<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Welcome Telesur to the Struggle to Light Up the Skies

Notes on the Civil War Between Media from Below and Media from Above


By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

July 24, 2005

The same Commercial Media mercenaries who spent recent years trying to convince the public that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is not popular (and therefore illegitimate) have now changed their tune. Gone are the days when the Juan Foreros of big media told us that “Mr. Chávez has… managed to rankle nearly every sector – from the church to the press to the middle class” as he did three weeks prior to the attempted 2002 coup in Venezuela. Win enough elections, and I guess that dog eventually don’t hunt. The new spin is that the man in the red beret is more dangerous than ever precisely because he is too popular, not only in Venezuela, but throughout América. Now it’s his “ideas” that must be stopped.


The catalyst for the current round of shrieking is the advent of the regional TV network Telesur, funded by the governments of Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and Cuba. Telesur began broadcasting at 12:15 p.m. today, the 222nd birthday of Simón Bolívar, The Great Liberator who dreamed of a united América (“he is not dead,” Chávez said at a ceremony earlier today. “He has returned”). Not since the 1981 launch of MTV has a television network received so much attention before it hit the airwaves. Some are comparing Telesur to CNN. Others are comparing Telesur to the pan-Arabian network Al-Jazeera. Chávez’s international opponents view the nascent TV network with horror, as something akin to Venezuela developing the atomic bomb: Oh no! He’s coming into our living rooms!

What’s at stake is much bigger than one man (Chávez) or one TV station (Telesur). An authentic rebellion against the real center of power in this world (that is to say, against the Commercial Media) has finally gained traction. We, of the Authentic Journalism renaissance, may indeed look back at this moment someday as having brought a decisive, historic shift in the saga of how humans evolved around media and vice versa. The Civil War of Journalism has arrived: media from below against media from above. A photograph made of words is therefore in order, to explain the context and to set the stage. Lights! Camera! Action! Good morning, América. You’re on the air!

The Media Is the State

A decade ago, taking note that Commercial Media had supplanted powers once reserved for governments and Civil Society, a very small group of communicators began discussing the problem between them. They were in New York City – “the media capital of the world” – and they vowed to each other Quixotically to tilt their lances and charge up the hill together at the electronic windmill. One of them wrote and sang “The Sky Is A Landfill,” pleading “turn your head away from the screen, oh people.” Another penned a manifesto – The Medium Is The Middleman: For a Revolution Against the Media. They did not spark any revolution. They did anger enough of the hands that previously had fed them (the aforementioned media middlemen) to bring setbacks upon themselves. One did not make it to today. The other almost didn’t, but he writes to you right now.

These memories are no longer bitter. The sweet smell of change is in the air. It took many years and many more kilometers to find that somewhere else in a country called América there were others – many others, including perhaps you, kind reader – also holding up lonely candles against the same media-imposed silence and darkness. Today there are so many candles lit in the cause of all América that the candles no longer flicker alone and sky is no longer just a landfill. The “wind from below” has begun to clean the airwaves, the sky dreams aloud of being a sky again, and human beings dream now of being human again.

Journalistic Zapatismo


Marcos by Latuff
The suggestion that a different kind of media could be invented came to many us first through the communiqués of Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas. From our suffocated outposts around a world gone mad with money and technology, each new missive from the indigenous rebels of the Mexican Southeast brought us oxygen. We had to learn two things, first, to be able to receive them: how to use email, and how to read in Spanish. We had to learn many things after that in order to be able act upon them. The future of journalism and communications was happening in those communiqués but the journalists were (and continue to be) the last to take note of it.

Marcos, the writer (the journalist!) found humor in the seeming futility of launching “a war of words” into the din of an over-mediated world, where ideas do not easily gain traction. From his earliest known essay, the 1992 “Chiapas: The Southeast In Two Winds, a Storm and a Prophecy,” first published in 1994, he addressed the problem of media. His text brought the reader along on a tour through the impoverished Mexican state of Chiapas:

In Ocosingo and Palenque, Cancue and Chilón, Altamirano and Yajalón, the Indigenous people are celebrating. A new gift from the supreme government has made life a little happier for the peons, small landowners, landless campesinos and impoverished inhabitants of the ejidos. They have been given a local radio station that reaches the most isolated corners of eastern Chiapas. The station’s programming is fitting: Marimbas and rap music proclaim the good news. The Chiapaneco countryside is being modernized. XEOCH transmits from the township of Ocosingo and can be found at 600 Mhz AM from four in the morning till 10 at night. Its news shows abound with lies. They tell of the “disorientation” that “subversive” lay-workers spread among the peasantry, the abundance of aid credits that are never received by the Indigenous communities, and the existence of public works that have never been built. The viceroy is also given time on the air so that he can remind the population with threats that not all is lies and rap music; there are also jails and military bases and a penal code which is the most repressive in the Republic. The penal code punishes any expression of discontent. The laws against demonstrations, rebellion, inciting to riot, etc., demonstrate that the viceroy is careful to maintain everything in order…

Marcos reported the existence of a different voice, a voice “from below.” He called it a wind…

Not everyone hears the voices of hopelessness and conformity. Not everyone is carried away by hopelessness. There are millions of people who continue on without hearing the voices of the powerful and the indifferent. They can’t hear; they are deafened by the crying and blood that death and poverty are shouting in their ears. But, when there is a moment of rest, they hear another voice. They don’t hear the voice that comes from above; they hear the voice that is carried to them by the wind from below, a voice that is born in the Indigenous heart of the mountains. This voice speaks to them about justice and freedom, it speaks to them about socialism, about hope…the only hope that exists in the world. The oldest of the old in the Indigenous communities say that there once was a man named Zapata who rose up with his people and sang out, “Land and Freedom!” These old campesinos say that Zapata didn’t die, that he must return. These old campesinos also say that the wind and the rain and the sun tell the campesinos when to cultivate the land, when to plant and when to harvest. They say that hope is also planted and harvested. They also say that the wind and the rain and the sun are now saying something different: that with so much poverty, the time has come to harvest rebellion instead of death. That is what the old campesinos say. The powerful don’t hear; they can’t hear, they are deafened by the brutality that the Empire shouts in their ears. “Zapata,” insists the wind, the wind from below, our wind.

After midnight on January 1, 1994 when the Zapatistas seized four city halls in the region, they also seized another seat of power: the XEOCH radio station. From its occupied studios they broadcasted their declaration of war against the Mexican state and against the global neoliberal economic system. On May 28 of that year, Marcos, in another communiqué, joked, “Yesterday we ate the XEOCH’s control console and two microphones. They had a rancid taste, like something rotten.”


“These old campesinos say that Zapata didn’t die, that he must return. These old campesinos also say that the wind and the rain and the sun tell the campesinos when to cultivate the land, when to plant and when to harvest. They say that hope is also planted and harvested. They also say that the wind and the rain and the sun are now saying something different: that with so much poverty, the time has come to harvest rebellion instead of death.” – Subcomandante Marcos
Photo: D.R. 1998 Al Giordano
That was the same communiqué in which Marcos introduced the character of Old Antonio, the chain-smoking indigenous elder who adapts the legends in the ancient Maya book, the Popul Vuh, as modern-day parables: “Old Antonio told me that the golden people were the rich, the whites, and the wooden people were the poor, the ones who forever work for the rich. They are both waiting for the arrival of the corn people. The rich fear their arrival and the poor hope for it. I asked old Antonio what color was the skin of the corn people, and he showed me several types of corn with different colors. He told me that they were of every sort of skin color, but that nobody knew exactly, because the corn people don’t have faces.” It was also the same communiqué that the hunted rebel spokesman issued the much-quoted postscript: “To those of you who are wondering if Marcos is homosexual: Marcos is a gay person in San Francisco, a black person in South Africa, an Asian person in Europe, a Chicano in San Isidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, an indigenous person in the streets of San Cristóbal… He is every minority who is now beginning to speak and every majority that must shut up and listen. He is every untolerated group searching for a way to speak, their way to speak. Everything that makes Power and the good consciences of those in power uncomfortable – this is Marcos. You’re welcome, dear sirs of the Attorney General’s office. I’m here to serve you… by filling you full of lead.”

Maybe you were reading it then. Or maybe you have read it since. Or maybe you are reading those words for the first time today, in which case you may notice, with a smile, that these are the words of a writer on fire. He’s not writing for money. He’s not auditioning for a sinecure at a glossy magazine or elbowing his way up the ladder to a movie deal. He’s not trying to impress anyone in power. In that essay, he was threatening to shoot them. And that is how he won his freedom of the press at an hour when no other writer enjoyed it.

Again and again, in what now number hundreds of communiqués, the Zapatistas have returned to this quest of “searching for a way to speak.” And they showed the world that the path to authentic freedom of speech does not require sucking up to the Commercial Media, but, rather, by treating it as the adversarial force that it is. For most of the past twelve years, for example, after the national network TV Azteca broadcast a plethora of knowing falsehoods about the indigenous struggle, the Zapatistas have simply refused to talk to the network. And instead of relying on newspapers to tell their story, they tell it themselves, in their communiqués.

Most impressive is that they get their communiqués published in newspapers and across the Internet in full, without editing or censorship. For those of us communicators who have struggled for years against editors and bosses to be able to speak freely through the media, what Marcos achieved as a writer – winning the previously unthinkable right to publish his texts exactly as he submitted them – was an astounding feat. It did not go unnoticed that he and his compañeros first had to take up arms in order to create that editorial space.

When the Mexican government took two Zapatista militants as prisoners in 1996, the rebels seized XEOCH radio again, provoking the state to free their comrades. But as Zapatismo evolved, its doctrine of autonomy from below instead of seizing existing power structures became more refined on the matter of media: Two years ago, the Zapatistas, without pleading license or permission from the government, simply erected their own radio network – Radio Insurgente – broadcasting in Spanish, and the Maya languages of Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal and Chol, on five FM frequencies blanketing the state. And the official station, XEOCH, has withered into irrelevancy.

In Latin America there have long been popular models for unlicensed radio in the service of popular struggle, such as Radio Soberanía in Bolivia’s coca-growing region of the Chapare. In Caracas, Venezuela, the pioneering independent neighborhood television network Catia TVe arose from the barrio, challenged, and won from its government the right to broadcast. In recent years, as we’ve wandered around América with our candles lit looking for the people who were also holding candles and also once thought they were alone in it, we’ve introduced these people to each other, and to Narco News readers, through the School of Authentic Journalism and other projects and reports.

What we have lived in recent years is nothing less than a hemispheric laboratory solving the problems of media and communications between peoples. As the Zapatistas of Mexico developed the model for a different kind of journalism, media and speech from below, Community Media stations like Catia TV in Venezuela would hand the Commercial Media its defining defeat – in Napoleonic terms, its Waterloo – and show the world what media from below can do in April of 2002.

The Turning Point

Part of the Commercial Media’s self-perpetuating and profitable mission is to mask how powerful it really is. The rise of media as the seat of power was a silent coup, unspoken, unseen. In place of reporting that story – indeed the most significant story of the late 20th century in terms of its impact on people’s daily lives – its “journalists” kept telling us that we had governments, elections, that we could choose the men in power. After all, election campaigns are very profitable for media companies, the primary beneficiaries of all that advertising. It’s the perfect con. It maintains the public illusion that we live in “democracies” and can choose who makes decisions for us.

And since things often go awry, the media provides a never-ending list of scapegoats to point the finger at, including elected officials, who simply get replaced by another elected official, who promises “change,” and only those who can raise buckets of money (that is to say, who serve the interests of those who have it) can get near the microphone and have a chance at competing. The golden rule of this con is that presidents can come and go, governments can change hands from one party to another, as long as none of these cowards confront the economic powers of which Commercial Media is gatekeeper.

Your alienated manifesto-writer noted in 1997 that “a popular revolt against media… upon gathering sufficient steam, may in fact have the effect of forcing the powers behind the screens to uncloak.” A year later, in a country called América, a former paratrooper and once-imprisoned leader of a failed rebellion, Hugo Chávez, won an election for the presidency of Venezuela. But the Media’s script for yet another politician promising change to be domesticated did not go according to plan. A major fissure erupted between the Media and the State and its repercussions – including today’s launch of Telesur – are still exploding.


Charlie Hardy displays a Venezuelan newspaper with an article censored by a pre-Chávez government at the 2003 Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico.
Photo: D.R. 2003 Jeremy Bigwood
It did not take long for the traditionally cozy relationship between the Venezuelan Media and the State to sour. The first bad blood occurred when Chávez’s government told the big newspapers and giant TV chains that they would have to pay taxes just like any other business. In the past, the Media companies were so grateful at the privilege of making barrels of cash tax-free that they allowed previous governments to put official censors in their newsrooms. (I’ll never forget the amazed looks on the faces of the students and professors at the first Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in 2003 in Mexico, when columnist Charlie Hardy came up from Venezuela and unveiled old copies of the dailies El Nacional and El Universal of Caracas with entire articles whited out on page one: this was standard operating procedure prior to the arrival of Chávez).

The big media barons were also upset that the Chávez government would not harass the small, neighborhood, Community TV and radio stations that were gaining popularity parallel to his own rise. The truth is that, prior to 2002, the Chávez government, although it did not repress the Community Media movement, did not embrace it either. That came later. But it was a thorn in the side of the Commercial Media that these small TV and radio stations from below existed even though, being nonprofit, they did not compete for advertising money. Miguel Angel Martínez, president of the private-sector Chamber of Radio Broadcasters has railed that the Community TV and radio stations are “illegal,” should be shutdown, and has publicly advocated that commercial broadcasters “interfere” with the low-power signals of the smaller media from below. The motives for such threats probably have more to do with the role that the Community Media stations are playing in Civil Society’s rising political consciousness: Nothing is more annoying, or discrediting, to professional liars than pesky truth tellers showing them as such with regularity. On the day that the Commercial Media can no longer maintain public illusions will be the day that its entire racket crumbles.

Another factor in what is now an adversarial relationship between the Chávez government and the Commercial Media is that Chávez didn’t just tax or criticize the media – he became the media. In 2000, Chávez started his own TV show – Alo Presidente! – and with a very different format than, say, the weekly radio monologues by George W. Bush in Washington or Vicente Fox in Mexico City. Every Sunday, on VTV - Venezolana de Televisión (Channel 8) – and Radio Nacional Venezolana (RNV) – Chávez brings all his cabinet secretaries into the studio (sometimes the show goes out into the provinces, too), as well as a live studio audience, and he takes phone calls from the public. If a caller mentions, say, a problem at a local school, Chávez then calls the Education Minister up on camera, asks him how the problem will be fixed, and comes back a week later to report how the problem was fixed.


President Hugo Chávez on the set of Alo Presidente!
Photo: D.R. 2002 Al Giordano
Alo Presidente! is immensely popular. It usually goes on for many hours. And Chávez – much like the Zapatista spokesman, Marcos – has a powerful sense of humor, irony and showmanship. The former political prisoner-turned-president is also extremely well-read and knowledgeable on subjects of interest to the public. He tells folksy stories from Venezuelan history, sings popular songs, and explains in common language how the government works. It is also on Alo Presidente! that Chávez frequently makes statements that garner international attention, like his 2003 criticisms of Bush’s war in Iraq that had the beltway bandits all in a dither. He’s even read Narco News – and other pesky tellers of inconvenient truths – live on the air! In other words, he’s driving his adversaries crazy by making better media – and, through the open phone lines, media that is closer to the people, that doesn’t just talk at them but also provides a forum for their grievances to be aired – than the “professionals” are able to offer without jeopardizing their carefully constructed illusions about society.

So, as everybody now knows, in April of 2002 the Commercial Media in Venezuela, including international media companies that “report” about Venezuela, participated openly in fomenting and supporting a violent coup d’etat.

Or maybe not everybody knows yet? In which case let’s take a brief stroll down amnesia lane and summarize our report when it happened: Three Days That Shook the Media, in which an elected president was kidnapped at gunpoint by rogue military officials as the Commercial Media – national and international – shouted in unison a big lie, that “Chávez resigned.” A new “president,” oilman Pedro Carmona, was installed. His first actions were to shut down the public television and radio stations, raid the Community TV and radio stations, dissolve Congress and the Courts, and launch a house-by-house search to round up members of Congress, political leaders, journalists, and others that were unlikely to recognize his legitimacy.

Media barons like the aforementioned Miguel Angel Martínez signed the decree supporting the Carmona “government.” The New York Times cheered the coup in an editorial. Its correspondent Juan Forero dispatched an immediate puff piece titled “Manager and Conciliator – Pedro Carmona Estanga.” The Inter-American Press Association, the trade group of the owners of commercial daily newspapers in América issued a statement cheering the coup: “President Robert J. Cox said today that political developments in Venezuela demonstrate to nations throughout the world that there can be no true democracy without free speech and press freedom.

As Le Monde Diplomatique reported, the military vice admiral that led the coup went on national TV, on the Venevision network, and boasted, “We had a deadly weapon: the media. And now that I have the opportunity, let me congratulate you.”

And there they were, our deer in the headlights: the Commercial Media uncloaked, bearing its anti-democracy teeth, and the first grand battle of Journalism’s Civil War began.

A then 32-year-old worker at the Catia Community TV station that had been raided and shut down by the coup forces, Blanca Eekhout, and her colleagues gathered and decided to fight back. They went to the closed public television station, Channel 8, broke the padlocks off the doors, overpowered the police, and put the station back on the air with a call for the people to fight back against the coup. As Chávez minister Jesse Chacón later acknowledged, the recovery of Channel 8 was “owed, in great measure, to the help given by Community Broadcaster Catia TV. Its people were already taking great risks, among them their lives, but they helped to retake the transmitter. Their lives were in danger throughout those days. Their own headquarters had been raided. They succeeded in escaping. They took their cameras and stayed mobile, as did the people from Radio Perola. There was a very fierce persecution against them, something that has not been reported in the daily newspapers.”


Blanca Eekhout
Photo: D.R. 2003 Al Giordano
Masses of Venezuelans came down from the hills surrounding Caracas, and from within its working-class and poor neighborhoods, and went not to government palaces but to the real control rooms to take their country back: they surrounded the big TV stations and newspapers, as Maurice Lemoine reported in the above-linked Le Monde Diplomatique story: “terrified journalists broadcast an appeal for help on air – conveniently forgetting that they were supposed to be on the rebel side. ‘We too are part of the people; we too are Venezuelans and we are doing our duty. It is not possible that the supporters of Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez… should consider us their enemies.’

And so Pedro Carmona would go down in history as “dictator for a day.” The coup collapsed, and the elected president was restored to power. One of the heroines of our story, Blanca Eekhout, of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, is now the director of the public television network she and her colleagues brought back to life.

One of the most moving moments that your formerly alienated manifesto-writer lived to report came two months later in Caracas, as 40 Authentic Journalists from the Community TV and Radio stations in Venezuela filled the chairs in a makeshift studio at the Catia public hospital for that Sunday’s broadcast of Alo Presidente! No longer held at arms length by the Chávez government, this was the day that the heroes and heroines of the decisive battle received his grateful embrace. As the president entered the room, and the program went live to the nation on public TV and radio, our colleagues stood up, but they did not applaud politely as most folks do when a head of state walks in. They raised their fists in the air – to remind their president of where true power comes from, which is from below – and they sang…

De pie cantar, que vamos a triunfar / avanzan ya banderas de unidad / y tú vendrás marchando junto a mi / y así verás tu canto y tu bandera / al florecer. La luz de un rojo amanecer / anuncia ya la vida que vendrá,

De pie marchar, que el pueblo va a triunfar / será mejor la vida que vendrá / A conquistar nuestra felicidad / y en su clamor mil voces de combate se alzaran / dirán canción de libertad / Con decisión la patria vencerá.

Y ahora el pueblo que se alza en la lucha / con voz de gigante gritando; adelante!

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

That translates as:

Singing on our feet that we are going to win / the flags of unity advance / and you will come marching next to me / and there you will see your song and your flag / upon blooming, the light of a red dawn / that already announces it will come

Singing on our feet that we are going to win / it will be a better life that comes / We will win our happiness / and in the clamor of a thousand voices of combat it will be reached / offering a song of freedom / with decision the country will win

And now the people have reached the fight / with the voice of a giant, shouting, forward!

The people united will never be defeated! The people united will never be defeated!

And what else could Chávez do but to sing along?

The Media War to Come

It has been entertaining to watch the hysterical reactions to today’s big event: the launch of Telesur. From the tantrums by media barons and a prominent human rights simulator the other day, to the U.S. Congress’ resolution to launch a propaganda TV or radio network into Venezuelan airwaves (reported by Dan Feder here on Friday), the idea that Alo Presidente! will be taking calls now from all América has stirred the hornet’s nest and virtually assures that Journalism’s Civil War will soon escalate.

Nobody knows – not even the staff of Telesur, I suspect – what the new network is going to be like. And so this is a moment for those of us whose thirst for truth makes us soldiers of Authentic Journalism to take inventory of what information and weaponry is available, and which troops can count on each other if the going gets rough.

What do we know about Telesur? It will be a different kind of TV network in that it will not have commercial advertising (although it will have “sponsors” much like some public broadcasters have, to what degree of intrusion is unknown). With its funding ($5 million dollars, half from Venezuela, half from other governments) it won’t, at least for a while, have to obey the advertising or stockholder classes, and therefore it potentially allows for the voices from below to speak more loudly to more people. Telesur indeed does have the potential to cause a kind of explosion: a super-nova blast of speech on a continent whose voices have been suppressed by the mass media from the first day that television existed to the present.

Thus, it is taking heavy flack before it even broadcasts. As U.S. Congressman Connie Mack (R-Florida) railed the other day in his warnings about Telesur: “Chavez readies to launch his own television network patterned after Al-Jazeera to spread his anti-American, anti-freedom rhetoric… Hugo Chavez is an enemy of freedom and of those who support and promote it. He is a threat to the United States and stands to undermine the balance of power in the Western Hemisphere. Today America has sent a message that we will not turn a blind eye as Hugo Chavez continues to snuff-out freedom and hijack Venezuela from its citizens.”

There are ways that power overreacts, at times, that make its darkest fears come to life. The “show” that Mack is describing – that “the balance of power in the Western Hemisphere” is about to shift and the gringos are going to have a conniption about it –would certainly cause a lot of viewers to tune in. Indeed, it’s the big story that this publication has been reporting for five years, from our 2000 Opening Statement. Maybe that’s what he means by “not turning a blind eye”?

In any case, Authentic Journalists are for a very wide definition of free speech and such attacks on Telesur from wound-up mechanical clones of the deteriorating empire will provide the new station with much goodwill – and many defenders – at the start.

And yet there is always a danger that large “alternative” media projects fall into the trap of trying to replicate or imitate the large establishment media, which is to say that they become overly cautious and boring. I think of Air America, for example, the liberal talk radio network in the United States that launched last year and is still struggling to gain traction, in part because it is so highly partisan to a political party (the Democrats) and it made some early bad staffing moves with an authoritarian creative director (now gone) that wanted to replicate The Daily Show for radio. There just wasn’t enough red meat going over the airwaves to stir public passions. And now Danny Goldberg and Carl Ginsberg, both good people of vision, are trying to put it back together again. Media, in part, is an art of definition, and the first most important task for any media (and this goes for individual journalists, too) is self-definition.

And this brings our story back to where it began: to Chiapas, and the Zapatistas, who know a lot about self-definition, and who have pushed many, including your formerly isolated manifesto-writer, to work very hard, horizontally with others, to do the heavy lifting of defining ourselves. Some of us in this now hemispheric network of Authentic Journalists, who define ourselves as “of the left” and “not involved in electoral campaigns” (see? Just those two definitions save us from a lot of unnecessary headaches!) are currently working together in response to The Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, to define aloud, as the Zapatistas recently stated of themselves, what we are as Authentic Journalists, where we are now, how we see the world, how we see our “country called América,” what we want to do, and how we are going to do it. It’s about core beliefs, and not something that Authentic Journalists can simply hire a publicist to figure out for us.


Martín Sánchez of Aporrea.org, “beating” President Chávez, “with goodwill and for the good of the revolutionary process,” during the press conference for the Community Media.
Photo: D.R. 2003 Apporea
It remains to be seen, for example, what kind of role the Community Media heroes and heroines of Venezuela (and all América) will have through Telesur. And I suspect that there will be early and important criticisms for the new network not just from its enemies like Connie Mack, but especially from its true friends. Making media and doing journalism are episodes in criticism: in both giving it and knowing how – and from whom to take it seriously – to receive it. Authentic Journalists will be keeping a close eye, in the coming weeks and months, to the pages of Aporrea.org, which, as Luis Gómez reported here two years ago, is a Venezuelan media constructed from below, and has since then taken on a very important role as the conscience and Town Hall of the Bolivarian Revolution.

In fact, there was an interesting report yesterday on Aporrea (from the Cuban Prensa Latina) in which Telesur began to answer some of those self-defining questions:

With the proposition of “deactivating the media plantations” Telesur, Latin America’s first television channel, with its headquarters in Caracas, comes to the airwaves on Sunday, July 24.

Aram Aharonian, one of the inventors of the project and director of Telesur, told Prensa Latina that the channel will not back down for even a minute from its initial goals, in spite of the negative reactions from U.S. authorities.

“We will begin to deactivate the media plantations in Latin America with a very important tool toward Latin American union,” the Uruguayan journalist said…

“We still lack a lot. We just began. We’re getting goals scored on us. But we have begun to seek the tools that will work to counteract all of it,” he said in allusion to the dominant foreign media in the region.

Aharonian believes that one of the fundamental goals of the channel is to permit Latin Americans to see themselves through their own eyes and not through foreign media.

Asked about the decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to begin radio and TV broadcasts against Venezuela in a presumed response to Telesur, the director called the initiative “ridiculous.”

“The U.S. Congressmen seem to be unaware,” he said, “that in Venezuela there are more than 40 private television stations and 128 cable channels, but just two public broadcasters.”

He said he believes it is really about an attempt to disqualify Telesur before it has broadcast a single program. “It’s a marvel of science fiction,” said Aharonian.

He said it’s an attempt to poison the waters and create public opinion against Telesur, and that it’s possible that they will be able to blackmail some people in some countries, but in general the unifying goals of the channel are well understood.

“In a certain way, that attack fills us with satisfaction and pride, because it demonstrates that we are on the right path in the goal of giving a new option to Latin American television viewers,” he said.

The channel’s news director, Colombian journalist and producer Jorge Enrique Botero, said that on July 24 Telesur will begin its broadcast with four blocs each six hours long.

He said that it programming will be experimental until September and will include news segments, chronicles, documentaries and Latin American cinema.

In this first stage, Telesur can be seen via cable or on the air in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala, among others.

Okay, here we go. Aharonian is a capable, gregarious, guy with a sense of mischief and he admits what may be the most important quality for him to have: that he knows he doesn’t have all the answers, or even all the questions, formulated yet.

The Story Within the Story

The heat generated from Telesur’s opponents (that is to say, from Hugo Chávez’s and Fidel Castro’s opponents), like much of what the Commercial Media focuses upon, can be blinding. Usually, that is its intent.

The story below the surface, though, in the Bolivarian project of Latin American unity that marks Telesur and that Chávez has long advocated, is that there is a thriving discussion going on among and between social movements (including the Authentic Journalism movement) about whether the future of the hemisphere is a matter to be settled by seizing existing power (from above) or by constructing it anew (from below). It is a debate that rages everywhere… in Bolivia, in Ecuador, and currently with particular passion in Mexico, and even in Venezuela it was revealed by that moment when the Community Journalists stood up, punched their fists in the air, and sang a message to Chávez.

In Mexico, today, the debate manifests itself most strikingly in the new Zapatista initiative for “the other campaign” that is “from the left” and that “does not participate in elections” in open contrast with the presidential campaign of Mexico City Governor Andrés Manuel López Obrador for the July 2006 elections. Since Chávez’s 1998 election in Venezuela, there have been presidents elected in Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, and Uruguay that were said to be of varying shades of “left” or “center-left” (one of whom, Ecuador’s Lucio Gutiérrez, already fell when the social and indigenous movements that supported him came to view him as a traitor). And from the “right” there is a perception that López Obrador, who leads in public opinion polls, would solidify a left bloc in Latin America that could stand up – as the Organization of American States recently did – to the impositions of the United States and its economic interests.

López Obrador himself – now having survived a vicious attempt to knock him off the ballot through a plot called the “desafuero” (we blew the whistle on it back in February) – rejects all comparisons of him to Venezuela’s Chávez or even Brazil’s more cautious union organizer-turned-president Lula da Silva, and defines himself as of the “center.” And on June 19, immediately prior to declaring a “red alert” and then announcing “the other campaign,” the Zapatista Subcomandante let fly a communiqué that harshly attacked each of Mexico’s political parties and presidential candidates by name and did not mince words in his references to López Obrador, known in the Mexican press by his initials, AMLO. Marcos called AMLO “a serpent’s egg” out of which will hatch a mirror-image of AMLO’s arch-nemesis, disgraced former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who the Zapatistas declared war upon twelve years ago.

Nobody has yet translated the full communiqué to English, but let me translate some key passages:

“When AMLO’s project is criticized it is not about criticizing a project of the left, because it is not one, and that is what he himself has declared and what Lopez Obrador has promised to the higher Power. He has been clear about it and only those who don’t want to see it (or for whom it is not convenient to see) continue trying to see and present him as a man of the left. AMLO’s project, according to him, is of the center.

“And the center is no more than a moderated right, a door to the plastic surgery clinic where social fighters are transformed into cynics and despots, a stabilized macro-economy with new elevated roads and early morning press conferences…

“With Lopez Obrador we are not confronting a leader who is nostalgic for his nationalist revolutionary past, but, rather, with someone who has a very clear project for the present… and the future… He offers to create the bases for a ‘modern’ State, and that’s why he tries to differentiate himself from Lula, Chávez, Castro and Tabaré. His will not be a neoliberal administration with a left hand (Lula in Brazil, Tabaré in Uruguay, Kirchner in Argentina), nor a socialist government (Castro in Cuba), nor a popular nationalism (Chávez in Venezuela). It will be A NEW MODEL OF A NON-NATIONAL STATE (that species of neoliberal war) in Latin America.”

Obviously, when the Zapatistas (or Authentic Journalists, or others) define themselves as people that “do not participate in elections” that doesn’t mean they (we) don’t talk or write about elections and their consequences. (The Zapatistas, in fact, were among the most articulate and meaningful critics of the desafuero plot against López Obrador.) But the debate between those who want to seize existing power and those who want to construct a different kind of power from below has started to hit light speed in Mexico and elsewhere. In a communiqué published yesterday Marcos responded to some criticisms of the Zapatista’s Sixth Declaration and its plans for “the other campaign,” including “that the right would use Zapatismo in order to strike a blow at López Obrador, in other words, at the political center (I know that those observations speak of AMLO’s being on the left, but he says he’s in the center, so here we’re going to take what he says, not what they say about him). The majority of these observations are well intended, and they seek to help, rightly warning of obstacles in the path, or rightly providing opinions as to how the movement that the Sixth is trying to arouse might grow.”

Addressing other critics who suggest the Zapatistas should stay in Chiapas, Marcos responded:

“…we had the premonition that those criticisms would be praise…if the Sixth had declared its unconditional support of the political center represented by López Obrador. And if we were to have said that ‘we are going to come out in order to join with those citizens’ networks in support of AMLO,’ there would be enthusiasm, ‘yes,’ ‘of course you have to leave, you don’t have to stay shut away, it’s time for Zapatismo to abandon its hideout and join its experiences with the masses devoted to the one-in-waiting.’ Hmm…López Obrador. He just presented his ‘Alternative National Project’ to the citizens’ networks. We are suspicious, and we don’t see anything more than plastic cosmetics (and which change according to the audience) and a list of forgettable promises. Whatever, perhaps someone might tell AMLO that he can’t promise ‘the fulfillment of the San Andrés Accords,’ because that means, among other things, reforming the Constitution, and, if my memory serves, that is the work of the Congress. In any event, the promise should be made by a political party, noting that its candidates will fulfill it if they are elected. The other way there would have to be a proposal that the federal executive would govern above the other branches or ignore them. Or a dictatorship. But it’s not about that. Or is it?

“In the politics of above, the programs seek, during election periods, to add as many people as they can. But by adding some, others are subtracted. Then they decide to add the most and subtract the least…”

This same kind of discussion occurs in Bolivia (between social and indigenous movements that are more in the “from below” tendency and militants of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party of Evo Morales). It occurs in Ecuador, in Argentina, in Lula’s Brazil… (It is a very different kind of discussion than, say, that in the United States between supporters of Democrat candidates or third-party candidates, because it is, in its essence, the existence of authentic social movements that are non-electoral in Latin America that make the discussion real and not merely intellectual fodder.) And it occurs in a different way in Venezuela, where the electoral leader, Chávez seems more attentive to its existence, more relaxed about it, and where the attacks upon his government are so fierce from such detestable anti-democracy quarters that social movements see an interest in defending national sovereignty even as they push the electoral leader to comply with their grievances.


The existence of authentic social movements that are non-electoral in Latin America makes the discussion from below real.
Photo D.R. 2003 Al Giordano, in Oventik, Chiapas
This is the discussion that Telesur as the first Latin American broadcast channel, could hit the ground running with, to its benefit, and to all América’s gain. (In any case, it’s a discussion that we’re going to increasingly report on here at Narco News, and we’d like to have it with Telesur, too.)

The Commercial Media does not televise (or even write about) the debate between “from above” and “from below.” And it never will. Better said, it cannot, because the debate cuts too close to home. For this is the dialectic at the core of Journalism’s Civil War: do we seize “media from above” by trying to land a job at the New York Times or CNN? In order to do that, there are so many compromises to make, especially “the bottom line” in which those media exist to make profits for its owners. And that rule alone brings an entire swathe of priorities – the targeting of consumers with expendable cash, which is to say, not the majority of the people – because that’s what advertisers pay to reach. When Media is commercial, the game is fixed.

Here’s an example of how Commercial Media – and those who rely on it for their “information” – portray the choices to be made during Latin America’s left turn. It comes from former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s June 20 speech in Mexico City (at the Banamex Center!) where Clinton praised Brazilian President Lula for “having put the Brazilian people on the positive side of global interdependence” as a “responsible leader” who has “brought Brazil to do business with the rest of the world” while presenting Venezuelan President Chavez as the alternative model to be avoided. Chávez, said Clinton, “thinks he can have all the oil and money to defy the rest of the world” and that “Mister Chávez’s model has not brought prosperity to Venezuela nor is it a good example of the insertion of Latin America into the positive side of global interdependence.” Clinton then said that, “Latin Americans have to decide which of these models is correct.” As if there are only two models! And who is left out of the two choices provided by Clinton as absolutes? Virtually every social movement whose voices have been reported here for five years: those that fight for autonomy, authentic democracy, justice, liberty and the construction of autonomies from below. And to think: Clinton told a hall full of Mexicans that they must choose between those two models on the very day that Marcos called López Obrador a “serpent’s egg” and spoke of his “new model of a non-national state.”

When, for example, also in June, the Bolivian social movements shut down the roads and highways calling for nationalization of the gas industry, for a new Constitution, and to stop the imposition of a hated presidential successor, they weren’t risking their lives for a “Brazilian model” or a “Venezuelan model.” They have their own Bolivian models – and even those are distinct depending on locale – that they’re fighting for. And there are plenty of Brazilians and Venezuelans who, likewise, are fighting inside their countries to push their governments into better models. The same goes for the Ecuadorian indigenous majority. And, obviously, the Zapatistas of Mexico often state they want “a world where many worlds fit.”

What Is A Journalist?

An immediate challenge ahead for Telesur (and equally for Narco News, and others) is not merely to report this very vibrant discussion launched by the Zapatistas “from below” (although we must report it: It’s authentic news). It is also to take a hard look at what it is to make media, what it is to be a journalist, and especially to be an Authentic Journalist, or a network of them, and apply it to our work and world.


“A new way of looking… far from the glare produced by the spotlights, from the pandemonium of the bandstands, from the pushing and shoving behind the news, from the fight for the exclusive.” – Subcomandante Marcos
Photo: D.R. 1999 Al Giordano
To wit: There was a very interesting communiqué from the Zapatistas in November 2003 to an event in Mexico city where the book EZLN 20 & 10, Fire and Word by Gloria Muñoz Ramírez was released. About the author, Marcos said:

“...a woman, a journalist by profession, ended up leaping, not without difficulties, the complicated and thick wall of zapatista skepticism, and she stayed and lived in the indigenous rebel communities. From that time on, she shared with the compañeros the dream and the sleepless nights, the joys and the sorrows, the food and its absence, the persecutions and the respites, the deaths and the lives. Little by little, the compañeros and compañeras came to accept her and to make her part of their daily lives. I am not going to recount her history. Among other things, because she has preferred to recount the history of a movement, the zapatista one, and not hers.

“This person’s name is Gloria Muñoz Ramírez. During the period from 1994 to 1996, she worked for the Mexican newspaper “Punto,” for the German news agency DPA, for the North American newspaper “La Opinión” and for the Mexican daily, “La Jornada.” In 1995, on the morning of February 9 and along with Hermann Bellinghausen, she carried out what might have been the last interview with Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos. In 1997, she left her work, her family, her friends (in addition to things that only she knows), and she came to live in the zapatista communities. She did not publish anything during those 7 years, but she continued to write, and she did not abandon her journalistic keenness. She wasn’t a journalist anymore, of course, or she wasn’t just a journalist any longer. Gloria was learning a new way of looking, the one that is far from the glare produced by the spotlights, from the pandemonium of the bandstands, from the pushing and shoving behind the news, from the fight for the exclusive. The way of looking that is learned in the mountains of the Mexican southeast…”

“She wasn’t a journalist anymore, of course, or she wasn’t just a journalist any longer.” When we call ourselves Authentic Journalists, that’s really what we’re saying: We’re not just journalists, but human beings and workers and farmers of truths, and many other things, too. These words bear repeating: “learning a new way of looking, the one that is far from the glare produced by the spotlights, from the pandemonium of the bandstands, from the pushing and shoving behind the news, from the fight for the exclusive.”

This way of looking (and of listening) is from below.

And so today we extend a welcome to the journalists of Telesur and wish them, fraternally, the best of luck. They already have the luck of having made the right enemies before they even fired a shot, and the luck of being unencumbered by the advertising model of journalism. If that leads them to join in this “new way of looking,” of looking, listening, and reporting from below, alongside, and not apart from the people, they’re going to make some very good friends out of colleagues in all corners of our América (including, again, perhaps you, kind reader): the ones that already recognize each other whenever we see the other ones holding up the little candles from below, the candles that made it possible, when we have held them up together, to light up the skies of a country called América.

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