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News gets fresh angle

South America's TeleSur will compete with CNN

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina and Venezuela inked Feb. 1 to create TeleSur, a South American state TV network to compete with CNN and other international news channels.

Argentina’s Media Secretariat agreed to supply 100 hours a month of domestic content, help hire staff, finance a local studio, provide satellite links for newscasts and arrange carriage on the country’s cable and broadcast systems. In exchange, the state will own up to 20% of the continent-wide net.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the peppery leftist leader who is spearheading the project, said TeleSur would transmit “true and timely information without manipulation,” unlike what he described as CNN’s U.S. “imperialism.”

It will allow South Americans to “know each other better,” Chavez said during a one-day visit to Buenos Aires. “Currently, Venezuelans are told what CNN’s owners want them to know about what is happening in Argentina.”

Chavez has been waging a vocal battle with Washington, accusing it of backing a failed coup against him in 2002. The U.S. government opposes Venezuela’s restrictions on media and critics.

Venezuela is putting up $3 million for TeleSur to launch in March or April from Caracas. It will have correspondents in Los Angeles; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Bogota, Colombia; Lima, Peru; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Telesur will spur demand for programming. While Argentina and Venezuela’s state broadcasters, Canal 7 and Venezolana de Television (VTV), respectively, and their state radios and newswires will provide material, Telesur will order content from indie outfits, too.

Further details on TeleSur’s financing and revenue structure were not available.

Chavez has invited other countries to join. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is tipped as signing on during a Feb. 14 visit to Caracas, and Uruguay’s Tabare Vazquez after he becomes president March 1.

The venture is also open to private investment, yet investors may be turned off by the populist leader’s frequent criticism of Venezuela’s private media.

A recent law allows penalties against media firms or personalities that criticize Chavez’s administration. In response, the media has edited out risque material and jokes directed at the Chavez government in fear of heavy fines or losing broadcasting licenses.

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