December 5, 2013
The media could be the message
If last week’s Supreme Court hearings on the Broadcasting Law pretty well exhausted all the arguments on both sides in answering the 53 questions, this issue has yet to be decided in the only forum which ultimately counts — real life. Not even those convinced that the government side (especially those speaking with technical and international rather than political authority) won the day at the hearings could deny that the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration has yet to prove that it intends to practise what it preaches in terms of pluralism and transparency. Critics argue that the Broadcasting Law is a sham to replace a Clarín monopoly with a Kirchnerite monopoly. As a matter of fact, it would be easier to create new Clarins with the old law lacking any defined public or parliamentary controls or limits on market share. However, other Kirchnerite media policies raise concerns regarding the “democratization of the word”, such as the extremely arduous access to information, the one-sided use of public media and an unwritten advertising policy favouring friends. If these abusive attitudes are totally or partially mirrored by City Mayor Mauricio Macri and governors like Córdoba’s José Manuel de la Sota (and indeed almost all his colleagues) , this does not make them any more excusable.
While some expect no Supreme Court ruling before the October 27 elections, accepting sooner rather than later the challenge to prove that it genuinely wants to “democratize” Argentina’s media market could dovetail very neatly into other recent changes in government campaign strategy. The increasing presidential preference for a calm fireside chat style over haranguing ultra-loyalists as the best medium to deliver her message; the recent encouragement of government officials and candidates not only to appear in opposition (even Clarín-owned) media but also to raise hitherto taboo problems — what better way to accompany these strategic shifts than an active interest in promoting media diversity and what better way of casting a wider electoral net than the meagre 26 percent of last month’s primaries?
At the recent Council of the Americas symposium, former Maryland lieutenant-governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend commented that she had never encountered more diversity than over the meaning of that word — asking 10 different people had yielded 10 different definitions. Perhaps once the Broadcasting Law debate is renewed, it could move beyond the clash between a “going for everything” state and a media colossus to seek diversity in its fullest and most democratic sense.