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TV Station Financed by Chavez Goes Live

A map of South America flashed on the screen and theme music played as live news broadcasts began Monday on a new Latin American TV station backed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search) as an alternative to large corporate media outlets.

Telesur — financed by mainly by Venezuela (search) with help from Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay — began with top stories on political tensions in Bolivia and Chavez's predictions of a hearty debate over U.S.-style capitalism at this week's Summit of the Americas in Argentina.

One news anchor proclaimed it "a great day for Telesur," which has been running taped programs and limited news segments since its July 24 launch.

The station promises to be a Latin alternative to large media conglomerates like American cable news networks, and has taken on the slogan "News from the South."

Chavez proposed the idea of a region-wide TV channel in 2003, and his government is the largest sponsor — providing more than half of the station's startup capital.

Some critics say they expect the channel to trumpet Chavez's socialist political philosophy. Organizers deny it, saying they hope to challenge the status quo but that their news reports aren't aimed at pleasing Venezuela's government.

"I think it's easier to do independent journalism with a station like this than with a private station," said Jorge Botero, Telesur's Colombian news director. "There are too many interests in the private channels that impede independent journalism. Despite the fact this channel has funds from various governments, we haven't been pressured at all."

Telesur (search) is being shown in 15 countries through 53 cable services, as well as five free stations, Botero said.

The station, which has public service announcements and musical interludes instead of commercials, launched its news with a brief live report at 7 a.m., followed by several afternoon reports.

Telesur said it has 12 correspondents in bureaus in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, in Washington.