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News > Latin America

TeleSUR President Opens up About Why the Channel Must Survive

  • Patricia Villegas

    Patricia Villegas | Photo: AVN

Published 11 September 2016

teleSUR President Patricia Villegas gave a frank interview during her trip to Argentina to convince President Mauricio Macri not to cut the channel.

teleSUR President Patricia Villegas sat for an interview at the teleSUR headquarters in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government is trying to cut the service.

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“I'm going (to Caracas) with the satisfaction of having come to raise my voice, which I lifted in all places and situations,” said Villegas. “I also spoke to the government of (Argentine President) Mauricio Macri, telling them with a lot of clarity and courtesy that they are censoring the voice of teleSUR in this country and that we warmly recommend that they review and reverse the decision.”

Below is an excerpt from the interview. It can read in full here.

What was your main argument?

“You cannot talk about taking away from plurality. teleSUR has become a place where you can tell stories that are not told elsewhere, from perspectives not found elsewhere worldwide. The work is professional and technically spotless, and unlike any other channel offered on television in Latin America or the Caribbean. Argentines must have the option to have it so they can decide whether they want to watch it or not.”

Was the response that it is a Chavista channel?

No, they did not say it that way. I would have liked them to admit it. They spoke of more plurality. But they diminished it. Of more austerity. I asked them not to talk about money because they would do badly in those terms. They complained that the Argentine government could not influence content. That’s dangerous. In other words: a state recognizes that a channel’s existence depends on how much it can influence its programming.

And do other countries affect programming? Does the Venezuelan state influence content?

Every year, teleSUR’s member countries meet to discuss not the content, but the direction of the channel. We present our best coverage and the forecast for the next year. Together, we conduct a political, cultural and economic analysis of the regions and of the member countries and write up a strategic plan of action on the content and even format.

For example: "Let’s bring back the feature format," or, "Let’s work on the construction of memory in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the world in general." People do not know what happened yesterday but remember what happened 10 years ago, 20 years ago.

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The rest is mythology, right? I have been asked many times, many years ago, how often Hugo Chavez would call me in a day to demand I put in or remove content. That never happened, it’s not true. Presidents—including of the member countries of teleSUR—do not have the time to call teleSUR to tell us to add or remove content.

People say this all the time to discredit the work of teleSUR, and what I respond is that this station, this platform—with its successes, mistakes and all of its imperfections—is the product of intense work by very committed people who understand that teleSUR is more than a job. For over a thousand people around the world. That’s it.

teleSUR placed much importance on peace in Colombia while the issue was still very undeveloped. Why?

Because those are the kinds of stories that teleSUR has decided to expand on, also because it's an invisible reality hidden by mainstream media.

If you review the press, radio or Colombian and international television from 11 years ago, you would only see reports of war: dead soldiers, dead guerrillas, the narco-terrorist group FARC. But behind those headlines were men and women of Colombia who were victims of war, and we took the editorial position of being on the side of the victims—to tell their stories, to make them visible.

That cost us a lot. We have been persecuted and intimidated just for showing the relationship between those guerrillas and the communities. Journalists from teleSUR—all, but particularly those in Colombia—are very moved from so many years of covering conflict, now covering a moment of brotherly peace, because it is tough to see people die from something that could be settled with a word and debate in another space. That's what I hope for Colombia. For us, post-agreement coverage will be a challenge.

Is there a Venezuelan challenge, too?

Our ideal coverage would be of the defeat of the economic war. I hope that resistance by the people of Venezuela will allow us to have a good ending.

To what extent has the Venezuelan government not been able to, not wanted to and not known how to build in terms of industrialization and improving economic efficiency?

A large extent. I couldn’t tell you what percentage because I don’t have that vast a perspective the problem. One problem it has, to answer you now, is understanding people and not numbers. teleSUR is headquartered in Caracas. We pay for much of our operation outside of Venezuela, but we constantly deal with credit lines blocked on either side in order.

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Venezuela, then, is under economic blockade. It’s not like the one in Cuba, nor is it a recognized state policy of the United States. In Venezuela, the financial blockade is invisible. These invisible threads are what made me say with certainty that we are living in an economic war, which in part comes from what was not done, what was not finished and what went wrong.

We have to remain a public television station, that is multi-state, bringing together not only states, but also social movements, while generating our own resources. It must be a mission for teleSUR to continue with our level of development, growth and production capacity without relying on Venezuelan oil revenues.

If we have learned nothing from this crisis, it means that we have not been able to generate our own resources, because nobody is in crisis forever and these are cycles. And this doesn’t apply to any channel. What if you're watching a documentary on teleSUR on the right to land or the right not to have genetically modified foods, and up pops a Monsanto ad?

Peace in Colombia, economic war in Venezuela. What other topics are important to teleSUR?

I don’t know if other journalists around the world have had to cover as many coups as Latin American and Caribbean journalists in last ten years. We were born on July 24, 2005. At that time, a party of North Americans reacted to our birth by taking down our emerging channel.

But the true birth of teleSUR was during its coverage of the 2009 Honduran coup. That coverage involved several journalists, of course, but notably Marayira Chirinos, Adriana Sivori and Madelein García. There are children in Honduras who were named Adriana, Marayira or Madelein as a product of the intimacy that was created.

There is a very strong relationship between our teams and social movements across the continent, who see in teleSUR a real possibility to not distort, to not be used. It happened to us the same in the department of Cauca, in Indigenous communities in the south of the country, with relatives of the disappeared in Ayotzinapa who only want to speak to teleSUR. It happened to us in Brazil.

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Alvaro Garcia Linera (Bolivian vice president) said that history does not move in cycles that always begin, develop and end in the same way, but in waves. How have these waves passed through teleSUR?

Argentina is in a year of legislative elections. We can see how the electorate reacts to the social and economic situation of the country, which has a significant influence. Colombia will hold presidential elections without an internal armed conflict for the first time in 50 years. Brazil's municipal elections. Nicaragua has elections this year. Commander Daniel Ortega has an 80 percent favorability rating among voters. Venezuela has pending elections. They have yet to announce dates for municipal elections, which will also be key to knowing what happens to the map.

There will be no recall referendum this year, right?

Right. The authorities of the Electoral Council—who determine the rules of the game in Venezuela and are a public power like the executive, legislature and judiciary—have said no because there’s not enough time, but that there could be a referendum next year.

So it’s no use thinking about a static story. We also have elections in the United States. Barack Obama is leaving, after receiving a vote of confidence even by much of the Latin American left for being a Black man. It seems that everything that's happening and everything that's to come will be a challenge. Those that say the progressive cycle has ended in the region are not making their calculations well.
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