TeleSUR vs. Satellite Dishes / Yoani Sanchez #Cuba

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An old-fashioned TV antenna projects from the window, but it’s just a masquerade, a simulation. The television signal actually comes through a cable running across several roofs and one street. The illegal tendon brings several families a selection of cartoons, soap operas and musicals for some ten convertible pesos a month (a little more than ten dollars U.S.). Only the owner of the satellite dish can decide what can be viewed at any moment. Remote control in hand, he has the power to change the channel and to decide what all the clients on his network will have access to. He avoids political topics to stay out of trouble, and favors reality shows. The final result is escapist TV, something to get away from the daily grind, a collection of little cultural value but a lot of fun.

As a rival to this “entrepreneur’s program schedule,” as of this Sunday, we have TeleSUR, the Venezuelan channel sent via satellite to Cuban State TV. For years Cubans have had access only to three hours of the programming offered by this multi-country channel. Now we will have 13 and a half hours of live broadcasts, with content ranging from the informative to the educational; from crime reporting to professional sports. A novelty, indeed, that won’t lack a big dose of ideology. TeleSUR takes after the productions of our Cuban Institute of Radio and Television in its broadcasting axiom: the ALBA countries are as close to paradise as the rest of the world is to hell.

Fortunately we don’t have to choose only among these two options. The “leaked” satellite TV or the biased vision of TeleSUR are not, today, our only choices. For months now the alternative market offerings have been widening, with collections that join documentaries and series. A kind of on-demand television, a programming for every taste, distributed on digital media such as hard drives and USB flash memories. If the national production doesn’t diversify and expand, it will lose a part of its audience to these new competitors. And it will end up being a collection of programs borrowed or pirated from other broadcasters, an overlapping of unattractive audiovisual material without its own personality.

Yoani Sánchez

21 January 2013