MA Thesis

Media Imperialism in Latin America and the emergence of Telesur

M.A. Critical Theory, Mass Media and Cultural Studies 2009

University of Nottingham, UK


 For around the past thirty years, mass media in Latin America have been monopolized by the conservative elite which have had economic and corporate interests. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Latin American governments introduced privatization and conservative policies, but now, since Chavez came to power in Venezuela, there has been a turn in the political inclination in Latin American nations. Private mass media, which is about 90% of the total media, have positioned themselves as the political opposition. These media and their reporting have been funneled according to their ideological interests, which have strong ties with U.S. interests. They have penetrated to the Latin American audience together with the incursion of U.S media conglomerates such as Univisión, Telemundo, and CNN in Spanish to the media market in the region. Fidel Castro, anti-imperialist icon, once said that what Latin America needed was its own mass media to counteract the reports from these media conglomerates. Hugo Chávez put action and funding to Castro’s words, and with the support of other Latin American leaders created Telesur.  Telesur’s board of members says that it aims to give another perspective from the mainstream one, and to provide an alternative to the audience to achieve a plurality in news. Its emergence in the Latin American media industry has been received by criticism from its detractors, by joy from its supporters, and by skepticism from others.

In this essay it will be argued the reasons for the emergence of Telesur, was there a real necessity for the emergence of it in the media market in Latin America? Why Telesur emerges in the specific time it did? Why was there a necessity to launch an alternative to private hegemonic media in the region? Had mass media in Latin America been pluralistic or had been ideologically monopolized? Had there been attempts to cut media monopolies in the world? What particularities have caused the region to attempt to counteract hegemonic media? In what ways have Telesur differentiated itself from mainstream media? Is the attempt to challenge hegemonic-media particular to Latin America or is it occurring in other places? If so, why have these other places also decided to counteract them? These are some of the questions that this dissertation attempt to answer. A concept that will be used throughout the paper is that of ‘media war’, which means when media positions them towards a political position and manipulates information as a way of propaganda towards their interests. When this situation has occurred media have adopted a position of extreme antagonism in which no media has the truth, but a distortion of reality. This concept will be mainly used when referring to Venezuela and the media under Chávez government, in which media has positioned them as radically anti-chavista or government media as pro-chavista. The audience has been affected by the radical partisan coverage.

Chapter one will consist of an historical background in Latin American mass media. It will discuss the privatization trend in the media market in the 1970’s, which contributed to the current elite-controlled mass media, as well as to the creation of media conglomerates. Two examples of media conglomerates in Latin America are discussed: Venevisión, and the empire of media tycoon Ángel González. The chapter will also examine two examples of media conglomerates financed and produced from the United States to the Latin American audience, and Latinos in the United States: Univisión and Telemundo. It will then discuss how Latin American mass media have played an important role in shaping political processes in the region, and how, historically, the right-wing has had the control over these media.  They have helped in shaping political processes in favor of their interests. It is presented two specific events in which media played a fundamental role in supporting coups, the 1973 coup in Chile and the 2002 coup in Venezuela. Chapter two will consist of the theoretical framework for understanding how the incursion of Telesur in the media industry has attempted to challenge media monopoly. It will apply the concepts of media imperialism, cultural imperialism and the ‘centre-periphery’ model. Chapter three will analyse the emergence of Telesur in Latin America within a media and political context, and the particularities of the historical moment of its emergence, as it emerged in the middle of a media war in Latin America, specifically in the heart of it, Caracas. Chapter four presents Telesur as part of a state-funded counter-hegemonic media boom in early 21st century, examining the cases of al-Jazeera and France 24.

Telesur has been a motive for research lately, there are two papers which has been used as part of the references: (1) James Painter’s “The Boom in counter-hegemonic news channels: a case study of Telesur”, and (2) Freja Salo and Elisabeth Terenius’s “Telesur- ‘Telechávez’ or the public service of Latin America: a case study”. Painter’s paper and Salo and Terenius’s paper focus, among other topics, on Telesur’s coverage, specifically about how Venezuela and Chávez are covered in Telesur’s news. This paper does not include a study about how many times Venezuela or Chávez are treated in its coverage since its author thinks it is not necessary since every media is the product of how, where, and when it is conceived, it represents and defends the interests of the socio-economical system from where it emerges. As an example, Univisión and Telemundo, portray mostly life of Latinos in the U.S., and news about Mexico much more than about any other news. They have a corporate ideology therefore present light and commercial entertainment programs. Telesur, on the other hand, is the product of a revolution, and is trying to break media hegemony from these big media firms. These three news stations were conceived in a different historical time and place, and they stand for that. Both papers neglected to address the historical context of the mass media in Latin America and Venezuela and how they have played decisive roles in politics, usually aligning to the right-wing. They have also neglected to explain the historical context of Telesur’s emergence. This paper focuses in that, in the historical context of the mass media in Latin America, and the emergence of Telesur among them, aiming to break the media monopoly of the conservative elite with strong ties to Miami media firms.

Along with modernization and technology, mass culture has been accessible to a broader audience, transgressing many types of barriers. National, cultural, language, or ideological barriers have had soften to give way to a globalized world. More than simply unifying audiences, media globalization has been an attempt to establish domination of the dominant ideology over the periphery audience. Hegemonic media usually presents a general view of particularities about the periphery world, which is presented and perceived by the peripheral audience as the news. In this way hegemonic media has power over the peripheral audience. Dorfman and Mattelart have argued that:

“Mass culture has… generated a cultural elite which has cut itself off more and more from the masses. Contrary to the democratic potential of mass culture, this elite has plunged mass culture into a suffocating complexity of solutions, approaches and techniques, each of which is comprehensible only to a narrow circle of readers.”[1]


[1] Dorfman and Mattelart, How to read Donald Duck: Imperialist ideology in the Disney comic, p. 31.

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