SHUBHDA CHAUDHARY | 3 APRIL, 2016
Argentinian Government "Abandons" TV Channel Telesur in Attempt to Muzzle Dissent
NEW DELHI: In an attempt to silence Freedom of Speech and Expression, Argentina’s Television Channel Telesur is facing egregious silencing and abandoning from the government. Currently, Argentina has a 16 percent stake in La Nueva Television del Sur, the company that owns Telesur, whose other shareholders are Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay.
Officials in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Uruguay have shown their support, confirming their solidarity with the channel which also broadcasts in these respective countries. The Spanish language television was started by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez in 2005 to endow a platform to alternative view-points. During the past years, the television has played a pivotal role in shaping a dialectics regarding Latin American Politics and how it is conceived at the international platforms. The Latin American audience has embraced Telesur as an alternative to CNN, as it broadcasts and covers lesser-told stories along with meticulous in-depth analysis.
The decision of Argentina to pull-out from this Venezuelan news channel is being interpreted as a form of serious censorship. In a recent statement, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro charged that Telesur will continue “to defend the true freedom of expression against the onslaught of the extreme right that is emerging”. The news channel also posted a question after this onslaught “Is it Macri’s policy to silence critics of his government? Is this about plurality or censorship?”
Argentinean Minister of Media and Public Content Hernán Lombardi along with Public Communication Secretary Jorge Grecco have officially acknowledged the ‘termination of the Argentinean state participation in Telesur.” They support this egregious action in the disguise of austerity and media pluralism. Lombardi also made a public statement that Argentina has initiated giving up its shares in Telesur because ‘Argentina was shut out of financial and editorial decisions made by the channel.’ The government claims that the broadcast decisions of Telesur have been under the control of Venezuelan President Maduro and Venezuelan government’s political ideology. Lombardi has referred to the television as an “an interesting South American television project” which lacks plurality.
The president of teleSUR fired back at Argentina's communication minister, saying that the journalists of the Latin American regional news network decide on content, not any governments. "Neither Lombardi nor any other minister can choose the content of Telesur," Patricia Villegas said in an interview.
In an article, Telesur that that President Macri has taken these steps to undermine the diversity of media required by law that also includes smaller, alternative outlets. “Telesur cannot disappear. If they ban it in Argentina, millions of Argentines will watch it on the Internet or on social media… we will have to invent a system, but Argentina will not take out Telesur,” stated Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. He has also compared this step to Argentina’s last and abhorrent military dictatorship. Pointing to the media oligarchy, he further bought back to public memory how 30,000 young people disappeared in Argentina between 1976 and 1983.
The President of Telesur, Colombian journalist Patricia Villegas stated that ‘Argentina had decided to “abandon Telesur, without establishing any form of formal communication with the board of directors or the correspondents.” Showing his solidarity, Argentine Nobel Peace Prize Winner (1980) Adolfo Pérez Esquivel also accused the Argentine government of allowing politics to intervene in decision-making and accused it of censorship. He openly stated that Argentinean television channels do not endow an informed public opinion and rather just broadcast business and entertainment related content.
While the Argentine Human Rights organization, HIJOS, which is comprised of the children of people who were disappeared during the country's military dictatorship said the move "fundamentally represents an act of censorship.” In a statement released on 29th March, the social movements described this decision as a violation of freedom of expression. The Assembly of Social Movements for ALBA has defended teleSUR as a regional source of alternative news to counterbalance mainstream media.
The impact of Argentina pulling out of Telesur would have detrimental impact on the bilateral relations between Venezuela and Argentina. It would also cost media broadcasting and restrict freedom of speech and expression within the country. Moreover, it would deprive the natives of Argentina from an informed political-public discourse which Telesur provides. It would also terminate the questioning of government practices which Telesur indulges in, a reason why it is being conceived as a threat. Definitely, the eventual repercussions would defeat the sole purpose of endowing informed public opinion to the masses and deprive them of critical questioning. This definitely forms a media censorship of the highest level, which is against the greater good of millions of citizens.
(Cover photo: The TeleSur set in Caracas, Venezuela in the early days of the TV station's launch).