I could continue today with my stories about serious media manipulation in Latin America, because those stories will never be lacking, but today I decided to take a look at what tools have been used (or have been used) to democratize media power in these countries. Can anything be done at the legislative level to make the media in a country more plural? The answer is yes. And not because I am now going to pull a law out of my sleeve.
The “inna law”; I like it. No, seriously now. An Inna law is not necessary, because there have already been experiences in several countries of regulating the media system to guarantee its plurality and also to end impunity for lies.
Today I am going to talk to you about two of those experiences: the media law promoted by the Government of Rafael Correa in Ecuador and the one made by the government of Cristina Fernandez in Argentina.
Let’s start, if you like, with Ecuador. In 2013, the government of Rafael Correa promulgated the so-called “Organic Law of Communication”.
It had three elements that I would like to highlight: first, the radio spectrum in Ecuador was divided into 3 parts: 33% for private media, 33% for public media, and 34% for community media.
Effectively. In this way, it is prevented that, for example, only two large companies control all the private television stations in the country (as is happening right now in Spain). And it is guaranteed that civil society organizations can also have a radio or television station. This is how Correa himself defended it in 2013:
Second element of that law: sanctions and fines were introduced to the media for malpractice. That law forced all the media to develop ethical codes and any journalist from those media or any citizen could denounce their non-compliance.
For example, the use of lies. As a result of this rule, many media outlets in Ecuador were sanctioned for lying or for skipping the obligations of this law. If a food company sells food in poor condition, it is sanctioned: because the same logic was applied to the media. If a medium spreads rotten information, it is fined. And in Ecuador the fines reached in some cases up to 10% of the average quarterly billing of the media in question.
Specifically, this point generates my doubts in its application, because there will always have to be someone who decides what is a lie and what is not. Let’s say that in most countries, if someone lies or defames about a person or an institution, this can be reported in an ordinary court. Choosing a group of people who decides who gets sanctioned and who doesn’t and why can cause problems.
Let us think that in a change of government, this same court remains in the hands of the right and that someone comes up with the idea of saying that the Church is a sect or that God does not exist… In short, this does seem to me to be a very controversial and complicated element. to handle, and I understand that there has to be control over those media that do not stop defaming, but I think that this can be done by expanding the laws on defamation and the right to one’s own image.
Thirdly, this communication law prohibited the national media in Ecuador from being owned by foreign companies or citizens. In Spain, for example, the media duopoly that controls all private television is made up of two large groups, Atresmedia and Mediasetwhich are controlled by Italian capital: Mediasetultimately, is under the control of Silvio Berlusconi; Y Atresmediaof the group Agostini.
They declared war on the government of Belt, They crossed out the new gag law, they said it was a threat to freedom of expression, that Ecuador is a dictatorship, all this…
Let’s see an example of the freedom of expression they enjoyed in Ecuador:
One of Correa’s arguments was that at the time the laws to regulate banking were also seen as a threat to market freedom, but the fact of eliminating them generated a serious financial crisis. And that media power needs to be regulated by law, just like financial power.
However, Ecuador’s economic elite never accepted the media law: President Lenin Morenowho succeeded Correa, modified it in 2018, and the current president, William Lassopresented last year a new Law: that of “Freedom of expression and communication”. What does that Lasso law contemplate? It deregulates the sector again and favors media concentration by large private groups. Freedom from oligopolies and media monopolies.
And that was another example I wanted to talk to you about: in 2009 the government of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner prompted the Media law to regulate the operation of television networks, radio stations, newspapers.
The objective was to deconcentrate and demonopolize the media market. For that, the media space was divided into three equal parts: 33% for the state, 33% for the private sector, 33% for non-profit organizations. All to prevent giants and oligopolies from growing in the media, which is basically what was happening.
A regulatory entity was established that would be in charge of governing compliance with the law, similar to what we were explaining about Ecuador. The number of licenses held by a single owner was reduced. A limit was established for the participation of foreign capital, spaces were guaranteed in the media for public institutions, social organizations and citizens.
We can imagine how that law fell among the big media groups. They seemed to be much more comfortable with the law that was in force at that time, promulgated in the middle of the military dictatorship in 1980. But it was impossible for them to applaud that initiative. It had nothing to do with freedom of expression, or with the press, but with figures. Let’s just look at the example of Clarion: the Media law allowed a maximum of 24 cable licenses, and Clarion had 237. The media law granted a maximum of 10 open radio and television licenses, and Clarion was 25. No group was allowed to have more than a 35% share of an audiovisual spectrum, and Clarion it had 42% of the radio market, 38% of open television and 59% of cable.
So a long and protracted war began between Clarín and the government. Clarin spoke of “freedom of the press” but he protected his freedom to “enterprise” and his power, which he conquered with pacts and favors from different governments, both dictatorial and constitutional. At that time, from circles close to the government of Cristina Kirchner, the ‘Clarín lies’ campaign emerged, a phrase that became a kind of catchphrase that was used in all kinds of merchandisepublic events, etc.
Clarín appealed 4 articles of that law, which referred precisely to the permitted number of licenses. And the law was paralyzed for 4 years until the Supreme Court declared it constitutional in 2013. But in 2016, shortly after assuming the presidency, Mauricio Macri modified it by decree. And again, more licenses, more concentration, more oligopolies, fewer state controls, less citizen participation, etc. were allowed.
The discussion about Media law in Argentina put the debate on the role of the media on the public agenda. It is true that it was at the cost of leaving everything in a false dichotomy: “Either you are with Clarín or you are with the government.”
However, beyond the rights and wrongs of these two laws, it is proof that media power can be regulated to avoid its concentration and to fight against the use of lies.
But, I want to tell you something else, already outside the legislative field. It is an example of a political culture of the left that is clear that workers’ organizations also need to have media instruments in order to transform society. I want to talk to you, since we are with Argentina, about the October Group. The October Group is an Argentine media group that belongs to a union: the Single Union of Rental and Horizontal Building Workers. It has 4 print media: the famous newspaper Page 12, the Z Journal, faces magazine and Masks and the magazine The Urban Planet.
It also has 5 radio stations and 2 television channels. Beyond the opinions that each one deserves, the editorial line followed by the media of the October Groupor the praise or criticism that can be made of it, is an example that there is no reason to resign ourselves to the fact that the big media have to be an exclusive patrimony of economic power and the right.