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Capitanich justifies BA City media advertising spending, Macri’s PRO mum

Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich is seen yesterday at the Senate.
By Tomás Brockenshire
Herald Staff

Cabinet chief says leaders can decide how best to allocate state funds among media

Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich yesterday defended the idea that governments can spend their public advertising cash as they see fit during his testimony to the Senate following the renewed debate on the matter after the Herald reported this week on the way City Hall chose to dole out its largesse on media outlets.

“Each and every one of those responsible or in leadership positions in every province and municipality has the right to determine how they can spend their resources,” Capitanich said, before complaining that the national government is the only one accused of carrying out this kind of discretionary conduct. “It’s important that (the government) receive fair treatment by the legal system and by the different media and political analysts,” the official stressed.

The role of mass media in Argentine politics featured prominently in the speech by the Kirchnerite official, who defended the role of the state as “a guarantor of freedom of expression” and aimed fire at “opposition media,” justifying the use of public advertising as a counter-balance to private-sector ads.

The Cabinet chief also referenced Herald articles that reviewed the distribution of public advertising by the Buenos Aires City government in media outlets, which shows favouritism towards its allies, echoeing the national government’s practices.

Even though there are some questionable points in the City advertising budget, several Mauricio Macri officials declined to comment yesterday on the Herald reports.

Capitanich insisted that “there is a systematic attack against the national administration on this issue” which had not been replicated against the City.

Having first talked about the issue in his morning news conference, Capitanich again made reference to the City’s distribution of advertising funds in the Chamber and rejected that the courts should be in charge of directing the way that governments distribute their advertising budgets.

During the question period, Radical Party (UCR) President and Senator for Mendoza Ernesto Sanz reprised Capitanich’s emphasis on the media, repeatedly asking how much the national government spends on public advertising and how exactly it is distributed.

The Cabinet chief initially refused to answer, saying that he did not have the information at hand and that he hadn’t memorized the details. Capitanich normally speaks at length on numerous topics with ease.

Sanz also asked the Cabinet chief if he thought “all of Argentina’s problems can be ascribed” to the media and to give his opinion on whether the “psychological impact” of the media was uniform, understood to mean outlets perceived to more sympathetic to the government.

Senators Norma Morandini (Córdoba Civic Front) and Luis Naidenoff (UCR-Formosa), in turn, emphasized that public advertising deserved greater scrutiny than decisions of private entities and responded to Capitanich’s insistence that “while private advertising in the media has grown 147 percent (not clear during which period), public advertising has grown far less.”

Senator Morandini took time out during the Senate session to speak to the Herald last night.

“What I find amazing is that the government is confusing information with advertisement,” Morandini said. “The state needs to guarantee freedom of speech, not use public advertising to conduct propaganda. Capitanich is comparing public with private advertisements, but they are not comparable.”

Morandini added that she found the same discretionality in Buenos Aires City and in her home province of Córdoba, ruled by dissident Peronist José Manuel de la Sota, citing newspapers that “are supported by public advertising, which don’t have the capacity to have their own opinion and define their own agenda.”

UCR Senator Gerardo Morales, in his closing remarks to the session, also addressed the issue, saying that “we need to pass a law establishing criteria for the distribution of public funds.”

Capitanich, he said, “has failed to reveal how funds were distributed because that is the easiest way to demonstrate the discretionality of the spending.”

During the last few years, the Supreme Court has ordered the national government to increase its advertising in Perfil newspaper and on broadcast TV station Channel 13 as President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration has come under scrutiny for its imbalanced distribution of advertising funds. As the Herald is the only newspaper in the City that does not receive one single peso from local government, it would be in a similar situation that Perfil had been in regards to the national budget.

Media as political agents

Capitanich also told the Senate chamber during the third of his monthly reports to Congress that the media “constitute a permanent factor of power that is not accountable to popular will but that has the capacity to infuence,” while also citing what he termed to be the excessive amount of coverage given to crime.

In a rhetorical tool that he used throughout his testimony, Capitanich gave copious amounts of data to suggest that more space is given to crimes during election years and that the murder rate has stayed constant over the last few years, while also recognizing that “nobody denies the existence of crime.”

As has been the case in the past, opposition senators took the opportunity to raise a host of other questions about Argentina’s foreign and economic policy, poverty, social security matters, crime and telecommunications, among many others.

Capitanich reportedly received approximate 1,000 questions in writing before the session started on a broad range of issues, ranging from the national to the municipal.

Once again, Capitanich attended an eight-hour session while Senators drifted in and out over the course of the day.

@tbrockenshire

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