teleSUR, the Workers' Paradise? A Caracas Chronicles exclusive

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Telesur

(The full 5,500-word leaked email in Spanish and English)

As teleSUR prepares to launch an English-language satellite station in July 2015 (its 10th anniversary), there is unrest in the Caracas and Quito headquarters. Several high-level employees have been mistreated and/or expelled by the inner circle in Caracas, and disparities in wages, shift schedules and workloads are causing disillusionment in the ranks.

Caracas Chronicles has received a lengthy leaked email by an Argentine former employee, “G”, who was allegedly paid extravagant sums to work tirelessly in a toxic environment, then forced out unceremoniously. Other foreigners have apparently suffered similar situations. Venezuelans on low wages are described as working excessive overtime, even having to beg and borrow to pay for transport home.

Our source of the leaked email, “X”, has given us more information. He tells us that overworked teleSUR employees blame endemic management incompetence in planning media content, infrastructure and responsibilities. He talks of persistent dismal results, poor quality control across the board, and a consistent disregard for employee complaints.

Just months after the launch of the teleSUR English (TSE) website, it is currently undergoing a much-needed redesign. Flagship programs costing millions annually struggle to attract three-figure views on the TSE YouTube channel. An expensive publicity campaign in major media outlets was spectacularly squandered by an amateur PR agency.

This is the story … of how we got the story.

The leak came out of the blue from an alias, X. It was a long private email by G to select employees, which inevitably got spread around quickly. As I began to delve into the contents, I began corresponding with X, trying to find out what goes on at teleSUR, and why Caracas Chronicles was his point of contact.

G was clearly bitter about his experience. He complained about working conditions in the organization, and about his unfair dismissal. The local staff is paid miserably -– around $90 per month at the time of writing — while foreigners earn lavish wages in dollars, prompting “unbearable” intrigue. Foreigners are then asked to speak with local employees, requesting them to double their efforts in anticipation of deadlines.

As for the launch of the TSE website last July, it was apparently a disaster-in-the-making. The website support was allegedly plagued by incompetency, with the page displaying incorrectly on portable screens for months. The international launch PR campaign, online and in print, flopped. For many weeks, published news articles were ridden with typos.

The problems with foreign journalists came to a head when they were accused by the inner circle of exchanging dollars in the black market.

This wasn’t an angle I was expecting –- obviously, an international news organization based in Caracas is going to require at least a few professionals from abroad, preferably with experience in multimedia broadcasting. Those folks are not going to leave their positions in London, New York or Buenos Aires and move to Caracas to earn bolívares.

The downside for foreigners is that their work contracts are drawn up… in Colombia!

G claims that “while they brandish the values of 21st century socialism, they draw up garbage contracts, flexible and revocable, in the most neoliberal country in South America: Colombia. It’s really the first revolution I’ve known that employs such a practice.”

The headmaster of the new English-language operation is none other than our old nemesis, Venezuelanalysis.com founder Greg Wilpert. X describes Wilpert as a hard worker and a easy-going person, but a “weak” leader of people.

Pretty soon, I began prodding X about the letter and about why he was reaching out … to Caracas Chronicles of all places.

I must confess I don’t watch teleSUR. I don’t even have cable TV. I do follow them on Twitter, and I sarcastically retweet them from time to time. In other words, I am not impartial in this.

I ask X about this. Did it not make him uncomfortable to write to me?

“I am a communist, but so is the person who wrote the email,” he says.  “The difference is that he wanted this to remain internal, but I’m not respecting his wishes. I want to let the world know about the poor standards in teleSUR, and hopefully encourage some changes… this has nothing to do with favors for Caracas Chronicles.”

I began interviewing X. What is it about teleSUR that makes it so shoddy?

“They value quantity over quality, and don’t understand what it takes to build a successful media organization in the 21st century. TSE will launch on satellite in HD on July 24th 2015, just when the world is moving towards on-demand, online content. The youth of today are not watching broadcast transmissions or reading broadcast schedules.”

“There is a vocal group in TSE who could make it a success if they were given the freedom to do so. But Caracas won’t reconsider the direction. My only hope is that this vocal group will exert their influence in terms of content, quality and strategy, forcing Caracas to gradually accept change. Young people don’t want to watch 20/30-minute shows of old academics lecturing them, or interviewing other academics.”

“No TSE staff are allowed to communicate directly with any TSE correspondent — they must go through a desk in Caracas. In Quito, secure voice communication boxes are installed on each workspace, so that Caracas can open a line to anyone within seconds. Caracas is always emailing the coordinators and editors with editorial instructions and poorly-translated content.”

A few days go by. I’m torn as to what to do with this information. Was I being played? Sure, teleSUR is a propaganda outfit with so-so quality, but this is dog-bites-man territory. The interesting angle is teleSUR violating revolutionary labor rights, and employees coming to Caracas Chronicles with the story.

X writes back, sending me a screenshot of a ex-colleague’s Facebook post. In it, she complains about how teleSUR violated her labor rights, firing her without compensation. “Perhaps naively,” she says, “I considered myself to be left-wing until I stepped in Venezuela. Some friends later reminded me that the French Revolution was chopping off people’s heads a few days after being installed. Naively, I thought that working for a ‘progressive’ channel would be preferable to a right-wing channel, which is why I moved to Venezuela. Now I have my doubts.”

I prod X again – does he realize the implications of coming to CC with this?

“Many at teleSUR would see it as traitorous, but for me it’s about spotlighting the inadequate management. I don’t care what URL it appears on first. It will be shared around, and hopefully go on to shake things up.”

I ask him about the labor contracts teleSUR draws up in Colombia.

“There are those who feel that flexible Colombian contracts are the best way to keep foreigners under control within the organization. This opens the door to mistreatment and spontaneous firing. But even Venezuelan employees in Caracas are paid miserably, and instead of rotating shifts, there are many who work nights, and only nights. This is terrible for both mental and physical health.”

I begin questioning him about freedom of expression. He seems like a principled person, and in trying to find some common ground, I ask him if he ever felt uncomfortable working for a clear propaganda outlet such as teleSUR.

His answer reminds me of Salvador Allende’s old dictum about left-wing journalists being in the service of the revolution.

“In a world dominated by corporate propaganda outlets,” he says, “state involvement in the media is highly necessary. The ideal media would be entirely communal or cooperative, not funded by powerful interests of any kind. But until grassroots media can dominate a diverse informational panorama, popular state media is an essential antidote to corporate media.”

“We rely on Russian, Iranian, and Cuban media to expose the atrocities of Western imperialism and Zionism. We depend on socialist state media to give voice to the working class and social movements, and against the dictatorship of capital. I support independent media more than state media, but realistically socialist public media has a role to play as long as the revolution is ongoing and the state exists in its present form.”

X gets me thinking. Even though I disagree with his vision of the role of the media, I empathize with his worldview. No matter your perspective, too many times we consumers feel like corporate media is playing us. That doesn’t make it right to use state funds for propaganda purposes, but it provides some comfort to know there are people within who care about quality, about putting out a sustainable product.

The last few days, teleSUR has been tweeting a lot about the hypocrisy of the USA. By sanctioning Venezuela for human rights violations at the same time that the CIA Torture report has come out, Uncle Sam has left a flank open for teleSUR to exploit.

However, teleSUR’s own hypocrisy must equally be called into question. By exploiting local workers and mistreating foreigners via “neoliberal” labor contracts, are they not also guilty of hypocrisy?

I contacted teleSUR to ask them about all of this. I received no response.

1 COMMENT

  1. This part’s made my day:

    “X writes back, sending me a screenshot of a ex-colleague’s Facebook post. In it, she complains about how teleSUR violated her labor rights, firing her without compensation. “Perhaps naively,” she says, “I considered myself to be left-wing until I stepped in Venezuela. Some friends later reminded me that the French Revolution was chopping off people’s heads a few days after being installed. Naively, I thought that working for a ‘progressive’ channel would be preferable to a right-wing channel, which is why I moved to Venezuela. Now I have my doubts.”

    It reminded of that hilarious moment in the oscar-winning 1965 film called Doctor Zhivago in which the then ‘communist’ Jivago arrives at his home just to know that the revolution had brought another five or six families to share the premises of the mansion with his family: the house was just ‘too big’ and was being ‘underused’! Guess what, he didn’t like it! At all. And started having the same ‘doubts’ about the revolution.

    Regretful commies always use this quote: ” “I considered myself to be left-wing until [insert injustice against himself of his loved ones].

    Oddly enough, they tend to be very individualistic people! hehe.

    • That’s just it. The Communists have no moral problem with coercing people by force, “after all, it is for the collective good.” But, as soon as the same coercion is applied to them, they start whining. This is the moral contradiction that always dooms, sooner or later, the practical application of Marxism.

    • Reviewing the film, Dr. Z makes that comment in light of the situation, and does so in order the make the best of a horrific situation and loss..He understands, what can he do, and does not complain in front of the others. It would have been pointless at that point….

  2. well done, Nagel, for the report and X for the feed.
    Funny how many communists think nothing of imposing conditions close to slavery, while wrapping the vision in a sparkly gauze of rhetoric that attracts idealists like bees to honey. The idealists don’t realize, or worse, don’t want to realize that there’s always an upper echelon (yes, Virginia, even in communism) that does not share, except in words, the vision that it demands of the ‘proletariat’ or ‘little people’, read: dummy bees.

  3. “Some friends later reminded me that the French Revolution was chopping off people’s heads a few days after being installed.” The cognitive dissonance on display here is splendid. Either we agree that human rights are something to be held dear to all of us, or we become selective about it. In which case, what’s the difference between right wing tyranny and left wing tyranny? And when this individual is done chewing on that, perhaps a reader on what happened a few years after the Jacobins gleefully set themselves to chopping off peoples heads: You ended up with a panicked and traumatized population ready to give up everything to Napoleon.

  4. I always found of curious interest how Venezuela has the most restrictive labour policies in the world (per World Economic Forum Competitiveness Report) yet pretty much every organization belonging or related to the state gleefully ignores such regulations, and enjoys practising the unholy matrimony of “socialist pay”, “neoliberal hiring/firing”, a capitalistic dream for anyone in a position of upper management.

    Through the first part of the article I felt a bit of sympathy for X and his(her?) struggle to uphold genuine principles in a hostile environment, yet when finishing my only though was of beholding what amounts to an immense quota of poetic irony. Not only are the so called socialist values, of which they so gleefully support their imposition unto others (labour regulations), completely absent from the workplace; But the very worst of “neoliberal” practices run rampant in the place were such things should be condemned in principle.

    The worst part perhaps is the moral myopia that characterize the rationale behind this groups. Yes, even though corporate media will play us more than once, its very obvious that the only agenda most of those outlets follow is that of maximizing profits, ideology (and many times truth) be damned. But when the “heroic state funded response” is wilfully disrupting the facts for the sake of “fighting the good fight”, while at face value defending sources from places were the abuses so thoroughly denounced at the West are even worse; all with an aura of self righteousness. I find it as much, if not more, reprehensible than corporate media methods.

    Seriously, Cuba? Russia? Iran? are those the paragons of human rights socialists/communists will use to counter the right-wing crimes? And they wonder why their proposals end up alienating the modern world after the façade of idealist rhetoric has ran its course?

    I really hope the honest workers of TeleSur may get their demand for better treatment met, but I can’t deny a sense of amusement at seeing a bit of reality slapping the self delusional in such a way. I wonder what must feel that in the pursuit of a now obsolete ideology (communism, not quality content), someone has become a mere instrument in an apparatus that is as repressive, if not more, than the “eternal enemies” they have dedicated their existence to defeat.

    • We have been living in this dystopia for so long that it is no longer noteworthy that the law is only applied to private enterprise and the opposition, and never to the Chavistas.

  5. Couple things:
    – Glad this came out. Telesur might as well be called Chavezur, and it should come as no surprise that the agency, just like many things brought forth by the revolution, is actually two-faced and grossly incompetent in its work.
    – You guys may not be a news agency, but you are a pretty recognized blog. It’s a fine thing that you ended up with this story first.
    – No surprise to find out that venezuealanalysis is running the English version of Telesur. But it’s great to know that the hack behind it, whether intentionally or not, is dabbling in the Neoliberalist practices that are so frequently bashed on pages like his. And it’s even better to know that it is behind the curb and not developing fast enough.
    – Despite my disagreement with X’s beliefs, at least he actually tries to practice what his ideology preaches. Something that many lefties are utterly incapable of doing.
    – For a second there, I thought I was redirected to Reuters or some other major news outlet, since almost all their articles about Venezuela end with that “We contacted (insert government body here) and received no response” bit.

    • Thanks Wellborn. I honestly made an effort and wrote to two people inside Telesur, and gave them a week (!) to respond.

  6. The only thing socialists care about is stealing the private savings of the great unwashed. In the USA, both major political parties practice socialism. They both start wars in order to breed opportunities for graft, including the war on terror and the war on drugs. Wars justify overspending and overborrowing, which is just a way of crowding out the private sector.

    Those who declare themselves as being socialists are more honest in that they make no bones about stealing private savings. Stealth socialists in the USA are more dangerous because they know how to use humor and goody-two-shoes manipulation in order to sell their thieving schemes.
    Today’s socialists in Venezuela lack the cunning and the light touch that Chavez brought to his efforts, although he did talk too much.

    • “… the cunning and the light touch that Chavez brought…”
      Feeding hatred and then stirring the brains of ignorant people with it isn’t exactly cunning nor subtle…

  7. Yoanie Sanchez, in the tradition of Kremlinology, was also wondering why here has been no word of approval from Fidel Castro. He appears regularly in Granma, and has had articles on subjects from global peace to how the present generation stays up too late and makes too much noise.

    And on this, nothing.

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