May 23, 2013
POLITICS AND the PRESSSaturday, March 16, 2013
Argentina in the good news
Pope takes agenda to different level
by Marcelo J. García
For the Herald
Argentina entered globalization this week. The historic election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis is arguably the first time in (recent?) history the country makes it to the headlines around the globe in a positive rather than a negative spin — soccer excluded.
Argentina had never had such a globalized media moment of its own before. Other similar minutes of global fame were unfalteringly associated with tragedy and/or chaos: the “dirty war,” the Malvinas War, the Israeli Embassy bombing, the AMIA bombing, the 2001 economic meltdown with its five-presidents-in-the-week’s political comedy, the debt default, and the like. No news is good news in the post-Westphalian world, unless you score a job with clout in one of the few global institutions on Earth. One of them is the Catholic Church.
Argentina and good news at a global level had been odd partners until this week. If international politics is made of national reputations as well as money and force, the election of an Argentine pope should be regarded as good news for politicos of all parties here, as the pope now becomes a figure of a worldwide standing who will carry the name of Argentina wherever he goes.
This was not immediately understood across the board though. But it was some media rather than most politicians who could not tell history from story this time.
The Bergoglio appointment amounts to a game-changer in the way the nation is perceived globally. Global agendas are difficult to track down in local media. Issues like climate change, trade negotiations of even global currency markets do not translate well into people’s daily lives. Globalization, for all it is talked about, is hardly ever found in the local press. Even the international institution par excellence, the United Nations, behaves like a compilation of national States rather than a global bureaucracy and its political influence, since its very inception, has been dwarfed by the frequent stalemate of its only deciding body, the Security Council.
On the contrary the Catholic Church can, every once in a while, deliver an absolute media moment like the one on Wednesday, which had billions of viewers glued to the TV in almost every corner of the world — except for the rising giant China, where the Catholics are only a tiny minority.
When a global agenda sets in a country like Argentina, where news navel-gazing is the norm, it is difficult to adapt. In the show of polarized media and politics, Archbishop Bergoglio had been labelled by critic as a conservative who opposed sexual rights reforms as head of the Argentine Church and who allegedly worked behind the curtains to unite a fragmented opposition. His role during the military dictatorship has also been put to question. In a regional picture, pro-government minds have said his appointment is an attempt by the Vatican to harm left-leaning populist governments in Latin America, in what would be a revival of John Paul II’s influence in the collapse of the Communist World in the late 1980s. “Oh, My God,” was the doom-mongering headline on the front-page of Página/12 announcing Bergoglio’s election. From the other side, a columnist in the daily Clarín noted that the new pope was announced on Wednesday, March 13, which happens to be Santa Cristina in the Catholic calendar of saints.
But certain incapability by the government’s main media talking heads to separate a petty local political entertainment from the vaster global agenda seems to have driven a wedge in what is most of the times a single narrative in the Kirchnerite movement, starting from President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner herself. The President tweeted a quick written statement congratulating Bergoglio and spoke well about the new pope on the same evening of his appointment — apparently holding no grudges over past political disputes. The President’s office was also quick to announce that the head of state would fly to Rome this weekend to attend Tuesday’s installation. But many of her followers do not seem eager to accept the government line this time. The tension was evident for everyone to see during Thursday’s 678, the diehard pro-government primetime talk show on State television, when the lieutenant governor of Buenos Aires, Gabriel Mariotto, expressed hopes about the prospects for “this popular and deeply Peronist” pope, much to the disagreement of the programme’s staff panellists. Getting stuck in the domestic agenda to discuss the new pope was “trivial,” Mariotto told the ultra-Kirchnerite journalists. In your face!
Mariotto was also quick to mention the fact that Bergoglio and the Argentine Catholic Church leadership had supported the 2009 Broadcasting Law. Mariotto was the mastermind and main promoter of the bill. The Catholic Church has a sound communications policy and machine, here and elsewhere. Bergoglio is taking the reins of the Vatican at a time of growing tension between the Holy See and the mainstream press, as it was discussed here upon Benedict XVI’s resignation (www.buenosairesherald.com/article/124301/benedict-xvi-in-678). Were Francis willing to continue to escalate a war on the media after his honeymoon is over, his Argentine background could serve him well.