November 22, 2017

Cynthia Ottaviano, Broadcast Services Ombudswoman

Sunday, August 10, 2014

‘There is a crisis of representation in broadcast media’

By Jayson McNamara
Herald Staff

Born: April 10 1973, Buenos Aires City
Studies: Bachelor Journalism Universidad del Salvador with Honours, currently completing a Masters in Investigative Journalism at Universidad del Salvador.
Position: Broadcast Services Ombudswoman
Currently reading: Cultura Mainstream by Frédéric Martel and Patas para arriba by Eduardo Galeano.
Last film seen: The Love Punch
TV series currently watching: Game of Thrones

Former investigative journalist for daily Tiempo Argentino, Cynthia Ottaviano is Argentina’s first Broadcast Services Ombudswoman. The role was created by the 2009 Broadcast Media Law, which has set a high bar for the increased representation of minorities in the media, among other goals.

This office, the first of its kind in Argentina, has been running since 2012. Have you encountered resistance?

Our objective is to generate a space for dialogue, not necessarily to determine how one should be a journalist or how media should be media. In fact, it’s the other way around — that’s to say, a space where we can all debate the different journalistic styles, always keeping people’s rights at the core of the debate, and defending these. And it’s not just journalists, but camera operators, photographers, producers, executive producers, editors, licensees. In the case of licensees, we have a very specific task which is to ensure they’re complying with the law.

What can you do to ensure their compliance with the law?

Again, our biggest tool is dialogue. We try to be a bridge between audiences and licensees, with an added characteristic — which doesn’t necessarily happen in other countries — that audiences and human rights groups can participate in our processes.

Considering the many failings of broadcast media, how can you possibly get issues like representation and equality into the current agenda?

It’s my view that this scenario needs to be changed. Not only has economic dominance been created within the media in this country, but a dominance of information. There’s an almost singular line of thought in media production which means that chaos, crime and division are privileged in the daily agenda over events that might be positive, events that demonstrate institutionality, for example.

What is a specific example of this trend?

We’ve been running workshops with kids across the country on childhood and adolescence to find out what their concerns are about how they’re represented in the media. If you turn on the TV, you’ll find less than 0.5 percent of content focused on issues related to childhood and adolescence, and if you look close, most of what is there relates to crime. The feedback from kids has proved that there really is a crisis of representation in the broadcast media in Argentina. Kids tell us they don’t recognize themselves in the way they’re represented.

Grassroots work is obviously important, but if you’re going to reach some of the goals for representation, as specified in the law, shouldn’t you be focusing your attention on some of the dominant media that, incidentally, most pushed back against the law?

From the beginning we called on all media to sit down with us, regardless of the degree of resistance they had to the law.

A thing of the past, then?

Well, yes – it’s a law. And there are no privileged parties and no excluded parties. Obviously, if a dominant media group is resisting compliance with the law then we have to work on compliance, in particular.

But they’re not forced to sit down and work with you?

It’s relative. The only thing that the law mandates is the creation of the Ombudsman’s Office and that its recommendations are considered. For me, this is why consensus has been so important and why I’ve chosen to have audiences set our agenda, instead of setting it myself.

One striking element of Argentine broadcast media is the extent to which women are objectified in a sexual manner. Is it wishful thinking to imagine this could change?

What we must change is a patriarchal tradition where there is significant inequality between men and women and submission on the part of women toward men.

A television advertisement was recently taken off the air after a complaint lodged with the Ombudsman’s office, which showed a woman trapped in a glass box with cleaning products...

That was a three-year old advertisement from Australia. Our reflection after this experience, was that societies change. At least in Argentina, society has changed dramatically in recent years.

The issue goes beyond a simple advertisement though if you consider that one of the broadcast programmes with the highest ratings — Channel 13’s Showmatch —has one of the highest ratings in the country. Shouldn’t your office first focus on this type of mainstream programmes?

You might not believe it but we’ve seen changes in (host Marcelo) Tinelli’s programme, and more broadly a great deal of willingness on the part of producers to respond to the advice we give them.

So, no sanctions?

No, sanctions — we don’t have the power to sanction. Just dialogue, which we believe has been producing results.

What emerged from the World Cup in terms of the participation of women?

I think we saw improvements on the previous World Cup. This time there were more female presenters and I think that was a significant factor. It’s important to remember that we women love soccer as well, and so the perspectives of female presenters was a welcome addition.

Public broadcasters in Argentina have long been criticized for favouring the government of the day. How does a state-run office monitor state-run broadcasters, and how have you handled complaints lodged about their content?

The Media Law places significant responsibilities on public broadcasters, with the interpretation that they should be public and not governmental. We handle complaints against the public broadcaster just as we would others.

6,7,8 is potentially the most criticized programme on public television for its pro-government angle. Have you received complaints about it?

No, we haven’t received complaints about 6,7,8 specifically, like — I should note — we haven’t received specific complaints about the objectification of women on Tinelli’s programme; these have instead been about children under 12 participating in the show after10pm, for example. In the case of 6,7,8, I can say complaints have gone as far as general concerns about the content on Public Television.

Is that linked in any way to society having already debated the particularly controversial elements of these programmes? Might people not feel the need to lodge complaints about them?

That may be the case. As the Ombudsman’s Office we need very specific complaints about a broadcast — what was offensive, what time it happened, who said it. If we received a specific complaint about 6,7,8 we would deal with it in due course.

Appreciating that the Ombudsman’s Office doesn’t have law-making powers, what’s your position on limiting advertising during children’s television like what has been done in Brazil?

Exposing children to advertising is definitely an issue and one of the points I raise when I have the opportunity to talk to lawmakers. There’s a trend to commercialize children’s television and it’s well known that children often end up demanding of their parents certain products that are pushed on them.


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