- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2005

What do Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and Al Jazeera have in common besides contempt for the United States? A 24-hour news network starting this month or next. Mr. Chavez is using his government’s oil money, funds from Mr. Castro and other sources to create “Telesur,” a “counter-hegemonic” Spanish-language network modeled partly after Al Jazeera. Latin intellectuals have long wanted media alternatives to CNN and Los Angeles-based Univision. Maybe that’s why South American governments including Argentina’s and Brazil’s are helping fund Telesur. But we figure they’ll yearn for CNN when they see what a strongman, a dictator and Al Qaeda’s favorite channel can do to the truth.

For one, Telesur’s director, Uruguayan journalist Aram Aharonian, seems more interested in thwarting the United States than in conveying the truth. He calls the United States “the enemy” and the Iraq War “genocidal.” In a March interview with La Jornada, after giving nods to Messrs. Castro and Chavez, he promised a free editorial line — with the exception that he’ll broadcast “nothing against regional integration or the struggle against neoliberal globalization.” That’s Marxist for nothing favoring the United States. He praises Al Jazeera and welcomes the comparison. “Al Jazeera wants to show the Arabian point of view and Telesur wants to show the Latin American point of view,” he told the New York Sun in March.

It’s no reassurance that the president of Telesur’s board, Andres Izarra, is also Mr. Chavez’s information minister. Incredibly, Mr. Aharonian says that won’t affect Telesur’s coverage. No wonder the critics are already calling it “Telechavez.”

Certainly the money trail indicates anti-American inspiration. So far no private investors have emerged. Only governments, with Mr. Chavez’s being the largest backer, are funding Telesur. Mr. Castro’s 19 percent stake says something, as does the fact that Mr. Chavez is using his country’s oil money. Next week, Qatari Emir Hamad Bin-Khalifah Al Thani reportedly will meet with Venezuelan officials to talk shop and deepen ties with Al Jazeera.

Some prominent Latin journalists are already sounding the alarm. Argentine journalist Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists told the New York Sun that he thinks Telesur is “hypocritical” and warns that Mr. Chavez could use it to promote a government agenda. Danillo Arbilla, a former president of the Inter-American Press Association, wrote that Telesur has “clear extra-journalistic” objectives and could end up among the region’s many “instruments of propaganda.”

The most objectionable thing about Telesur could well be its marketing. Mr. Aharonian is selling the network as a “people’s CNN.” Latin America could use its own CNN, and deserves a media outlet that covers Latin America better than an American network can. But Telesur is not that network. With funding from the same governments that repress freedoms and imprison their enemies, it will instead be a political tool for despots and strongmen.

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