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November 23, 2017

#PoliticsAndThePress

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Time to play the part

By Marcelo J. García
For The Herald

Democracy is the best political illusion ever created. But for the illusion to work, all those concerned have to play their role in the most convincing way possible. Citizens have to believe that they are well represented by the people they vote for every so often. And those people, in turn, have to abide by a set of rules. Institutions, they call it.

The main roles in Argentina’s leadership are finding it difficult to stick to the script, as the country fights a political drama following the violent death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman two weeks ago. The plot thickens by the minute and its consequences are unpredictable.

A political death plagued with doubts and uncertainty like Nisman’s changes the terms of political engagement. The masses rarely follow the to and fros of daily political bickering, but they will look up and demand some answers when the system appears to be collapsing and failing to guarantee minimum standards of normality. And yet many in the Nation’s power system do not seem to have noticed.

Starting with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. In two 2000-3000-word letters and an hour-long televised speech delivered so far since the prosecutor’s death, the president is behaving like a commentator, a defense attorney (for herself) and/or a private investigator rather than a head of State. She first called Nisman’s death suicide and then a murder; she first pointed her finger at a retired spy and then at the prosecutor’s IT guy (who happens to have lent his boss the pistol that would end up taking his life) – not without establishing a faint link to (yes! you guessed!) the government’s media arch-rival Grupo Clarín.

The government is struggling to strike a balance between defending itself from the accusations and counterstriking to regain control of an agenda whose grip it is losing as the country rapidly approaches the electoral season. In the shielding process it also scored a few damaging own goals. Its reaction to BuenosAiresHerald.com journalist Damián Pachter’s decision to leave the country because he was being threatened was a pathetic example of that.

Pachter was the journalist that broke the news about Nisman’s death on his Twitter account. The scoop changed his life overnight. Come Saturday last week, he announced he was leaving the country because he feared for his life. He spoke to two trusted journalists at the airport but asked them not to reveal his destination. Hours later, the State-run Aerolíneas Argentinas revealed his flight details, to and back from Uruguay. The information was published by the government news agency Télam and twitted by Casa Rosada’s twitter account (@casarosadaar). If anybody doubted about Pachter’s reasons to be afraid, the government produced what would appear to the untrained eye as a Mafiosi public confession.

Management books say leadership credibility is built everyday but put to the test during crises. The government’s worst possible reaction to the Pachter incident amounted to an extra dose of self-inflicted reputational dynamite. Not only did the administration not apologize for the blunder but sought to justify it. The Monday after, Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich said in his daily morning press briefing that the flight details were made public to tackle the “public commotion” caused by the journalist’s decision and that Pachter had published his flight information before (which is by the way not true).

By Thursday, the president’s Chief-of-Staff, Aníbal Fernández, was struggling to respond to the simple question of whether the government’s official Twitter account was official or not. “It belongs to our political group,” said Fernández, a tweet-star on his own right. “It does not necessarily belong to the government.” The @casarosadaar account, which this week also questioned the work of the prosecutor investigating Nisman’s death, happens to be verified by Twitter as belonging to the government. Separation of party and State is another of those subtleties to keep the illusion going.

One single person, meanwhile, managed this week to shatter the government’s entire communication edifice surrounding the Nisman case. Maximiliano Rusconi emerged as a media star as he started to defend Diego Lagomarsino, the IT expert incriminated for having handed over the gun that killed the AMIA prosecutor. The government’s heat built around on Lagomarsino following the presidential speech, and the talkative Rusconi was quick to position his client as a victim of discursive power abuse, starting from the president.

Rusconi is just doing his job (which he gets paid a fortune for). So seems to be the Prosecutor in the case, who is making an express media training practice in the process. Some media and press corps are not, just like the government isn’t. The president said yesterday that she is entitled to free speech just like any other citizen, which is obviously right. But the discussion is less about right than it is about responsibility. And responsibility does vary according to rank. If the president’s mention of Grupo Clarín during her cadena nacional speech on Monday seemed grotesque, the media conglomerate’s Todo Noticias cable (news?) channel also crossed a line when it launched a House of Cards parody of the Nisman death political drama. They called it “House of K” (http://tn.com.ar/politica/house-of-k-capitulo-1_565557) and it promises to have several episodes. The first of them was published on the same day Nisman was buried. Reality might be stranger than fiction, but even in the name of freedom of expression, it needs to be treated with some respect.

@mjotagarcia

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Edition No. 5055 - This publication is a property of NEFIR S.A. -RNPI Nº 5343955 - Issn 1852 - 9224 - Te. 4349-1500 - San Juan 141 , (C1063ACY) CABA - Director Perdiodístico: Ricardo Daloia