“The South is Our North,” in Jacobin

In Jacobin no. 25, dedicated to Latin America and the Pink Tide, I have a short article on the problems and promise of TeleSUR.


The promise:

The problem that TeleSUR identified was a real one. Across the region, large television and media conglomerates nearly all had ties to the Right. CNN waved the flag for war after war, and even the more critical BBC still represented Western perspectives. The two Latin American behemoths, Brazil’s TV Globo and Mexico’s Televisa, had respectively been tightly-knit parts of Brazil’s dictatorship and Mexcio’s semi-authoritarian system. Even as the politics in those countries changed, the corporations remained close to old economic and political elites. The same pattern held in other countries — in Venezuela, four media channels were aligned closely with the political opposition to Chávez, cheerleading the failed coup against him in 2002 and assuming a strident oppositional profile in the years that followed.

The problem:

In late 2006, Chávez escalated his conflict with the opposition media, declining to renew the terrestrial broadcast license for a popular channel, RCTV. In an environment of “media war,” it became more difficult for TeleSUR to operate autonomously. Aharonian was forced out in late December 2008, embittered, and many other original staffers departed. Aharonian described the goals of TeleSUR’s new president, Andrés Izarra (who has three times served as Venezuela’s minister of information): “For him it wasn’t about promoting a Latin American identity and doing something different with television, but serving Chávez’s domestic agenda and being a political instrument… The same garbage as the enemy but from the other side.” Izarra, for his part, says he is trying to “construct a communications and information hegemony that will allow an ideological and cultural battle to promote socialism.”

And the conclusion:

But with Chávez gone and the Bolivarian Revolution’s future uncertain, even many Chavistas feel that the project has become too disconnected from reality and needs renewal. The problems of privately-owned media are clear. Building a left media system that is informative, probing, and analytically sophisticated remains a vital task. But without safeguards of editorial independence from the state, the pressures not to challenge its sponsors are likely to be crippling to the mission of journalism, especially in situations in which criticism is conflated with opposition.

TeleSUR can do important work that few others can, but it can’t analyze its own patrons. The task of criticizing the Left cannot be abandoned to the Right, even in moments of crisis. Perhaps especially in moments of crisis.

The whole issue is an interesting document on the international left’s response to the Pink Tide’s rise and decline.

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