Telesur debuts as CNN rival

HOLLYWOOD — Test transmissions kicked off last week for Televisora del Sur (Television of the South), the new Venezuelan-based pan-Latino satellite news and entertainment channel.

It aims to give the news a South American slant to rival news webs CNN and the BBC.

Dubbed Telesur, some critics have already derisively renamed it “Telechavez” after Venezuela’s populist leader, Hugo Chavez.

His penchant for meddling with local media — and the fact that his information minister Andres Izarra is prexy of the satcaster — may have given them grounds to suspect a less-than-objective news mandate.

However, the directorate is also made up of vet journalists from Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Cuba, the countries that are part of the joint venture, which has startup capital of $12 million.

“We will be everything but a propaganda channel,” says Telesur information head Jorge Enrique Botero, a Colombian producer.

Joint venture has also set up the Factory of Latin-American Contents (FLACO), which will compile existing Latin American audiovisual productions of documentaries, cinema and television and produce original TV series.

Telesur has inked carriage deals with 25 cable operators and some terrestrial TV channels across the region.

In Colombia, for instance, Canal Telepacifico will air only Telesur’s news. Satcaster is in talks with some local U.S. nets to carry its signal.

“Telesur’s footprint extends from Alaska to the tip of southern America so we’re looking at a potential 300 million viewers,” says Botero.

As if Telesur doesn’t have enough names, it would rather be called by another moniker being bandied about — Al Bolivar, a combined reference to Arab maverick news satcaster Al Jazeera and South America’s legendary liberator Simon Bolivar.

To make sure people get it, it has chosen Bolivar’s birthday, July 24, for its official launch date.

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