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Venezuelan network Telesur expands into English

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Spanish-language television network started by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a vehicle for promoting in Latin America his leftist brand of political change will now reach audiences in English.

Under the motto "Don't resign yourself to having just one side of the story," Telesur on Wednesday unveiled a news website that will serve as a hub for hours of daily multimedia programming in English from correspondents and pundits around the world. The website goes live Thursday, coinciding with the ninth anniversary of Telesur's launch and the celebration of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar's birthday.

While the main goal of the network will be to reshape views about Latin America with dispatches from correspondents around the region, it will also offer an alternative take to mainstream media coverage of the day's major events, said Patricia Villegas, Telesur's president. That includes from places like the Gaza Strip, where Telesur has two journalists, one in English and one in Spanish, reporting on fighting between Israeli security forces and Hamas insurgents.

"Unfortunately, Latin America continues to be portrayed as a stereotype of itself," Villegas said, citing as an example of Western media bias the recent portrayal of Colombia's stellar run in the World Cup, which several outlets jokingly associated with supposed cocaine use by the country's players.

Like Al-Jazeera before it, Telesur was demonized in the U.S. when it was launched in 2005, with lawmakers accusing it of being a vehicle for spreading Chavez's authoritarian message. Funded by six regional governments aligned with Venezuela, including Cuba and Argentina, its cameras are always broadcasting live when Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro, lands for a state visit or delivers an important speech.

But despite Telesur's obvious slant, audiences in Latin America have embraced the network as a politicized alternative to CNN en Espanol and as one of the few outlets offering in-depth coverage of the region's lesser-told stories and places.

Villegas told The Associated Press that Telesur hired about 100 native English-speaking journalists and producers for the launch. Many are based in Quito, Ecuador, where a studio was built to produce the bulk of English-language programming.

For now, Telesur has no plans to launch an English-language TV broadcast channel, she said. While less affluent audiences in Latin America still depend on TV and even radio to stay informed, news junkies in the U.S. look to the Internet, she said.

"The trend everywhere in the world is toward digital media, especially in English-speaking countries," she said.

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Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

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