Argentine government announces it will withdraw shares in state-owned Telesur that broadcasts from Venezuela

Telesur – the cable news channel that is backed by several Latin American countries and has broadcasted from the Venezuelan capital since 2005 – will stop public and free transmission in Argentina after that country’s government starts the process to give up its share of the media company.

The announcement was made by Argentina’s Minister of Media and Public Content, Hernán Lombardi, and the Secretary of Public Communication, Jorge Grecco.

Although Argentina’s share in Telesur is 16 percent, Lombardi told newspaper La Nación that the country does not interfere in the channel’s content or management, which the paper said could be one of the reasons for the decision to leave.

“This decision is in line with what we have proposed to the public media in terms of pluralism and austerity,” the Minister told the newspaper.

Patricia Villegas, president of Telesur, said on the channel that there was no formal institutional communication from the Argentine government that informed her of its decision. Villegas said that she was surprised that the announcement was made on Easter Sunday through a conservative media outlet such as newspaper La Nación.

However, according to La Nación, Argentine officials have had several telephone conversations with Villegas in anticipation of the decision.

“The Argentine taxpayers don’t have to pay for something that has become a [place of] unilateral speech. The president [of Argentina, Mauricio] Macri requires us to guarantee pluralism and that the media be state and not governmental. This is what we are doing,” Lombardi said according to Spanish newspaper El País.

According to the Spanish newspaper, Telesur stressed it wasn’t “a government spokesperson,” but a “voice of the people.” The multi-state company said it has journalistic content with a left-leaning editorial line. Also, according to El País, Telesur said in a statement that they are a television station that informs “live and online with documented and news-worthy evidence, that, despite right-wing governments, and their attempts to eliminate it, has not stopped transmitting.”

According to information from the channel, which is based in Caracas, its content is transmitted via 90 cable operators and it has agreements with more than five channels in different Argentine provinces reaching more than 20 million potential viewers and more than 8 million subscribers.

In Argentina, starting in September 2010, in addition to transmitting as a public digital television channel, Telesur became part of the international segment that private cable companies were required to carry, by order of the now-extinct Federal Authority of Audiovisual Communication Services (Afsca), according to La Nación. The order has its foundation in the media law of 2009, which gave the channel the privilege of being considered a channel of the state. [Read: “Controversy in Argentina because of new order of the new President to change the Media Law of his predecessor” (in Spanish)]

Deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez founded Telesur as the grand project of Latin American television and the station started broadcasting on Jan. 24 from Caracas. Born as an alternative to the big international news networks, the media company initially was backed by Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay in addition to Venezuela. Between 2006 and 2007, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador joined.

Venezuela currently holds a 51 percent stake in Telesur.

For former president of the Afsca, Marin Sabbatella, Argentina’s exit from Telesur is a “political decision disguised as austerity, another big lie of a government that despises pluralism, freedom of expression and the right to information,” the newspaper Página 12 reported.

Other Argentine personalities, such as Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel; the president of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Hebe de Bonafini; and Glenn Postolski, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, condemned the government’s decision, according to Página 12. Postolski told the media outlet that this “is another sign that pluralism is in danger and it homogenizes voices.”

Nicolás Maduro, current President of Venezuela, also spoke about Argentina’s withdrawal from the Latin American news channel.

“If they ban it in Argentina, millions of Argentines will view it by Internet, social networks, but Telesur will not disappear from Argentina,” Maduro said to the state-owned channel.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.