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Telesur: Terrorist Television

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Monday, July 25, 2005 | Media: As Telesur, Hugo Chavez's new South American TV network, goes on the air, it's billed as a pan-American alternative to CNN. Knowing Chavez, sensible minds fear a propaganda machine. It's much worse.

Ahead of its first broadcast Sunday, Telesur released a ghastly news trailer featuring one of the hemisphere's grimmest narco terrorists, Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda. This professional killer leads the 13,000-strong FARC Marxist guerrillas who have terrorized Colombia for 40 years.

As Sureshot preened before Telesur cameras, Telesur officials justified their free publicity for him as newsworthiness. "Do they think Sureshot doesn't exist?" said Director-General Aram Aharonian, a Uruguayan Marxist.

Colombians cut through the sophomorics. "It was very painful for Colombia that out of the 44 million decent Colombians, Telesur should choose Sureshot for its first two seconds of broadcasting," Colombia's deputy foreign minister told Chavez.

Democratic Colombia is winning its war against terror, and its economy grew 6% in 2004. To visibly feature washed-up narco terrorists like Sureshot as Colombia's "real" story is a cliche.

It's not news at all. It's a warning that this $6 million network will be an electronic platform for terrorists to intimidate democracies. All terrorists thrive on publicity.

Telesur is about giving FARC, which, like al-Qaida, kidnaps and kills authentic journalists, a new jolt. Freshman Rep. Connie Mack of Florida also warns that Telesur is "patterned after Al-Jazeera to spread (Chavez's) anti-American, anti-freedom rhetoric."

That wouldn't be surprising. It's majority-owned by Chavez's government. Its president, Andres Izarra, is Chavez's information minister. Its offices are housed with Venezuela's state TV. Its staff has been seen wearing FARC T-shirts. And its minority backers are the leftist regimes of Cuba, Argentina and Uruguay.

But Latin America doesn't lack news networks. Contrary to Telesur claims, CNN En Espanol covers Latin American affairs thoroughly. Its Bolivia coverage was widely praised. Latin America also is brimming with independent television networks and a lively if undercapitalized press.

There are newspapers and TV stations on a competitive scale unseen in the U.S. And Latin America's reporters are an intrepid lot.

They could tell you the problem in Latin America isn't domination by the Western media, as Telesur says, but governments that abuse the existing free press. They fail to enforce the law, covertly subvert it and openly attack it, leaving local media under fire.

Just read the week's news: In Mexico, union goons aligned with the PRI party shut down an Oaxaca newspaper after a long period of local-government harassment, prompting huge protests. In Haiti a week earlier, a top journalist was gunned down in Port-au-Prince, a victim of the remnants of the thuggish Aristide regime.

And in Telesur's own Venezuela, the independent television network Globovision, a station Chavez hates so much he's commissioned his revolutionary "Bolivarians" to paint intimidating messages to it on Caracas walls, this week was dragged into the Supreme Court for 20 "violations" of Chavez's constitution. One of its newscasters got menacing phone calls for not identifying Venezuela as "Bolivarian," Chavez's pet descriptor for the country.

Globovision's people are the lucky ones. A few weeks ago, another reporter who asked too many questions about a Venezuelan state enterprise was nearly beheaded in a way known as "Colombian necktie." His uncaught killers are believed affiliated with government elements.

The attack on Venezuela's real press is so systemic that the U.S. Congress, by an unexpectedly strong bipartisan margin, passed a resolution by Mack authorizing the establishment of Radio Free Venezuela to counter Chavez's expected shutdown of the press.

That may be another reason Telesur is coming. What Latin America can use are tough laws protecting the independent media. And an economy to support them. Instead, it's getting state-financed Telesur as Chavez moves to crush Venezuela's press and frighten his neighbors. "El Jazeera" is exactly what they don't need.

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