May 23, 2013
Armageddon finally arrives
Cristina and the strange collection of individuals who surround her like to imagine they are revolutionaries, brave men and women who on behalf of social justice and national independence are fighting a war of attrition against an evil horde of rapacious coup-mongering oligarchs and cold-hearted liberals apparently led by one Héctor Magnetto, the frail accountant who happens to be the CEO of the Clarín media group. Seeing oneself as a revolutionary has its advantages: among other things, it means you can feel free to trample on the Constitution and treat the legal niceties as so much reactionary drivel. That is certainly the view of the Kirchnerite hard-liners.
After spending years whipping themselves into a righteous fury in preparation for the battle of Armageddon against the fearsome Magnetto and his army that is scheduled to take place tomorrow when, at the stroke of midnight, the Kirchnerite media law is supposed to come into force, Cristina and her allies have staked so much on its outcome that anything less than a total victory will be seen as a humiliating defeat. That may be what is in store for them. The daily newspaper itself will continue publishing, and its owners may find a way to ensure that their profitable television companies remain in safe hands.
One government official suggested that, if bits of what is still the Clarín group hewed to the same editorial line, that would be treated as evidence that the conglomerate had refused to adapt to the media law, but the notion that the government has a democratic right to behave like a totalitarian dictatorship and keep tabs on the ideological preferences of people in the media was found so objectionable that it was shelved, perhaps permanently, perhaps not.
At first sight, the media law the government, with the willing help of submissive legislators, rammed through Congress, looks sensible enough because its alleged aim is to prevent any single company from getting too big, but it so happens that everybody knows that it was designed from the start to punish Clarín for the unforgivable sin of not supporting Cristina when, several years ago, she was having it out with the farmers. Thanks to its ruthless business practices, Clarín has few friends in the media, but most of the dwindling number of journalists who are not on the government’s payroll are well aware that, if the biggest press conglomerate can be trashed with impunity by the Kirchnerites, they might as well say goodbye to freedom of expression.
For good or ill, that particular freedom, the bedrock of democratic culture, depends on the existence of at least some media groups that have enough financial resources, and the ability to attract advertisers, to enable them to defy politicians who are determined to put them in their place. If all media outlets are small and short of cash, they will be easy meat for a government as unscrupulous as Cristina’s which has never hesitated to use public funds to subsidize the newspapers, magazines and television producers that are friendly while boycotting those that refuse to do its bidding.
The Kirchnerites and their cronies in the business world have already built themselves a handy little media empire but, to their evident bewilderment, their state-sponsored newspapers, magazines and television programmes, have proved unable to compete with the real professionals of Clarín, La Nación and Perfil. The broadcasting of soccer matches should be an exception, but even so the people in charge of “football for everyone” have contrived to lose a great deal of money.
As they have managed to convince themselves they are revolutionaries, the Kirchnerites feel entitled to ride roughshod over mere bourgeois legality. As New York judge Thomas Griesa found out, Argentina’s government has nothing but contempt for verdicts that run counter to Cristina’s “narrative”. But while he was in a position to make life uncomfortable for the president, the local Supreme Court has grown accustomed to seeing its rulings blithely ignored: years ago it ordered the government to give the Perfil group a proper share of official advertising its flagship weekly Noticias has yet to receive a cent of it —, and two days ago it said it again, but only an incurable optimist would expect Cristina and company to hand good money to a publication they evidently detest.
The idea that what really counts in world affairs is “the narrative”, the way people interpret the otherwise confusing drama that is going on around them, fascinates Cristina to such an extent that she has sacrificed everything else to it, with ghastly consequences for the country and, what to her mind must seem far more important, for her own place in its history. Along with her dutiful supporters, she believes that the fate of what she calls her project depends on her ability to win the hearts and minds of the populace. Last year’s election results, in which she got 54 per cent of the votes leaving all her rivals far behind, persuaded her that most people believed in her “narrative” and therefore victory was there for the taking, but since then the public mood has changed greatly, in large measure because Cristina and her aides have spent so much time telling us how wonderful they are that they have forgotten that governments are supposed to govern.