Alba TV: Community Television Goes International
In July of 2009, when Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a military coup. journalists and film crews from around the world descended on Tegucigalpa to cover the dramatic aftermath. Among them were two reporters from a fledgling Venezuela-based collective called Alba TV. Thanks to funding from the Venezuelan government, Alba’s journalists spent a month in Honduras, compiling footage that they would later edit into a documentary about the people’s resistance to the illegal takeover.
Pablo Kunich, Alba´s director, made the trip to Honduras. A year or so later, Kunich ran into a European documentary filmmaker he had met during his stay. She told him that her documentary had shown in multiple festivals and picked up several awards. He congratulated her. Then he asked if the film had shown in Honduras. It had not. Alba’s documentary, on the other hand, won no prizes and was never even submitted to any festivals, but it has shown multiple times in Honduras and throughout Latin America in discussion-oriented screenings known as “cinema forums” [cineforos]. As Kunich explains, the primary concern had always been to employ the documentary as a tool for building a unified resistance in Honduras and generating solidarity across the hemisphere.
For Kunich, the anecdote illustrates Alba TV’s guiding motivation, which is to provide a multi-faceted communicative platform for strengthening progressive social movements throughout the Western hemisphere. Alba TV began in December of 2006, during the “First International Congress of Communication Towards Socialism” [Primer Congreso Internacional de Comunicación hacia el Socialismo], which took place in Caracas and was sponsored by ViVe (a Venezuelan public television network dedicated to fostering popular power) in conjunction with several Venezuelan community television stations. Towards the end of that congress, Kunich, along with a small group of young people, feared that it would end up being just another in a steady stream of meetings that produced high minded declarations but seemingly little in the way of concrete action. In order to break with the pattern, they committed to creating a television channel that would transmit content produced by and for social activists across the Americas. They decided to name the channel after the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (Alternativa Bolivariana para las Americas / ALBA), and Alba TV was born.
The project began with two general goals. One was to create and strengthen community television stations across the Americas. Alba TV’s work in this regard is organized along three strategic axes: instruction, production, and networking. In other words, Alba TV seeks to enable activists, workers, and members of marginalized communities to express themselves using video. It then tries to sustain these new producers by providing guidance and other resources. Alba TV also provides a platform for distributing their work internationally so that they can teach, learn from, and better coordinate their activities with members of social movements from elsewhere in the region. Much more than showcasing grassroots, progressive documentaries, Alba TV seeks to facilitate a hemispheric dialogue around issues of social justice and participatory organization. In its own words, “Alba TV is not only a television channel, it is a project of communicatory [sic] connection of social movements of Latin America and the world. It is a space of political and ideological debate for the necessary transformation of our south; it is a space of connection.”
Alba TV’s other goal is to create an international community television channel “that can be downloaded by every community television station, social movement or specific community”. Despite interest and assistance from the Venezuelan government, however, the execution of this vision has proven to be no easy task. Early support for the project came from Venezuela’s Ministry of Communication and Information, which in 2007 offered to provide Alba TV with a channel on Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar satellite (aka VENESAT-1). The satellite did not launch, however, until late in 2008, and only now is CANTV, Venezuela’s state-owned telecommunications company, beginning to role out a subscription TV service that utilizes the satellite. Though the offer for Alba TV to be included remains on the table, no concrete steps have been taken and Alba TV is not expected to be included when the service officially launches this year.
For the moment, Alba TV’s principal platform is its web site, which hosts spanish language news, analysis, and training materials, a calendar of cultural activities, an archive of Alba TV’s radio show, “From Below” ["Desde Abajo"], and information related to various campaigns in which Alba TV has participated, such as those protesting the coup in Honduras and the installation of US military bases on Colombian territory. Most importantly, the site’s “community channel” features video submitted from community television channels and collectives from across the continent and beyond. Some of the submission’s are collected into an eponymous half hour news program, of which the 102nd edition (the most recent as of this writing) includes clips from Colombia, Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia. The half hour news program also airs in Venezuela as La Franja de Alba TV [Alba TV Time] on ViVe, as well as on community television channels across the country, from Monday through Thursday at 9pm. Meanwhile, Kunich has been talking with public and community television stations in Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile about airing the program.
ViVe, which was founded by pioneering figures from Venezuela’s community television sector and continues to work closely with community TV stations, has been Alba TV’s most consistent government partner, providing not only airtime, but also office space, camera use, and funding for three salaried positions on Alba TV’s staff. Alba TV receives additional volunteer labor from a handful of young people, but remains a shoestring operation. Its computers were donated by three Venezuelan community TV stations – CatiaTve in Caracas, Canal Z in Maracaibo, and Montaña TV in the state of Táchira – which themselves often have a hard time making ends meet. In 2009, funding for production equipment for Alba TV, as well as a dozen Venezuelan community TV stations, was approved as part of an annual cooperative agreement between the governments of Venezuela and Cuba. Unfortunately, Venezuela’s bureaucracy can move painfully slow and Alba TV has yet to receive the promised cameras and computers. Such experiences have taught Alba TV’s small staff to be weary of planning their development around government support. Moreover, Kunich is adamant that obtaining such support is not worth placing the collective in a dependent relationship. “If ViVe stopped providing space and paying the salaries, I’d go somewhere else and keep working on this project,” he says.
While Alba TV’s distribution network continues to mature, the collective maintains its focus on providing instruction and support to community television stations and progressive organizations throughout the continent. In 2008 Alba TV hosted a video production workshop with participants from Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru who went on to complete a one week “internship” at CatiaTve. In 2009 the workshop grew to include 16 participants from social movements in Nicaragua, Colombia, Argentina, and Brasil who spent three weeks training together in Caracas before splitting up to spend a final week at one of five different community television stations located throughout Venezuela. Meanwhile, members of Alba TV, with financial support from Venezuela’s Ministry of Communication and Information, have participated in “Social Movements for ALBA” conferences in Brasil (2009) and Cuba (2011), where they continue to make contacts and solicit material.
Although Alba TV is beginning to consolidate its operations, it has hardly begun to achieve the goal set forth in 2006. As one current staff member puts it, “Alba TV is still just a vision. I could tell you that we’re going to do this and that, that we’re going to have a satellite signal, but who knows if it will happen?” Despite this realistic attitude, the vision remains very much intact. Kunich is adamant that Alba TV is not simply about empowering people by providing an outlet for activist correspondents to report on their local struggles and achievements. Rather, the goal is to enable social movements across the Americas to communicate with each other through a democratic reorganization of the media space.
Alba TV is interested in working with collectives and organizations within social movements from across the Americas, including the United States, Canada, and the English-speaking Caribbean. If you are interested in learning more and can communicate in Spanish, contact them directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org For more information in English, contact Rich Potter at: email@example.com