Politics and the PressSaturday, February 15, 2014
For The Herald
At least theoretically, the government has now started to walk down the path of a reality it seemed previously not willing to accept. The 3.7 percent mark on January’s inflation rate might technically mean the government is coming to terms with a truth that have been conspicuously hiding behind the curtains of a somehow deceptive discursive construct.
If that were the case, the next question is whether the change for the good will cover other areas of governing, the media policy for instance. The administration’s decision to devaluate the peso last month and introduce a more credible inflation index this week means acknowledging that it lost a battle to market forces. On the contrary, the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner believes it has won the war on mainstream media and does not seem willing to concede an inch of its new territory.
But has it? The courts made it clear this week that they will not let the government get away with an easy win. In October, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the anti-trust chapter of the 2009 Media Act, which is now forcing the administration’s media archrival Grupo Clarín to split up its conglomerate. But the Court also noted that the government had to sort out three issues if it wanted its overall communications package to survive the constitutionality test: State advertising, access to public information and the management of State media. The government needed to tackle those issues if it wished to consolidate its legal triumph. It did not.
The abrupt and scandalous abortion earlier this month of changes announced in Fútbol para Todos, the government-funded programme in charge of broadcasting Argentina’s soccer matches, was the perfect evidence government critics needed to confirm their suspicion that the Media Law victory would not come with a peace treaty. Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich had tried to bring in showbiz mogul and popular TV host Marcelo Tinelli to the show, hoping to devoid it of it political propaganda inclination, but had to backtrack following resistance from the hardliners in the administration, mainly from the youth group La Cámpora led by presidential son Máximo.
So the courts handed the government two blows this week. The Supreme Court ruled that Grupo Clarín’s Channel 13 should get a share of State advertising. And then a federal judge subpoena former Cabinet Chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina and government Spokesman Alfredo Scoccimarro on grounds that TV adds blasting the opposition during soccer match games amounted to mismanagement of public funds. In his morning press briefings, Capitanich accused the Supreme Court of “breaking the division of powers” with the ruling and said that Abal Medina and Scoccimarro were “honourable persons who have acted in good faith.”
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner did not mention the Supreme Court decision directly in her bully pulpit moment this week, but she did give the mainstream oppositionist press enough material to lead the next day with a headline on the presidential diatribe against the media and the courts.
Presidential communication has meanwhile entered (yet) a new stage. The president this week gave her third speech of the year from the Casa Rosada through the much-debated cadena nacional, the official broadcast all channels are obliged to carry. The president actually apologized to the viewers for using the cadena but then spend almost 40 minutes on the mic. She used a soft tone to deliver strong words, which included accusations of a plot to make her government “blow up in the air.”
The president is keeping the announcement of the good news for herself – the few available these days – and placing the burden of the bad mostly on the shoulders of Kicillof, who has already put his face to the devaluation in January and the new (high) inflation index this week.
But the real novelty is that the president has opened a new (old) channel of communication with the people: the phone. In the last two weeks she personally called two citizens who had shared on Social Media their experience trying to get products listed on the Precios Cuidados price watch scheme. The leader-talks-to-the people tactic is as old as it continues to be effective when it comes to showing proximity to the voters. The president is said to have called herself to the Precios Cuidados hot line, only to be left on hold for 20 minutes.
Life, an old song goes, is whatever happens to you while busy making other plans. Argentine journalism has been minding its own navel-gazing business for years, fuelling squabbling between pro-government “militants” and anti-government “independents.” In the meantime, some journalists on the ground, most especially those from smaller places, less visible to the mainstream capital city media lights, are facing increasing violence similar to those reported in countries like Brazil or Mexico. The news that a narco gang had threatened to murder journalists exposing their crimes in the Western city of Mendoza is an indication of the story Argentina might miss unless it begins to look more at the territory rather than the map. Checking on reality can be cruel sometimes.