Vivanco Attacks Telesur: "The Airwaves Are Falling!"

Telesur, the Latin America-wide TV station that is scheduled to begin broadcasting on July 24 with start-up funds from the governments of Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Cuba, is already worrying the anti-democracy crowd in the region, including Human Rights Watch "Americas Director" José Miguel Vivanco.

According to today's Chicago Tribune, Vivanco is calling upon a higher power - God herself! - to help him in his battle to discredit a TV station that he has never even watched. Vivanco said:

"If the shareholders of this company belong to a government like Cuba where they have no basic concept of free speech and zero tolerance for independent views, God help us."

In his panicked announcement that the airwaves are falling, Vivanco was joined by an old ally: Venezuelan coup plotter and media baron Alberto Federico Ravell...

More after the jump... The Chicago Tribune reports that opponents of Venezuela's democratically elected President Hugo Chávez, including Vivanco and Ravell, are absolutely livid about the possibility that with a new TV broadcaster in the region, Telesur could bring about the Commercial Media's loss of its monopoly over Latin American airwaves:

"Critics fear Chavez will use Telesur to project his ideas across Latin America at a time when some media executives and human-rights experts say Chavez has curbed free speech in his own country."

The Tribune writer, Gary Marx, sloppily did not document or explain his claim that free speech has supposedly been curbed in a country where not a single journalist has been put in prison by Chávez's seven year administration, and where Commercial TV stations continue to broadcast knowing falsehoods, and promote coups and upper class riots, with impunity, and without government censorship.

Still, the anti-democracy crowd that Vivanco and Globovision owner Ravell represent are freaking out that instead of censoring speech, the Venezuelan and other governments in the region are simply creating a long overdue infrastructure to allow for more speech. The Tribune reports:

"Alberto Federico Ravell, executive director of Globovision, a local 24-hour news channel highly critical of the president (said) 'Chavez wants to become the leader of Latin America, and this is a project to support him.'"

This is the same Alberto Federico Ravell who, according to the British business magazine, The Economist, was a key player in the 2002 attempted military coup in Venezuela when dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona had Chávez kidnapped at gunpoint and announced that he, instead, would now be president:

"...a group of top media executives rolled up in their limousines for a meeting with Mr Carmona, at the 19th-century Miraflores palace. All had been prominent critics of Mr Chavez’s alleged abuses of press freedom. Gustavo Cisneros, owner of the Venevision television channel and perhaps the country’s richest man, headed the group. Also present were Miguel Henrique Otero, publisher of the El Nacional group of newspapers, Alberto Federico Ravell, chief executive of Globovision (Venezuela’s answer to CNN) and Marcel Granier of the RCTV channel...

"They toasted the downfall of their adversary with 18-year-old Scotch. 'We can’t guarantee you the loyalty of the army,' a presidential guard heard one of them tell Mr Carmona, 'but we can promise you the support of the media.'

"But by the time the media barons met on Saturday, their whole plot was unravelling. Precisely what was said at the meeting is a matter for speculation. But Mr Carmona was overheard telling them: 'In your hands lie the safety and stability of the government.'

"In a desperate bid to hold on to power, the government’s media allies conspired to suppress all news of its difficulties. A regime that had seized power while waving the flag of press freedom spent its 36 hours in office doing its best to keep the truth from the public.

"The censorship which had begun the previous evening, with the first pro-Chavez riots, was tightened. Globovision, Venevision and RCTV blacked out the news completely, running videos of the previous day's inauguration, soothing music and requests to stay at home and remain calm..."

That the media magnate Ravell doesn't want competition for his discredited TV network Globovision is understandable: oligarchs have grown soft and accustomed to being protected from competition. Despite their ideological rhetoric, they don't know how to compete in a widened free market of speech and ideas. But that Human Rights Watch's Jose Vivanco is now attacking the Telesur network that he has never even seen on the air, in light of his three-year silence about the anti-democracy coup participation by Commercial media barons like Ravell, is yet another nail in the coffin of Human Rights Watch's dwindling credibility in Latin America.

Any authentic human rights advocate would cheer the expansion of free speech as represented by a new and different kind of TV network about to hit the airwaves. In a pluralist and open society, more media voices, not fewer, are desperately needed.

Instead, Vivanco's ideological myopia has him running scared - invoking the name of God to help him! - worried not about how the concentration of media power in the hands of a few coup plotters in Venezuela has historically led to widespread human rights abuses and censorship, but about the anti-democracy elite's loss of its monopoly over the airwaves.

With his latest statement, Vivanco, again, places Human Rights Watch against free speech, against a free press, against an open society, and in favor of restricting public discourse only to those voices allowed on the airwaves by the wealthy.

Nobody yet knows whether Telesur will truly open the doors of the media to the people. Or even what its programming will be like. But with the Chicken Littles of simulated democracy like Vivanco and Ravell running around cackling "the airwaves are falling! The airwaves are falling...," Telesur is already comforting the afflicted by afflicting the comfortable.

That, alone, demonstrates why the new TV network is an idea whose time has come.


Self-censorship rules in the US.

Vivanco says that "If the shareholders of this company belong to a government like Cuba where they have no basic concept of free speech and zero tolerance for independent views, God help us." -- While no doubt we have a greater ability to verbalize or write our independent views here in the U.S., is the executive branch of the United States government have any less disdain for independent media? I think we all know the answer is 'no.'

Rather than having government agents knocking on our door (more often than they already do, that is), independent journalists are simply shunned by government officials at all levels of government, and often discredited or ignored by Commercial Media outlets. To think of just one example, the magazine Adbusters more frequently than not has its advertising requests for Buy Nothing Day and other activist events rejected by the TV networks -- the networks refuse the group's money, which amazingly is less important to them than smashing Adbusters' challenge to our sick consumer society.

The White House is only less involved than Cuba in harassing independent writers and journalists, as private-sector self-censorship -- either out of doctrinal or party obedience or simply out of fear of pissing off those in power -- accomplishes the desired task.  

A letter to the media barons of the Americas

Al writes:

Telesur, the Latin America-wide TV station that is scheduled to begin broadcasting on July 24 with start-up funds from the governments of Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Cuba, is already worrying the anti-democracy crowd in the region, including Human Rights Watch "Americas Director" José Miguel Vivanco.

According to today's Chicago Tribune, Vivanco is calling upon a higher power -- God herself! -- to help him in his battle to discredit a TV station that he has never even watched.

This same kind of Orwellian thinking is now being used as the philosophical framework for pulling the funding rug out from under public broadcasting in the USA. These anti-free-speech thinkers contend, in a hypocritical supposed purism, that the government should have no role in funding mass media, that the “invisible hand of the market” must be the only force at play in free speech.

That archaic rhetoric is dead. First, the public airwaves are just that, and why shouldn’t the people have access to those airwaves through the people’s democracy? That is a basic tenet of the “free marketplace of ideas.” What Vivanco and his lot are really advocating is protection of the exclusive power of a wealthy elite to thrust “their marketplace of ideas” upon the people. To them I say, “Move over!” The people are now speaking.

Not only is the view advanced by the “Human Rights Watch” Americas director decidedly undemocratic and in violation of the people’s human right to free speech, it also is decidedly unconstitutional, if our own U.S. Constitution is used as a barometer.

Not only did the founding fathers of the USA frame into perpetuity the freedom of the press through the First Amendment, they also established firmly the people’s right to maintain the infrastructure of a democratic mass media within the original language of the Constitution itself.

U.S. Constitution

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Section. 8.

Clause 7: The Congress shall have the power to establish Post Offices and Post Roads.

That’s right media barons of the world, the U.S. Constitution empowered the U.S. government – specifically, the people’s democratic front, the U.S. Congress -- to create this nation’s first mass communications system: the U.S. Mail.

So the whole argument that government can have no role in protecting and supporting the democratic infrastructure of the mass media in a free society kind of falls flat on its face in the face of that constitutional establishment clause.  In fact, it would be decidedly undemocratic for a society to allow only a few elite wealth-consolidators to acquire absolute control over access to the U.S. Mail – or the infrastructure of the mass communications in general.

The mass media, ultimately, belongs to the people, not the media barons, so get used to it. Vivanco’s letter to “God” voicing outrage with the whole notion of democracy and free speech has been returned to sender.


Telesur Already Driving them Crazy

Six days before it even begins broadcasting, Telesur has the oligarchs of South America - unaccustomed to see or hear anything other than their own echo chamber on the airwaves - freaking out over the prospect of a different kind of TV station.

According to this Reuters report, the Secretary of State of Colombia - his name is Camilo Reyes - threw a fluffernutter:

Colombia on Monday berated a new Venezuela-based television station championed by President Hugo Chavez for featuring the leader of its deadliest rebel group in a promotional trailer.

"I just want to say, Mr President, that it was very painful for Colombia that out of the 44 million decent Colombians, Telesur should choose 'Sureshot' for its first two seconds of broadcasting," Deputy Foreign Minister Camilo Reyes told Chavez during a summit of Andean leaders in Lima.

"Sureshot," whose real name is Manuel Marulanda, is the veteran leader of the 13,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a Marxist group that has been fighting a socialist revolution for more than 40 years.

Colombian media have slammed the appearance of the FARC leader in the promotional video aired in May, and Chavez said "the war against Telesur has already begun."

...The trailer offered a probe into Washington's multibillion-dollar aid program to Colombia aimed at battling drug trafficking and leftist rebels but which critics like Chavez say has spearheaded U.S. military intervention in the region.

Reyes twice told Chavez that Colombia had been upset that Telesur had featured the FARC leader.

"That demands a reply," countered Chavez. "This is about historical events and a bit more sense is required," he added.

Telesur said the image of "Sureshot" was used for one second in an hour-long trailer promoting a documentary series.

Telesur Managing Director Aram Aharonian, a Uruguayan journalist, blasted the Colombian criticism as "ridiculous."

"Do they think 'Sureshot' doesn't exist? I don't know whether this is censure or denial," he told Reuters, adding: "We've never had so much free publicity."

Okay. Fasten yer seatbelts. Expect more free publicity as the upper caste illusion that the airwaves belong only to those who rent them go stark raving mad in the coming weeks...

Countdown to broadcasting...

More Colombian Attacks on Telesur

Camilo Reyes is not the only one among Colombia’s rulers to be freaking out about Telesur. Many elements within the government and the media are running scared and making some truly bizarre accusations towards this new television signal that they see as a threat to their monopoly over information in Colombia.

Though no cable companies in Colombia will be broadcasting Telesur directly, two stations, Bogotá’s independent Canal Capital and the coastal Telepacífico will show certain programs. But after Telesur began to transmit its test signals, the leading national daily El Tiempo, citing unnamed “intelligence” sources, expressed several concerns about some promotional spots:

“… it is no mystery that the channel has a clear left-wing content, especially if one takes into account that Cuban leader Fidel Castro was its inspiration: ‘Let’s make something like our own CNN’ he said some time ago.

“Nonetheless, the test broadcasts for the new channel – which now counts with nine correspondents throughout the continent – have left members of Colombian intelligence agencies anxious.

“These [intelligence sources] told El Tiempo that the channel includes elements related to national and international terrorism and that it shows a negative image of Colombia.

“The president of Canal Capital, Héctor Pinilla, explained that the channel will decide which of Telesur’s offerings will be broadcast and which will not. However, he added that he believes that, on occasion, the governments suffers too much from delusions of persecution.”

Now that’s an understantement if I’ve ever heard one. The outrage over a second-long shot of a young Manuel Marulanda, one of the most important figures in the last century of Colombian history, during an ad for a history program, is not event the most outrageous of these complaints. Another ad

“… shows a young woman in the shower, singing a catchy song whose chorus goes, ‘eta, eta, eta.’

“Her image is shown after a block of Amazonian landscapes and another on the Tunjuelito river in southern Bogotá and its pollution.

The [intelligence] investigators believe that the song is a clear allusion to the Basque terrorist group that, coincidentally, set off several explosions yesterday while the Colombian and Spanish governments attended a join press conference about new bi-national agreements.”

Any Brazilians reading this must be doubled over with laughter, as the woman is singing the well-known song “A luz de Tieta” by Caetano Veloso. Veloso is one of the giants of modern Brazilian music, and the song was the theme to the Oscar-winning 1999 film Orfeu. “Eta,” of course, is not the Basque nationalist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, but a man named Eta, actually a famous literary character, who in the song is “the light” for a girl named Tieta. Pretty terrifying stuff, no?

Spokespeople from Telesur responded quickly, calling out these accusations as the bizarre, paranoid ravings they really are. And people all over Brazil thanked Colombia’s rulers and media simulators for the funniest thing they had read all week.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.