December 7, 2013
The press under yet more pressure
For the Herald
To the great delight of the many Kirchnerites who apparently really do think that all Cristina’s problems are the result of the machinations of the Clarín Group’s wicked CEO, a frail accountant called Héctor Magnetto who, after supporting Néstor for several years, turned against him because he believed his wife’s government was on the way out, the Supreme Court finally declared their beloved media law lawful. As far as the government’s faithful supporters are concerned, the ruling more than made up for the electoral setback they had suffered a couple of days earlier.
In the orthodox Kirchnerite view, those who own “the narrative” own the country, so by cutting Clarín down to size they should soon manage to win back the hearts of the millions of voters who were foolish enough to desert them.
That is most unlikely to happen: Cristina’s term in office will not be extended by a grateful populace and, with the exception of the relentlessly ambiguous Daniel Scioli, nobody in her camp has much chance of getting enough votes to win the presidency.
In any event, Clarín’s influence was never as great as both politicians and the individuals running the group imagined, so even if the government’s dirty tricks department succeeded in removing it entirely from the scene that would not be enough to enable the Kirchnerites to turn the clock back to October 2011, when Cristina was rewarded for her efforts with an overall majority in the polls. That triumph should have disabused them of the fanciful idea that Clarín called all the shots because during the campaign neither it nor the other major newspapers and their television satellites treated the lady at all kindly but, in the Kirchnerite world, theory trumps facts every time.
Since then, of course, the economy has gone to the dogs, scandals have been erupting on a daily basis and awareness that many government stalwarts are more interested in piling up money on the side than in improving matters for other people has spread far beyond the urban rumour mills. To make matters even worse for the Kirchnerites, the transition has acquired its own momentum and is quickly leaving them behind.
For Clarín, the Supreme Court’s ruling, with its president, Ricardo Lorenzetti, casting the deciding vote, was a painful blow. But though Clarín has few friends among Argentine journalists, many of whom greatly dislike the group’s predatory practices and its systematically opportunistic habit of working alongside governments, whether military or civilian, in exchange for favours and then turning against them when their power seems about to wane, if put fully into effect the new media law could hurt many who depend on the media for a living.
As well as weakening, and if they get their way, killing Clarín, the leftist academics who fathered the bill want to liberate the country’s newspapers and television companies from capitalist tyranny by preventing any organization from becoming too profitable. Their aim is to replace the current system with one in which a multitude of tiny enterprises, preferably those put together by allegedly progressive NGOs that share their outlook, would be able to thrive. To their mind, that would be more than enough to guarantee true freedom of speech, which, needless to say, is radically different from the phoney “bourgeois” variety.
Would it? Only according to the peculiar criteria of individuals influenced by Antonio Gramsci, the Teutonic gurus of the Frankfurt School and their exegetes in Anglo-Saxon countries. Academics who devote themselves to media studies are prone to take a dim view of flesh-and-blood journalists who refuse to be impressed by their erudition and, on occasion, ask them if they have ever actually worked in a newspaper, magazine or in broadcasting. If they are set up, all those brave new cooperative “social” enterprises they dream about will quickly be taken over by politicians and the rapacious individuals who cluster around them.
Without companies that are strong enough to resist pressure from politicians and their cronies in the business world, people in power would find it wonderfully easy to force the smaller fry to do their bidding, silencing dissident voices and obliging journalists to toe whatever happens to be the official line. Cristina’s government has already used huge amounts of taxpayers’ money to fund enthusiastically Kirchnerite publications and television programmes, thereby creating its own media empire, but despite the millions of dollars it has ladled out its hirelings have had little impact on public opinion. Their failure was predictable; unlike Silvio Berlusconi or Rupert Murdoch, say, the would-be media tycoons who took advantage of Cristina’s desire to push through a “cultural revolution” in order to make a fast buck know little about journalism and care even less.
With the help of Guillermo Moreno, Cristina and her friends have also done their considerable best to strangle the big national dailies by depriving them of income from private advertisers. By making it likely that Clarín will have to sell off some of its many subsidiaries and give up hundreds of licences, they have already taught it, and other media organizations, that picking a quarrel with a government, especially one as unscrupulous as Cristina’s, is a very bad commercial policy. As a result, it can be assumed that from now on working journalists will be advised by the folk in the commercial department to take this into account and not do, say or publish anything that could possibly upset their paymasters.