A signal travels around the globe, carrying images and sounds of the World Social Forum. And a little closer to Porto Alegre, Venezuelan state television, Vive, broadcasts to its inhabitants, and for 10 minutes a day to Brazil, what 120,000 people are up to here.

The latest media addition to the WSF host country is TV Brasil, a coalition of four Brazilian communications media associated with the executive, legislative and judicial branches (Radiobrás, TV Senado e Câmara, and TV Justiça), which is launching its pilot project in Porto Alegre.

TV Brasil emerged from an idea of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Senate president José Sarney to create a state-run television network that helps the integration efforts of the nations of South America. "This is not a TV network to broadcast Brazilian propaganda to the world, but rather aims to help the poor peoples of this content to get to know each other," says José Roberto Garcez, Radiobrás communications director.

The broadcast makes an important contribution towards the dream of building international media in South America. It is the first time that a state television network is taking images of the Porto Alegre WSF beyond Brazil’s borders.

Programming is broadcast in Portuguese and Spanish across all of Latin America and parts of North America, Europe and Africa. "The Forum was the perfect place to test the project," says Eugênio Bucci, president of Radiobrás. "This is an event with participants from all parts of the world, and interactions between them are horizontal," as opposed to hierarchical.

A WSF Studio

To make this launch possible, a communications studio was set up in the middle of the Forum, staffed by 40 professionals, including 20 journalists, to bring to the world the events of Porto Alegre for more than 12 hours a day. "Broadcasts begin in the morning, when the conferences are getting under way, and only end when the shows do, late at night," said Lia Rangel, coordinator of the project. In addition, a live 30-minute news programme keeps the viewing audience up on the top events of the day. Despite difficulties, the show had a strong start, interviewing Argentine Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, 1980 Nobel Peace laureate, said Ana Maria Rocha, production chief for TV Brasil at the WSF.

But not only Brazil aims to launch an international communications channel for South American integration. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez has already announced Telesur, which reportedly has the same idea as Brazilian television, but there are some contrary arguments. "I think the idea of Telesur is bolder. I think the Brazilians are a little hesitant, waiting to see how far the Venezuelans will push it," says Iraê Sassi, an active contributor, as he himself describes it, to Telesur. Nevertheless, the two future state-run media powers cite the same goals: integration and strengthening of South America, promoting self-recognition and a different image of the continent.

Against hegemony

Says Aram Aharonian, Telesur director-general, "We know what is happening in Chechnya, but we don’t know what is happening here in Latin America. That is why creating this network is essential." It is slated to premiere in April. Telesur doesn’t intend to be more than a South American TV channel, adds Aharonian, but one that is capable of breaking the hegemony of existing broadcast media. "The more channels that exist, the better it is for communication. It is important to democratise information, to see Latin America through Latin American eyes."

While Telesur remains on the drawing board, Vive is moving full steam ahead at the WSF. With three hours of programming daily, four editing rooms and four press teams, the Venezuelan channel is highlighting indigenous issues and alternative media, but mostly the matter of land for rural workers.

According to Radiobrás director of operations Roberto Gontijo, TV Brasil is helping the Venezuelans both with infrastructure and providing images. "On January 30 we will be recording President Chávez at Gigantinho Stadium and we will hand over the video to Vive."

This could well be the first time that Brazilian and Venezuelan networks work together. "With Telesur we will engage in a wide range of exchanges. The two broadcasters will complement each other," says Radiobrás president Bucci.

The Argentine government is also considering creating an international television channel, which demonstrates the deep concern that South American countries have about this matter.

Despite all the speculation about the role that these TV channels will play, there is little disagreement about the importance of an alternative approach to media communications in South America.