Venezuela Launches Cable News Station

This month Venezuela will launch a pan-Latin cable channel aimed at providing citizens with news tailored to a Latin American audience. Telesur is the brainchild of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The creation of this channel comes at a time when countries in the region are exercising greater control over their economies, natural resources and their news.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Latin American politics has taken a noticeable turn to the left. Eight South American countries are governed by leftist presidents with nationalist platforms, who are highly critical of the United States. They're seeking greater control over their economies, natural resources and, in some cases, their news. Venezuela, the fourth largest supplier of oil to the United States, launches a cable television station this month that will offer news and documentaries to a Latin American audience. Brian Ellsworth has a preview.

BRIAN ELLSWORTH reporting:

The documentary show "Memorias del Fuego," or "Memories of the Fire," promises to provide a panoramic view of the tumultuous politics of 20th century Latin America. Trailers for the program show images of demonstrators clashing with armed troops with a popular Argentine ballad playing in the background.

(Soundbite of "Memorias del Fuego")

ELLSWORTH: The show's producers say it will give viewers context to understand current events in Latin America, like the recent upheavals in Bolivia and Ecuador. The show is only playing on Telesur, a new venture that many are calling Latin America's version of the BBC or Al-Jazeera.

(Soundbite of "Memorias del Fuego")

ELLSWORTH: The station is the brainchild of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose leftist platform includes massive social spending and an open animosity towards the United States. Chavez's adversaries accuse him of being a populist demagogue, and US authorities describe him as a negative force for the region. But his supporters celebrate his effort to promote unity among Latin American nations, an effort that is the driving force behind the creation of Telesur. This month with the participation of countries like Brazil, Colombia and Cuba, Telesur will begin broadcasting a combination of news and documentaries produced by and for Latin Americans. Aram Aharonian is Telesur's general director.

Mr. ARAM AHARONIAN (Telesur's General Director): Telesur has the purpose to see Latin America with Latin American eyes. We have been seen by foreign eyes, and they see us in black and white, and we are a continent in technicolor.

ELLSWORTH: Aharonian says Latin Americans almost always get news about neighboring countries from agencies with headquarters in the United States or Europe. He says Telesur will cut out international intermediaries by opening news bureaus in eight Latin American countries and the United States. Critics of the project says Telesur is simply a mouthpiece for President Chavez to boost his influence in the region. Alberto Ravell is the president of Globovision, a 24-hour news station that is highly critical of President Chavez.

Mr. ALBERTO RAVELL (Globovision): I think it's a propaganda channel to show who President Chavez is to the rest of the countries of Latin America.

ELLSWORTH: Ravell points out that Telesur's president is the Venezuelan information minister and a close ally of President Chavez. Critics also insist the Chavez government will dominate the station's programming because it put up $2.5 million to capitalize the project. Other participating countries are only contributing with equipment and labor. Teasers for the upcoming programs illustrate the growing mistrust of the United States present in many of the governments that support the project.

(Soundbite of "Hidden Threads of Plan Colombia")

Unidentified Man #1: (Through Translator) Who are the North American military officers who traffic drugs and weapons in Colombia? Who judges them?

ELLSWORTH: One documentary called "Hidden Threads of Plan Colombia" promises a critical investigation of US military involvement in Colombia, Venezuela's neighbor. President Chavez is harshly critical of US activity in the region. But the trailers also show high-quality production, including Telesur's station plugs reminiscent of MTV advertisements.

(Soundbite of commercial)

Unidentified Man #2: (Spanish spoken)

ELLSWORTH: Telesur will begin broadcasting its programming on July 24th and will launch a full-length news segment by September. For NPR News, I'm Brian Ellsworth in Caracas.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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