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December 22, 2014
Saturday, March 1, 2014

Kicillof not from Uganda

By Marcelo J. García
For The Herald

“Let us avoid the Clarín, anti-Clarín debate.”

“Forget about Clarín.”

Radio journalist Andy Kustnesoff, who generally supports the government, made the recommendation at least three times to Economy Minister Axel Kicillof during an interview this week. Before then, the minister had fired a diatribe against journalism in general but the newspaper Clarín in particular.

“They have not published a single good news item in five years,” he said.

Kicillof is right. Even if an old journalism axiom indicates that “no news is good news,” Argentina’s mainstream press spearheaded by the government’s political archrival Grupo Clarín has not been very good at showing the shades of a reality that stubbornly remains in the realm of the grey rather than the blacks and whites it presents every day.

Kicillof is a later comer to the Kirchner decade-plus government but has subscribed the theory that it is better (and maybe easier too) to slam somebody else’s criticism rather than highlights one’s strengths. His team has arguably enjoyed its best week since taking charge of the hot potato portfolio in late November — definitely the best since the crisis days of late January’s peso devaluation. And still the minister, who sounded as articulate and calm as he has ever in the job, could not avoid the temptation of delivering some journalistic lessons.

“There is a great distance between the design of economic policy, its implementation and its communication,” said Kicillof. “It is not easy to work as a journalist these days,” he continued. And, “The other day I was watching Fox News and it also happens in the United States that the President takes a decision and (the media) give him a beating.” The next day, in a radio interview with the staunchly pro-government radio host Víctor Hugo Morales, Kicillof concluded, “The role of the press is not to criticize everything all the time, but to inform the public with objectivity.”

It is good news that the economic team is watching international media. For a government concentrating its efforts on resolving the external front hoping to gain fresh access to foreign capital, the image of the country portrayed by the mainstream global (Western) media could be a quintessential aspect of its strategy.

This week and for the first time in months, the government got what you could call “market-friendly” headlines abroad, thanks to the agreement reached with Spain’s Repsol over the nationalization in 2012 of Argentina’s energy company YPF. Some people out there are, for the first time in a long time, at least giving the government the slight benefit of a doubt. “Argentina expects boost in energy investments in wake of Repsol settlement,” read the headline in one agency specialized in commodity trade. “Argentina hopes Repsol deal with dispel investor doubts,” read the Chicago Tribune. “Repsol and Argentina in settlement,” said, more factual, the New York Times. “The deal, analysts say, is a pivotal step in Argentina’s bid to polish its international image,” wrote the Christian Science Monitor. And there were some more of the like. There were even a couple of headlines on the new train cars arriving from China to service the accident-ridden Sarmiento commuting line.

About a month ago, Argentina had hit headlines worldwide for the devaluation of the currency and the threat that the country could go down the crisis path it so well knows. Wooing the foreign press is not something the Kirchner era has placed very high on its more navel-gazing communication agenda. The climax was a cover story on the Economist featuring a defeat-looking soccer star Messi whose headline said the country had something to teach the world: how to fail.

The odd voice out this week was Roger Cohen, a pen in the New York Times. Cohen published a typically cliché-filled column that, just like the Economist opening editorial on Argentina a month ago, resorted to the common place of using lines from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Evita. “Cry for me, Argentina,” Cohen’s piece is titled.

“Argentina is a perverse case of its own,” writes Cohen. “It is a nation still drugged by that quixotic political concoction called Peronism,” he continues, before reaching a first conclusion: “In psychological terms — and Buenos Aires is packed with folks on couches pouring out their anguish to psychotherapists — Argentina is the child among nations that never grew up. Responsibility was not its thing.”

Cohen writes from Ushuaia (off from a cruise, maybe) that, “Hope is hard to banish from the human heart, but it has to be said that Argentina does its best to do so.”

***

Another headline this week said that a Russian gay couple got married in Argentina, reportedly seeking a safe place from homophobic harassment they denounce back home. Even if off topic, issues like these are also part of a country’s reputation and could have economic consequences. At least that is what happened in Uganda, where the government is fighting a financial crash after imposing tough penalties on homosexuality. The Ugandan shilling has fallen against the US dollar since President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill. The Central Bank is struggling to stem the currency. Hope, it seems, comes in many different formats.

@mjotagarcia

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