Follow the money: Government influence on private media in Argentina
The Argentine government was the largest ad buyer for private media in 2010, and some say their financial influence damages the potential for independent reporting.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The abrupt removal from the air of a political talk show is raising questions about the Argentine government's increased use of ad spending to gain influence over private media outlets – an unregulated tool in the ongoing battle for position in the country's polarized media environment.Skip to next paragraph
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Former cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez was criticizing the Kirchner government in an interview on the C5N cable channel March 13 when – according to former CNN anchor Alberto Padilla, who was set to be interviewed next on the show – a call from a high-level government official came in to pull the broadcast. The station owner said the show simply went over its time limit and had to be ended, denying accusations of censorship. But the story quickly splashed across the Internet and social media sites, and many remain skeptical.
C5N is part of an arsenal of media outlets that have benefited from government ad purchases, a practice that can sway press allegiance and breed reluctance to antagonize the government, experts say. Argentina and other Latin American countries have no laws controlling how tax dollars can be spent on advertising. That lack of regulation allows public money to be used for propaganda, experts say, giving more media power to incumbent administrations. And the increased government presence in the ad market creates incentives that weaken the voices of independent media, something that does not bode well for press freedoms in Argentina.
"It's not censorship in the traditional sense but rather self-censorship," says Martin Becerra, a professor of communications at the University of Buenos Aires. "It depends on a tacit agreement, whereby the press understands that in order to receive money from the government, they need to be uncritical."
Largest ad buyer
A recent report, written by Mr. Becerra, reveals that the national government was responsible for 9 percent of all media ads in 2010, almost double the second biggest advertiser, Unilever. The report also shows a high level of political discretion in the distribution of ad purchases, with the government purchasing more from uncritical media and punishing those with opposition coverage like large newspapers Clarín and La Nación.
The publisher of a newspaper critical of the government, Perfil, recently had to close a weekly sports magazine due to a lack of government publicity buys and low sales, according to owner Jorge Fontevecchia. In a scathing editorial, he wrote that newer, unestablished newspapers were receiving millions of dollars per year from the government, while his has received nothing since 2004.