature of the TV channel TeleSUR

As made apparent by its motto “Our North is the South”, TeleSUR’s emergence is linked to many geopolitical and media issues. The project emerged in the midst of a political situation characterised by the search for South American integration possibilities, within which a grouping of left-wing representatives has given rise to economic, technical and cultural co-operation initiatives at a regional level. The creation of TeleSUR therefore came at the same time as many other multi-state projects, called the “Big National” projects (grannacionales), instigated by the Venezuelans, such as “The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA)”, the “People’s Trade Treaty (TCP)”, and the “Bank for the South” or the “Pipeline for the South”, amongst others.
 
On the media front, this new Latin-American cooperation gives life to the Chavist desire for the “creation of a TV channel that would broadcast worldwide the news and films from the South”[+][3] . TeleSUR aims to be “a Latin American media serving the community, which strives to direct and promote the progressive union of the Southern people”. The omnipresence of the “South” as a theme, defined as a “geopolitical concept that promotes the people’s struggle for peace, self-determination, respect, Human Rights and social justice”, implies certain media issues related to the channel’s positioning in relation to an implicit “North”, represented globally by multi-national giants, such as the American channel CNN or its regional arm, CNN in Spanish. TeleSUR’s “Pan-Latin Americanism” project intends to rival a group of “oligopolistic” channels that broadcast their “Latino” versions from Atlanta or Miami in terms of audience and content.

Figure 2: Extract from the launch of TeleSUR’s site in 2006
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A channel focused on programming

TelesSUR’s intention to become an alternative media to the leading non-stop news channels relies on supplying an approach to the region’s media image that will not merely be “representative of one particular reality” as it is considered to be in the North‘s broadcasting. The channel’s objective is to go as far as offering the “development of a new communication paradigm for Latin America”, which has resulted in the constitution of a team of Latin American journalists committed to a fight against the “homogeneous rationale of large corporations”.
 
Headed by the Venezuelan Minister for People’s Power for Communication and Information, Andrès Izarra, and having had the Uruguayan Aram Aharonian as its first president, TeleSUR’s “counter-hegemonic” project united a directory of renowned Latin American journalists such as the Colombian Jorge Enrique Botero and the Brazilian Beto Almeida, as well as an International Advisors Committee including such personalities as the Anglo-Pakistani Tariq Ali, the Americans Danny Glover and Richard Stallman, and the Spaniard Ignacio Ramonet 21. Today, under the presidency of Izarra, the network has eleven permanent correspondents in the main Latin-American capitals and in Washington, as well as 22 collaborators elsewhere on the continent and in Europe.
 
In opposition to – in Izarra’s words  – the “information dictatorship”, “latifundia medias”, or “cultural imperialism” of the privatised broadcasting scene dominated by the North, the programming vision of a “public service channel with global coverage” broadcast from Caracas took shape. Internationally, these adopted convictions have earned TeleSUR certain more or less ironic names such as the “Anti-CNN”, “Al-Bolivar” alluding to Al-Jazeera, “TeleChávez” or even “TelePoor”. The reaction of Connie Mack IV, Florida’s Republican Representative at American Congress, set a geopolitical precedent when, as the channel was being launched, he accused TeleSUR of being “a threat to the United States” that is attempting to “undermine the power balance in the Western hemisphere”.
 
The channel’s Pan-Latin American programming aims, according to which “if integration is the goal, then TeleSUR is the media” encourages multiple related interpretations that range from the “decolonisation” or “Southernisation” advocated on the level of the Continental broadcasting scene, to strategic interpretations in the way of a “media war” on a global geopolitical level. Specialising in a Latin American production of news, opinion and documentary contents, broadcast on the radio in Venezuela and freely by the NSS806 satellite throughout America, Western Europe and North Africa, TeleSUR’s notoriety is based on its editorial policy and access to exclusive images, as well as its cooperation agreements with other Southern television networks.


Video 1: TeleSUR advertisement for its first birthday in 2006
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A left-wing, South-oriented editorial line

News dominates TeleSUR’s broadcasting content, with an editorial policy that prioritises the coverage of Latin American news. Their programme schedule includes televised news, shown in thirty minute slots known as “Noticias TeleSUR”, which is normally programmed in every hour, seven days a week with the aim of broadcasting minute by minute a global perspective of the processes that decide the future of the Latin American people”. Noticias TeleSUR also consists of a daily program in Portuguese. At 8:30pm, En vivo desde el SUR, presented live by the Colombian Patricia Villegas, offers a look back on “the most important events in Latin America and the world”, alternating news items and the observations of “social leaders, analysts, rulers and authorities”. The channel’s information offerings are completed by the programs “Agenda Abierta” and “Dossier”, along with “Reportajes TeleSUR”’s investigations.
 
This intense news coverage is alternated with different features: documentaries (“Memorias del Fuego”, “Vidas”, “Presidentes de Latinoamérica”), economic programmes (“Impacto económico”), cultural programmes (“Vamos a conocernos”, “Realidades”, “Destino Latinoamérica”), sports (“Deportes TeleSUR”), and opinion programmes (interviews with Jorge Gestoso, “Mesa Redonda Internacional” broadcast from Cuba). The highlights of the weekly program with Hugo Chávez, called “Aló Presidente”, are broadcast on Sundays at 11pm. TeleSUR’s programs are interspersed with self-promotional adverts and some spots are introduced as being sponsored by the Venezuelan petrol company PDVSA.
 
Like its two information sections that are geographically organised on the TeleSUR site – Latin America” and World Tour” – the channel’s editorial policy prioritises the handling of Latin American news covered by its own network of correspondents and collaborators. Proclaiming from the very start to want an “individual schedule” – in complete contrast to the “commercial medias” – TeleSUR is characterised by its live coverage of regional integration happenings (UNASAR or ALBA summits), as well as by the attention it gives to left-wing gatherings (“Cumbre de los Pueblos”, “Social Forums”)[+][4]. With these editorial specificities, the channel has uncovered a niche in the mediatisation of the internal tensions of some of the region’s countries: with a spectrum that ranges from social community movements to State political crises, TeleSUR often manages to obtain firsthand information from a network of privileged representatives for the NGO, active party members, intellectuals, human rights defenders, unions, victims and minorities, amongst other active sectors of civil society.
 
Considering the regional political divides, certain of TeleSUR’s side-taking editorials gave birth to certain suspicions regarding the channel’s proximity to opposing political parties, causing regional controversies. Regarding Colombian politics, suspicions of the channel’s supposed links to the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas seems to have been what motivated the detention of one of its correspondents in 2006, and are also at the source of the news releases in which the channel has been forced to justify itself – in one particular case by clarifying that certain “proofs of survival” of hostages being held had been sent directly to them by the FARC and that they were not responsible for filming them. With this is mind, the Colombian Army feigned the presence of TeleSUR journalists within a committee of fake Red Cross delegates, succeeding in deceiving the guerrillas during Operación Jaque, which led to the liberation of Franco-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt in 2008. Furthermore, during the Honduran coup d’état, TeleSUR teams were able to capture live images and interviews of the fallen Constitutional President Manuel Zelaya, until they were arrested by Honduran armed forces. The rerun of TeleSUR’s media images of the presidential summits, as well as of political crises and hostage liberations, has allowed the channel to gain a specific reputation as an established source to the left and South of the global media scene.
 
Video 2 : TeleSUR’s coverage of the 2009 Honduran coup d’état
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A South-South axis in the geopolitical approach to information

When not concentrating on Latin America, TeleSUR has shown itself to be particularly critical of the United States regarding their military incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan, labelling them “invasions”. This position is even more apparent when it involves the United States’ military operations in Latin America, such as the implementation of combined training or the installation of US bases in the region. Just as the channel portrayed the navy manoeuvre Partnership of the Americas of 2006 as a map of the Continent bathed in red, this defensive position is more than evident with numerous people voicing their “condemnation” of the “Washington” bases on the air with TeleSUR.
 

Figure 3: TeleSUR’s image representing the “Partnership of the Americas” carried out in April 2006.

Alongside the geopolitical positions taken on Northern military power, the channel sympathises with the pro-Palestinian cause in the Middle East conflict. In May 2010, when the Turkish fleet going to aid Gaza was seized by the Israeli navy, one of TeleSUR’s collaborators, David Segarra, was amongst those held captive. The channel described him as a “survivor”. The publicising of this outspoken critical stance towards the United States and Israel has gotten the channel tangled up in international geopolitical divides, which has led to cooperation agreements between TeleSUR and other strategic partners on a South-South axis being established.
 
Video 3: TeleSUR’s coverage of the Israeli attack on the Turkish humanitarian fleet,
May 31, 2010

The movement of both Hugo Chavez and TeleSUR president Andrés Izarra – who was also Minister of Communications and Information until 2008 – within the Venezuelan diplomatic world, enables them to secure strategic partnerships for the channel within other bilateral cooperation agreements. Since 2006, TeleSUR has been developing a partnership with the Qatari television channel Al-Jazeera, which “involves the two Medias in an exchange of informational content, staff training and technical resources”. The Palestinian Dima Khatib, head of Al-Jazeera’s Latin American office in Caracas, plays an important role as mediator between TeleSUR and the Gulfian channel. This opening up of the Middle East also includes Syria, where TeleSUR has opened a correspondents’ office. Other agreements signed between Venezuela and China and Iran establish a certain communicational “understanding” between TeleSUR and the State television channels – CCTV and IRB – of these two countries.
 
With the aim of establishing “a new order in communications”, these international alliances are also supported by the steps taken to encourage the broadcasting of TeleSUR in Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau) and other regional communication media networks. Working under a Creative Commons licence for intellectual ownership that allows for its contents to be constantly put back into circulation, TeleSUR is hoping to maximise its reach on a South-South axis by creating as many channels of distribution as possible. 
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Conclusion

With regards to multi-State media innovation, TeleSUR has managed to fill the available niche in the Latin American media market. Bringing together both the “Bolivarian dream” and the “counter-hegemonic” objective of breaking the news “monopoly” of CNN, TeleSUR is in a strong position, having adapted to a geopolitical situation that was favourable to the cooperation initiatives envisaged by the Southern hemisphere. While in the beginning, TeleSUR declared that it would have “some 65 million Latin-American viewers for its free view programs and some 5.5 worldwide viewers for its cable programs”, it is important to note that these figures were for a potential audience and contrast with a real audience estimated at “between two and seven million” viewers, although it is difficult to give an exact figure.
 
The public financing of TeleSUR – Venezuelan for the majority – tends to encourage a politicised development for the channel, one that is inseparable from Hugo Chávez’s diplomatic advancement. Therefore, TeleSUR’s acquisitioning of channels of distribution on an international scale relies less on the long term management of the channel than on voluntary ideological affinities. To the detriment of TeleSUR’s “Pan-Latin American” assertions, the expansion of the channel is subject to the strategic links that Venezuela has managed to establish thanks to the benefits of its active cooperation with oil resources. Taking into account the budgetary and political opacity of the project, Venezuelan opposition is questioning TeleSUR’s consequences and describes the channel as an “over-developing body” that, as the pure result of the investments it represents, “is spreading” more than it “knows”. Even though, from a media point of view, the exclusive coverage of certain Latin American events awards the channel a certain “international recognition”, its impartiality is constantly questioned due to its proximity to the Venezuelan powers.
 
From a geopolitical standpoint, TeleSUR’s strategic alliance with Al-Jazeera represents a growth in reputation as well as the possibility of sharing production costs. In terms of audience numbers, TeleSUR’s presence on video sharing platforms opens the possibility of an alternative means of distribution through the infinite networks of the Internet: at the moment, TeleSUR’s progression on YouTube means that the channel is sometimes amongst the Top 100 “most-watched” channels in the world in the “reporters” category. Far from the generalist aims of the initial project, opportunities such as these rely on a targeted audience – geographically in the South and politically left-wing. Beyond the potential advantages of working in this very specific sector, TeleSUR’s current positioning carries a major risk: the dissolution of the editorial fingerprint of a “Latin American” specificity in favour of an amalgamation with other national television channels (VTV, TVes, ViVe) that make up the System of Public Media of Venezuela, all coordinated by MINCI. In the context of the media scene’s polarisation and the opinions that surround Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution”, such a prospect could easily affect not only the credibility of this channel – already suspected of “propaganda” and “ideologisation” – but also the political (more than financial) support that the governments of TeleSUR’s affiliated countries offer.


Translated by Leah Williams
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Bibliography

Raquel Álvarez de FLORES, "Comunicación para la Integración. El reto de TeleSUR", Segundo congreso de investigadores venezolanos de la Comunicación, Invecom, 2009, p. 8 
 
Sally BURCH, “Telesur and the new agenda for Latin American integration”, Global Media and Communication, 3, 2007, pp. 227-232
 
Andrés CANIZALEZ et Jairo LUGO, "Telesur: Estrategia geopolítica con fines integracionistas", Revista ConFines. Vol. 1, No. 6, 2007. pp. 53-65. 
 
Hortense Faivre d'ARCIER-FLORES, "Telesur: une nouvelle forme de communication ?", Revue Autrepart, n° 41, 2007. 
 
James PAINTER, Counter-Hegemonic News: A case study of Al-Jazeera English and
Telesur. Reuters institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, 2008.
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  • 1. Andrés Cañizález and Jairo Lugo, “Telesur: Estrategia geopolítica con fines integracionistas”, Revista ConFines, vol. 1, No. 6, p. 56.
  • 2. Raquel Álvarez de Flores, "Comunicación para la Integración. El reto de teleSUR", Segundo congreso de investigadores venezolanos de la Comunicación, Invecom, 2009, p. 8.
  • 3. Hugo Chavez, speech from February 21, 2004, quoted by Hortense Faivre d'Arcier-Flores, “Telesur: une nouvelle forme de communication ?” (“Telesur: a new form of communication ?”), Revue Autrepart, n° 41, 2007.
  • 4. Principios y valores periodísticos de TeleSUR
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