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Monday, July 25, 2005

New Latin American Satellite Network goes on air; minister fears jamming by U.S.

Telesur Goes on the Air Under Fire from U.S.

MONTEVIDEO, Jul 22 (IPS) - Sunday will be the first day of broadcasting for a new Latin America-wide TV network aimed at competing with U.S. and European international news stations.

Telesur, an initiative led by Venezuela, the majority shareholder, is also being financed by the governments of Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay, and will gradually become available on local cable TV channels around the region and on the DirecTV satellite system, said Venezuelan Information Minister Andres Izarra.

But the minister warned that the U.S. government could attempt to jam the station's broadcasts, which will initially cover four hours a day: "Our technological capacity is limited, and the United States is obviously superior in that aspect... We do not rule out the possibility of having to seek other routes, besides satellite, to air our programming."

Even before the content of Telesur's programming has become clear, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment Wednesday authorising Washington to create a station that would broadcast exclusively to Venezuela to "provide a consistently accurate, objective, and comprehensive source of news."

"Your tax dollars at work"??
Through its embassy in Washington, the Venezuelan government responded that all continent-wide cable and satellite stations already operate freely in Venezuela, where most of the local media outlets are not only privately-owned, but are controlled by the opposition.

The sponsor of the amendment in the U.S. legislature, Republican Rep. Connie Mack of the state of Florida, described Telesur as a threat to the United States that would undermine the balance of power in the western hemisphere and spread Chavez's "anti-American, anti-freedom rhetoric."

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Telesur is based on a multi-state concept, with the participation of a number of different stations with their own agendas, limitations and visions. Nevertheless, Telesur's programming will be directed by a central office, headed by Colombian journalist Jorge Enrique Botero.

"Almost by definition, government media are instruments of self-propaganda. Could Telesur be an exception? It's possible, above all because of the involvement of Aharonian and Botero, who have proven throughout their long professional careers to have a good sense of timing, of knowing the right time and place for everything," professor Olga Dragnic commented to IPS.

"In accordance with the ideologues from both the North and South who fervently defend the U.S. postulate of the free flow of information, Telesur should be seen as the exercise of that freedom," added Dragnic, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela and a member of Media Watch.

What some consider nothing more than a propaganda tool created by left-leaning Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is viewed by others as a major step forward on the long march towards a new world informational order, begun 40 years ago by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Left-leaning, ELECTED Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. But - unlike Connie Mack and the others who voted yes on his bill - I'll reserve judgement for now on the degree to which this new network is a propaganda tool or merely providing needed balance.

Update, 7/26/2005: the amendment mentioned in the article is H.Amdt 477 to House Bill H.R.2601, the State Department FY2006-2007 Authorization bill. The amendment was passed by voice vote - no one raised any comments at all in opposition. The comments introducing the bill start on page H6126 of the Congressional Record.

I did not find a corresponding Senate amendment addressing broadcasting, but did find a related amendment, SA.1285 to H.R.3057, which would authorize $2M for the National Endowment for Democracy to operate "democracy programs" in Venezuela, which was "agreed to in Senate by Unanimous Consent." H.R.3057 itself, btw, is fascinating reading (It's the Foreign Operations FY2006 Appropriations bill).

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