December 5, 2013
POLITICS AND the PRESSSaturday, September 28, 2013
The best possible outcome
Lorenzetti, CFK, Fopea
The moment the political Nation stops paying press and media affairs an over-inflated importance, many of us will have to start looking around for other things to talk about. That moment is not here yet, but it might be closer once the Supreme Court delivers a final ruling on the future of the Media Act passed by Congress four years ago.
This week, two of the country’s top authorities, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti mentioned the issue. The head of State criticized the Courts for taking now four years (and counting) to deliver a ruling on the Law, which she described as “the most debated and with the greatest public participation” she had seen in years of congressional experience.
Lorenzetti responded, partly forced by events, as an attendee in a public conference he was addressing urged him to explain how come the courts he heads could take that long to settle a legal conflict that has taken an irrational centre stage in Argentine politics.
Four years is indeed a long time, conceded Lorenzetti, but he was quick to add that the Court was giving “maximum relevance” to the case and that it hoped to deliver “the best outcome possible.” Stress should go on the word “possible.” He warned, however, that the members of the Court were “very diverse” in their opinions and that one of his main challenges as Chief Justice was to ‘lead that diversity.” Translate judicial diplomacy to realpolitik and brace for a divided ruling on the Media Act.
Lorenzetti has sought to be the exact opposite of the President in terms of his leadership and the way he communicates to his peers, the public and, most importantly, the press. His speech on Wednesday was devoted to explain the Court’s communications policy, which has included the creation of the website (www.cij.gov.ar) where full rulings are published and hearings are broadcast live.
“We should not get nervous when we are asked questions. It is our obligation to explain what we do,” said Lorenzetti. “We have been activists of partial truths. I have also been one, like the majority of Argentines. But it is time to find a common language. If we don’t, we will have a society of opponents, a society of diverging paradigms unable to reach any agreement. Our communications policy is aimed at that.”
Until March this year, when Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Lorenzetti was mostly alone in this harmonious, Habermasian style of leadership, which has come to heads with the conflict-driven approach of the Kirchner decade. The President would be more inclined to read Karl Schmidt than Jürgen Habermas if given to pick a tradition of German political philosophy, or so they say. But the ascension of Bergoglio to the chair of Saint Peter brought a new momentum to openness and communicative rationality.
Lorenzetti, however, also gave conflict its due place. Argentina, he said, is going through “an extraordinary era of controversies, and we should not be afraid.” Conflict is important because it is the fuel for change, he added, but the Courts are obliged to resolve them. Lorenzetti and his Court know that they are in the center of the attention - and seem to enjoy every minute of it. And they also know that, given the way Republican responsibility is distributed in Argentina’s democracy, time is on their favour.
It is not a given that the President listened — or paid attention — to Lorenzetti this week. But the fact is that Cristina Fernández continues this weekend with a new series of interviews whose first episode was not much of an interview but a friendly conversation with a staunchly pro-government journalist. This time she has talked to showbiz hack Jorge Rial, who swears he has asked everything the public wants to know. The interview airs tomorrow evening.
Journalists are rightfully trying to take advantage of this new trend toward openness. The media war will soon be over — one way or another — and it is a good time to try to get things back to normal. Normal, in this context, means that journalists can ask questions and that public information is actually public. The journalists’ association FOPEA launched this week a public drive to get a commitment from candidates running in the October 27 midterm election that they will abide by the rules of a more civilized relationship between politicos and hacks.
The commitment includes four basic points: 1) that there will be open-agenda press conferences and that no journalist would be excluded, 2) that government activity would be transparent and citizen’s right to information respected, 3) that there will be balanced and transparent mechanisms for the allocation of government advertising at all State levels and, 4) that authorities will promote pluralism in State and private media throughout the country.
Committing to that would be a good general outcome for the sake of the public’s information — and it does not require any sophisticated court verdict.