Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sir, I have a bone to pick with you

From the Economist's online edition comes this article about the Argentine government's offensive against Clarín, the nation's media conglomerate. After describing the Kirchner's efforts to "kick Clarín out of the ISP business" and "wrest control" of its share in Argentina's newsprint company, Papel Prensa, the author, D.P., makes the following conclusion:
By declaring war on Argentina’s most powerful opinion-former, the Kirchners are gambling with their political future. If they can bloody the company enough to make its management seek a truce, they could secure friendlier coverage of the 2011 presidential election. Even then, however, the strategy might backfire. First, it has made them look hypocritical: by trying to kill Fibertel, they have made the already-concentrated ISP market even more so. Moreover, they have given the fractious opposition a new cause to unite around.
For the first time, I actively disagree with the Economists' appraisal of the facts. Kirchner, I feel, is actually winning political points in this campaign against Clarín. No one I met there truly supported them. The left excoriated Clarín as a propaganda machine for the wealthy.1 Moderates admitted that it attacked the government more than necessary, and preferred to read La Nación. Above all, almost everyone felt uneasy by Clarín's near-monopoly status over print, radio, and television media.

The backdrop of President Kirchner's actions, which the Economist article strangely omits, is the push to pass La Ley de los Medios (The Media Law), whose explicit intent and purpose is to trust-bust Clarín's monopoly. Although the law is controversial (like everything in Argentina), it enjoys broad popular support. Here, for example, is a snapshot of the turnout for the rally in favor of La Ley de los Medios outside Congress in Buenos Aires in late April:


Most people I talked thought the law was a good idea. The professor who taught my peronismo class, someone who struck me as an intelligent and consummately careful scholar, opposed it, but only because she thought it was badly crafted. The law would simply replace Clarín's monopoly with a government monopoly, she said, but she didn't disagree that something had to be done about Clarín.

So I don't know why D.P. feels that the Kirchners are "gambling with their political futures." Perhaps the issues of Papel Prensa and Fibertel, both of which developed after I left Argentina, have created new opposition or turned the tide of opinion. But I doubt it.

Update (Sept. 1, 11am):
Another point, which I forgot to mention—The article, entitled "Pressed," portrays Clarín as a poor victim of government abuses. I think the abuse really goes both ways. In any case, I don't think anyone feels sorry for Clarín.

Notes:
1. I've heard people claim that Clarín has fabricated facts, grossly misrepresented inflation, and engaged in all kinds of journalistic malfeasance; but in Argentine politics there are so many claims and counterclaims flying everywhere that it's difficult to assess their veracity.



Bonus Feature!

The article offers this link (available only in Spanish) to a government report on business dealings with the Papel Presna company. The report is full of account balances, citations of laws and decrees, and other boring details, but in true Argentine fashion that doesn't stop the authors from proclaiming this issue as a matter of the most profound human rights. The excerpt from the Acknowledgments section reads (with my translation):
We thank especially those people who, having been participants in these acts, through their testimony permitted us to reconstruct an era of history in which were carried out the most dark and horrible acts of of physical, moral, and psychological violence that human beings can suffer.

It should be highlighted the interest demonstrated in the search for the Truth, shown by all the institutions, organizations, and people who, in one way or another, and from their respective places, helped with their contributions so that this present report would illuminate a part of history that tried to be submerged in darkness until it fell in negation, lies, and oblivion.
They're obviously referring to El Proceso, the brutal internal genocide that took place during the military dictatorship of the 70s. Many of the incidents of this report probably also take place during the 70s, and I'm sure that the business dealings they describe are pretty messy, and probably involve violence—but there's no way it can compare to the torture, murder, and rape of the era they are so strongly evoking.

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