Panel: Progressive Television in Latin America
Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference
March 2-5, 2006
Deadline for abstracts: September 1, 2005
When City TV was founded in Bogotá, Colombia in 1999, it introduced new concepts in television to Colombians. One was a new morning show called Arriba Bogotá, which, unlike more staid news shows on other channels, incorporated the participation of the television audience into the show. Another new inclusive approach to programming was the introduction of the City-cápsula: kiosks containing video cameras were placed in areas throughout the city enabling any citizen who wished to record a message to do so at will. Everyday, bogotanos of different ages, backgrounds and classes can be seen in the City-cápsulas reciting poetry, telling jokes, criticizing the government, delivering messages to friends and loved ones, discussing problems which affect their communities, singing popular songs, or using the medium to say publicly whatever else occurs to them. By 2004, City TV had captured a 6% share of the television audience. In a country in which the media has traditionally been controlled by a small elite, City TV represents a move towards the democratization of the media.
During the 90s, programming on WIPR, the only government-run public television channel in Puerto Rico, was dominated by imported programming, much of it from the United States. In 2000, a new general manager was appointed, and the channel changed its name to TUTV. Since then, it has introduced a series of new local programs, and commissioned local films. The channel’s most popular new show, Cultura viva is, as its title suggests, a live show which features performances and interviews with artists, intellectuals, and cultural promoters, as well as live coverage of cultural events occurring on the island. It is broadcast every evening from Monday to Friday, providing an important new space for the promotion of local culture. In another new program, Lineas de fuga, teenagers are given video cameras and asked to create a half-hour film documenting their own ideas and experiences. The resulting films are broadcast on the program. Such changes, as in the case of City TV, now offer the public a greater voice, stimulate conversation about local issues and culture, and contribute to fertilizing cultural projects on the local level.
Most recent and most significant is the founding of Telesur, a pan-Latin American television network dedicated to providing programming for Latin Americans created by Latin Americans. A “counter-hegemonic project” founded with backing by the governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, Telesur proposes an alternative to the much more commercial entertainment of other multinationals like Televisa and Univision, and to the first world slant of the news coverage beamed into Latin American countries by CNN and the BBC. If successful, it will mark a profound change since Telesur will broadcast to all of Latin America. But what will be the impact of this new media giant? Telesur already appears to be causing alarm in the centers of power in the first world and on the part of some wary critics in Latin America. Some have called it “Chavez-TV,” suggesting that it will function primarily as the mouthpiece of the left-wing Venezuelan government which, at present, owns 51% of Telesur. The English newspaper The Guardian conjures up images which suggest an ominous threat to the first world and its media: “A swastika painted on a US flag flashes across the screen. Out of sight a voice proclaims: "’Let's recover our memory and history from the claws of the Empire...’" The voice is replaced by anti-imperialist chants and metallic sounds, then the screen goes dark. Welcome to Telesur, Latin America's answer to CNN and the BBC World Service.” Representatives of Telesur itself say that, although, in the beginning, it will be sponsored by the four governments mentioned, it will not be merely a mouthpiece for their political agendas. The goal is to gradually move towards becoming an autonomous private network which will present informative and creative programming incorporating a plurality of perspectives and approaches. Time will tell.
Clearly, there is change in the air. How is television in Latin America evolving? How might the impact of changes in programming such as those mentioned above be felt socially? What television programs or approaches to programming instituted in recent years might be considered progressive, innovative, alternative, subversive, or unusual, in interesting ways? How might they help us reflect on the role television is playing in specific cultural contexts in Latin America ?
Please e-mail abstracts, together with a short bio (no more than 3 sentences) to:
Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Film Sequence
University of Puerto Rico
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