December 5, 2013
CFK, BRIENZA, MICELISaturday, September 21, 2013
This is not an interview
An interview? There are no fixed rules for a journalistic interview. Critics of Brienza were tempted to cite René Magritte’s “This is not a pipe” painting to describe his conversation with the president which, as the journalist admitted, did not follow the agenda “hegemonic journalists” would have followed. “I am not interested in the agenda of the oppositionist journalism: I share a backbone of ideas with the president, which allows me to avoid communication tackles and stick instead to my own intellectual interests,” Brienza wrote the day after the interview was aired in the pro-government daily Tiempo Argentino.
Brienza is a “militant” journalist, in the jargon established as a result of the media war under way in Argentina. On the other trench there is the so-called “independent” or “oppositionist” journalists. There is no reason to doubt about Brienza’s intellectual honesty and sincere interest in the line of questioning he chose to pursue during the conversation with the president. There is no doubt either that the president knew she was walking on safe ground when she asked him to ask her whatever he wanted. Just in case, the interview was only announced after it had already been taped.
The first problem with the Cristina by Brienza interview was one of genre. Presented under the umbrella called Desde otro lugar (“From a different place”) but with little information as to what type of continuity it would have, many viewers were hoping for a newsy rather than a historical/personal interview as the one conducted by Brienza. Genre is important in journalism. And genre-wise, Brienza’s interview resembled instead that of a series by Senator Daniel Filmus, who travelled South America to interview a handful of Latin American leaders, including Cristina Fernández, (http://www.presidentestv.com.ar/ ) back in 2009. In journalism interviewing, there are plenty of grays between an intimate character-based conversation and a murder board based on the day-to-day mainstream agenda. The Brienza interview did not seek to find one.
But the second and most important problem is that the president continues to struggle when it comes to speaking directly to the wider public and not only to her following. After the interview, Brienza explained in the staunchly pro-government political talk show 6,7,8 that he did not believe his role as journalist meant that he “represented society” during the interview but “his own intellectual interests” instead. By the same token, the president did not seem to speak to the people but her own choir. This is a target-audience problem that affects most of the president’s communication and which has only been overcome at times by her Twitter account, which has this year managed to generate a credible personal tone, address the public directly and get picked up by the mainstream press. Fernández de Kirchner is a top 10 among world leaders in terms of Twitter followers.
As the president enters her lame-duck period after the October 27 midterm elections, her line of discourse and target audience should become more inclusive if she hopes to conclude her term in December 2015 with sound approval ratings— and thus influence in her succession á la Lula Da Silva in Brazil a few years ago.
The president, a lawyer and a good public speaker trained in Congress, is more comfortable in soliloquies than conversations or questioning. The last time she faced open questions from an audience inspired by the mainstream media (and thus including the thorny issues of corruption, inflation, personal wealth and the like) was in front of Argentine students in Georgetown and Harvard universities a year ago. She did not do very well.
The ask -whatever-you-want line is not likely to have appeared in news anchor Juan Miceli’s teleprompter on the state-run Channel 7 - a.k.a. La TV Pública. Miceli was an asset for the government’s communications strategy because he changed sides from Grupo Clarín’s main news programme Telenoche on Channel 13 to Channel 7 during one peak in the five-year-plus confrontation between the administration and the media mammoth. Last month, Miceli slammed the doors of Channel 7 after a series of incidents, including making an uncomfortable question on the air to one of the leaders of the government’s youth branch La Cámpora, Andrés Larroque.
“I like making good questions and they didn’t like that in the channel,” said Miceli as he spoke about his decision to walk away. Channel 7 authorities responded that they never censored Miceli. The truth is that there was tension on the air (literally) between Miceli and his producers: at one point a visibly worn-out Miceli opened the midday newscast outspokenly defending himself from “attacks” he received from the station. Scratch Miceli out from the list of possible presidential interviewers.