Argentina is pulling the plug on Telesur — the 24-hour news channel that was launched in 2005 to champion Latin America’s left.
Argentina’s Minister of Media and Public Content, Hernán Lombardi, told La Nación over the weekend that the country will cease funding the Caracas-based channel and quit broadcasting it on state-run television.
“This decision is in line with what we’ve decided for the public media based on the ideals of pluralism and austerity,” he told the paper.
In a statement, Telesur said it had been blindsided by the move.
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“This station has never received any communication at all, either oral or written, about the decision to abandon Telesur,” it said.
The station claims the decision was made as the channel has taken a hard-line against new President Mauricio Macri.
“Is it Macri’s official stance to silence critics of his government?” the station asked. “Is this about plurality or censorship?”
Argentina’s exit could be a major blow for the network, which was the brainchild of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and has the support of Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay.
Argentina, which is said to be a 16-percent stakeholder in the channel, is the first founding member to abandon the project. After Telesur loses its state-backed status, Argentine cable operators will no longer be required to carry the station.
The shake up comes as the Macri administration has dismantled some of the socialist policies of former President Cristina Fernández. Lombardi said that public media under her administration had lost its local flavor, pointing out that the only two international news channels broadcast on state-run television were Telesur and Russia Today.
Telesur said it reaches 20 million potential viewers in Argentina through 90 cable operators and five regional broadcasters.
Since its launch 11 years ago, it has become Latin America’s largest news channel with 24-hour programming, more than 1,000 staffers and more than 40 foreign correspondents. It’s also broadcast in North America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa.
One of the station’s biggest stars had been Argentine football legend Diego Maradona, who recorded a program during the 2014 World Cup called “De Zurda” for the station.
Chávez had said Telesur would fight the “hegemony” and imperialist message of stations like CNN en Español. In 2014, Telesur launched an English-language channel based in Quito, Ecuador.