Tuesday
October 21, 2014

CFK, Cartoons, Kicillof

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Back to normal

By Marcelo J. García
For The Herald

It was more than 25 minutes into her first speech after a month and a half of public silence when President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made a reference to a cartoon published on the inside page of a newspaper almost six years ago. Yes, six years ago.

“What cartoon will I get tomorrow? I remember back in 2008, when they drew me with a taped cross over my mouth… Never mind … Maybe I’ll be like an ostrich tomorrow, sticking my head out somewhere,” she said on Wednesday. She was referring to a drawing by Hermenegildo Sábat in the newspaper Clarín which she had then described as “a mafia message.”

But to the president’s disappointment, there was no déjà-vu and she did not get any cartoon the next morning.

The government’s obsession with all things said or written does not match a similar care for the way it delivers its messages. The untheatrical announcement by Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich and Economy Minister Axel Kicillof of foreign exchange market changes yesterday morning – which had the minister hesitating on whether to leave the stage only to come back and fire a short diatribe – was a perfect show of communication clumsiness at a time the public is sensitive enough to read every black cloud as an indication of a perfect storm brewing.

As she delivered her much-waited speech this week, government supporters in the Casa Rosada chanted slogans against Grupo Clarín, as if the government were still in the heat of a battle with the country’s largest media conglomerate.

But reality is beginning to move otherwise.

Early this week, AFSCA’s Martín Sabbatella’s said in an interview with the Herald that Grupo Clarín’s proposal to abide by the 2009 Media Act anti-trust rules looked good “at first sight.” Later in the week, the AFSCA and Grupo Clarín reached an agreement on how to sort out the channel grid in Grupo Clarín’s cable giant Cablevisión. The (legal) thaw might be here to stay in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling that threw away a petition to declare the Media Act unconstitutional.

The confrontation between the government and the mainstream media outlets seems to be going back to the more reasonable tracks of political debate, with hardball tactics included.

The government is fine to celebrate its Media Law victory in the courts, but should also put aside the media obsession and make no mistakes in the implementation’s fine print. Grupo Clarín has, as it has always had, time on its side and is likely to be the one standing firm to fight another day come the presidential transition in 2015. History books might refer to the Government-Clarín conflict as one – of the first ones? – where Argentine political history delivers two winners.

***

The media war distracted the government from other more urgent affairs, which are beginning to hit back. The economy is the most obvious. And it also has an international angle to it.

The Kirchner era has paid little attention to the opinions of opinion-makers abroad. The government’s communications policy is not journalism-friendly, let alone foreign journalist-friendly. With little access to official sources, the correspondents tend to rehash whatever gets published in the most-read local press, which is mostly anti-government.

It is therefore no surprise that the headlines have been unequivocally negative for years now. The government has looked the other way – at its own risk. The lack of an international PR and press policy sneaks into the agenda when your economy minister flies all the way to Paris to personally present a proposal to cancel debt with a group of creditor nations.

The headlines coming from abroad leave no room for debate about how the world sees the outlook of Argentina’s economy. “Argentina: Bad to Worse,” and “In Argentina, a Populist Formula Goes Flat,” headlines a Wall Street Journal, “Trouble is brewing in Argentina, and some are wondering about the potential for the country’s woes to spill outside its borders.” A Reuters piece carried by many papers including The Guardian reads, “Argentinian peso in freefall as economic crisis deepens.” “Argentina is a throwback to the glory days of emerging market investing,” titles the Financial Times. Dow Jones, “Argentine leaders re-emerges, but fails to calm nerves.” Bloomberg news, “Argentina Seen Extending World’s Biggest Currency Decline.” And there is, and will be, more.

The big international business press might at times behave as a pawn to the game of financial market insiders suspected of making juicy gains every time a country goes down. But policymakers and world leaders alike make their calls based on these published judgments. At a first sight, the Paris Club decision to freeze Argentina’s proposal for a deal is in line with the way these foreign media observers are evaluating the situation of Argentina. The correlation is not pure coincidence.

It might be all part of a conspiracy against the country, as the president put it, “They want to teach the Argentine people a lesson, the hard way.” After all, these are people who cannot use the word “heterodox” to describe Argentina’s economic policies and instead pick a negative: “unorthodox.” Yet the way the economic equation is moving – in a country where déjà-vu appears in the form of crisis – this story is unlikely to have a win-win happy ending.

@mjotagarcia

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