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Latin Politics, Global Media

Latin Politics, Global Media

Thirteen well-known media experts examine how the intersection of globalization and democratization has transformed media systems and policies throughout Latin America.

January 2002
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227 pages | 6 x 9 | 2 figures, 15 tables |

The globalization of media industries that began during the 1980s and 1990s occurred at the same time as the establishment of or return to democratic forms of government in many Latin American countries. In this volume of specially commissioned essays, thirteen well-known media experts examine how the intersection of globalization and democratization has transformed media systems and policies throughout Latin America.

Following an extensive overview by editors Elizabeth Fox and Silvio Waisbord, the contributors investigate the interaction of local politics and global media in individual Latin American countries. Some of the issues they discuss include the privatization and liberalization of the media, the rise of media conglomerates, the impact of trade agreements on media industries, the role of the state, the mediazation of politics, the state of public television, and the role of domestic and global forces. The contributors address these topics with a variety of theoretical approaches, combining institutional, historical, economic, and legal perspectives.

Elizabeth Fox and Silvio Waisbord
Chapter One. Local Politics, Global Media
Elizabeth Fox and Silvio Waisbord
Chapter Two. Transforming Television in Argentina: Market Development and Policy Reform in the 1990s
Hernán Galperín
Chapter Three. Mass Media in Brazil: Modernization to Prevent Change
Roberto Amaral; Translated by Silvio Waisbord and Elizabeth Fox
Chapter Four. The Triumph of the Media Elite in Postwar Central America
Rick Rockwell and Noreene Janus
Chapter Five. The Reform of National Television in Chile
Valerio Fuenzalida; Translated by Elizabeth Fox
Chapter Six. The Colombian Media: Modes and Perspective in Television
Fernando Calero Aparicio; Translated by Elizabeth Fox
Chapter Seven. Mexico: The Fox Factor
Rick Rockwell
Chapter Eight. Mexico and Brazil: The Aging Dynasties
John Sinclair
Chapter Nine. The Transitional Labyrinth in an Emerging Democracy: Broadcasting Policies in Paraguay
Aníbal Orué Pozzo
Chapter Ten. Peruvian Media in the 1990s: From Deregulation to Reorganization
Luis Peirano; Translated by Elizabeth Fox
Chapter Eleven. Television and the New Uruguayan State
Roque Faraone; Translated by Silvio Waisbord
Chapter Twelve. Venezuela and the Media: The New Paradigm
Jose Antonio Mayobre

Elizabeth Fox is Senior Advisor, Health Communications, USAID in Washington, D.C. Silvio Waisbord is Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies and Director of the Journalism Resource Institute at Rutgers University.


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Two parallel forces, local politics and the globalization of media markets, shaped the development of Latin American media in the 1990s. Under various different circumstances technological changes and the emergence of the global market were the key factors in the development of the media in Latin America. Under other circumstances it was local politics that determined the course of ownership and content. At the cusp of a new century and in the aftermath of substantial political and economic change in the 1980s and 1990s, it is time to take a look at how local politics and media globalization shaped the recent evolution of the media in the region. The consolidation of democracy coupled with the adoption of neoliberal economic policies introduced important transformations across the region. Against the backdrop of these transformations we wanted to understand recent changes in media systems and provide in-depth analyses of the interaction of local and global dynamics in media industries.

With these goals in mind we asked a number of country specialists to consider these dynamics in the analysis of media policies. As editors we wanted to convey a sense of the dynamics of change occurring throughout the region and of the continued strengths of local and national cultures and of political interests as a countervailing or parallel force to globalization. The national chapters pick up and echo these themes, adding texture to a rich understanding of contemporary media in Latin America. The authors of the national chapters come from, and employ the tools of, varied academic traditions: politics, law, journalism, communications, and history. All these disciplines continue to be present in the study of Latin American media and are represented in the book.

Our interest was to analyze how globalization affects the historical pattern of the relationship between states and markets. How are local politics and global dynamics articulated at the country level? Has the recent process of media globalization fundamentally altered the close-knit relation between states and markets that historically has prevailed? Considering that media globalization coincided with remarkable developments in Latin American political history—namely, the stability of democratic institutions amid deepening social inequalities and political unrest—what has been the impact of democratization on media policies? These are the questions the contributors set out to answer.

In Chapter 1, we present an historical overview of the development of media systems in Latin America. We stress that states as well as private interests have profoundly shaped the evolution of the region's media. The relations between them have shifted between accommodation and confrontation during both democratic and authoritarian periods. The media have been exposed to international flows since the early beginning of broadcasting. This pattern has intensified during the last decade as media policies have favored the opening of media markets to global flows of capital, technology, and programming. The old debate of public vs. private media, which has characterized Latin American politics, has seemingly come to an end; the private model rules almost uncontested. Confrontations of the past have substantially diminished, and debates about mixed models are almost absent from policy debates. Media markets are dominated by a few conglomerates that have tremendously benefited from the politics of privatization and liberalization implemented during the 1990s, and, in many cases, from proximity to governments.

In Chapter 2, Hernán Galperín observes a transformation in the relationship between the state and broadcasting in Argentina. In the 1990s the transition occurred from a system controlled by the state but operated commercially for profit (or loss) to a mainly privately owned and largely deregulated broadcasting industry. This change took place under conditions of political strength and economic growth. In less than a decade, Argentine markets shifted from a situation of limited competition (i.e., terrestrial broadcasting) or no competition (i.e., telecommunications) to an open, fiercely competitive environment. The television industry was no exception. Until 1990 it was characterized by an oligopolistic structure with tight state control on the number of companies. Advertising revenues provided most of the funding for the system, and a nationalist orientation pervaded industry regulation, reflected in national programming quotas and the ban on foreign investments in media industries. Regulation was neither seriously exercised nor needed since the government of Argentina, unlike those of most other Latin American countries, directly controlled the major television networks. The TV market thus remained closed, underfunded, and—as in the case of other public service industries—highly vulnerable to the changing winds of Argentine politics.

Today the picture is radically different. The major TV networks are in private hands, multichannel TV (cable or direct broadcast satellite) is found in over 50 percent of TV households, and specialized channels are mushrooming in the pay-TV sector. Competition is fierce among the major networks and between rival delivery platforms, and has sparked the revival of the national programming industry. Both infrastructure and content regulations have waned, resulting in one of the most liberal environments in the world for the television industry. In essence, the broadcasting system of yesterday—a tripartite entente between the political (and notably the military) elite, a handful of programmers, and national advertisers—has been eroded by technological, political, and economic transformations. The nationalist model of TV predominant up to the mid-1980s has given way to a competitive, internationalized market environment. The changes that occurred in Argentina, however, were not the result of public debate or of a new legal framework for broadcasting. In fact, Galperín notes a lack of public accountability in the reform process. The most important changes to broadcasting were part of an omnibus reform law, the Law of State Reform, passed in 1989, that, according to Galperín, "overhauled state-industry relations across all economic sectors." The law required the privatization of state-owned commercial TV stations and eliminated cross-media ownership limitations. However, he observes: "Aside from the privatizations, none of the major changes were introduced through open decision-making procedures, either through parliamentary debate, judicial review, or consultation with intermediate associations representative of society at large. It is telling that after fifteen years of democratic government in Argentina, and despite many failed attempts (see Albornoz, Mastrini, and Mestman 1996), not a single law specific to communication industries was passed by Congress."

Galperín's concerns about the lack of democracy in media policies are echoed in Roberto Amaral's analysis of Brazilian media. In Chapter 3, Amaral worries about the consequences of globalization—namely, runaway media concentration and increasing division between the haves and have-nots. Amaral's pessimistic perspective follows central tenets of media imperialism theory. First, globalization is another phase in the intensification of dependency relations between the North and South. Media globalization favors highly concentrated Western interests in alliance with powerful domestic corporations. There is no stark opposition between global and domestic capital, but as some joint ventures show, they work together to further their goals. Second, the media essentially reproduces larger social inequalities. The widening gap between rich and poor is crystallized in the information society. Rather than helping to ameliorate preexisting divisions, the so-called digital divide represents the deepening of differences in access to information. A central good in today's society, information is available only to those who can afford it, Amaral suggests. New technologies have not ameliorated this problem but, rather, have widened social exclusion. Moreover, the coming of new technologies has not unsettled power structures as "old media" companies have quickly prevailed by incorporating the new media into their business. While elites have more access to information, the vast majority is still limited to the old media. Third, media content often reproduces existing social divisions by perpetuating racial and ethnic stereotypes. Media messages continue to ignore cultural diversity and the needs of the majority of impoverished Brazilians. For Amaral, global content does not serve domestic audiences and results in the weakening of national cultures.

Economic concentration is also a central theme in the transformations that the media in Central America have undergone in recent years. In Chapter 4, Rick Rockwell and Noreene Janus argue that developments in the region benefited conservative elites. The 1990s meant the end of civil wars of the preceding twenty years. As Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador move away from civil strife and into a period marked by a transition to democracy, the authors see larger forces at work to create an era for the media caciques.

Mexican Angel Gonzalez Gonzalez and the Central American region present a unique type of emerging relationship between media and politics in the Americas. In Guatemala, Gonzalez, a former Televisa employee, has a virtual monopoly of commercial television, along with considerable radio holdings. What appears to have facilitated Gonzalez's rise to power in a highly politicized environment, rather than alliances with the state or a political party, is a studied neutrality or downplaying of local news and controversy. In Guatemala, Gonzalez simultaneously neutralized television as a source of political plurality or partisanship and ran the government-produced information programs on his stations. His greatest strength, as the authors observe, was his attempt to remain above politics on a day-by-day basis. In Nicaragua, although not the biggest player, Gonzalez has major holdings in three of the nation's nine television outlets. Rockwell and Janus point out that González has teamed with various Nicaraguan nationals as partners to gain control of three channels, the most important of which was Channel 4, the Sandinista station that was up for sale. Besides the Sandinista channel, he also controls Channels 10 and 12. After the sale of Channel 4, Gonzalez remained low-key in his programming shifts, planning to steer clear of controversy, although the move was seen as a way to purge Nicaragua's airwaves of the Sandinista message without any of the blame falling on the country's longtime media owners. Rockwell and Janus see Gonzalez's role in Nicaragua as one of change agent rather than an oppressive force. In El Salvador, the situation is somewhat different. Here Gonzalez met with a homegrown cacique, Boris Esersky, whose political connections shaped the current Salvadoran broadcast spectrum and kept forces disloyal to the government from buying ad time with most Salvadoran broadcasters. Esersky owns three of the country's five VHF stations and dominates the market with a 90 percent share of the audience. In 1997, however, Mexico's TV Azteca purchased controlling interest in Esersky's only competition, Channel 12. The sale, however, did not represent an opening of the airwaves to political pluralism. In El Salvador, as in Nicaragua, at a time when opposition radio is entering an increasingly commercial mode of operation, Mexican investors played a similar role of helping conservative and long-dominant elites remove political opponents from television broadcasting. Panama also has a single dominant broadcasting organization, MECOM, the fruit of the merger in the 1990s between the Eleta and Gonzalez Revilla properties. Likewise, one man, Rafael Ferrari, dominates Honduran broadcasting, although competition is greater in that country. In fact, in Honduras, broadcasting has become a route to political power, and running a media enterprise means competing for the leadership in one of the country's political parties. Rockwell and Janus attribute this greater competition to Honduras's unfinished transition from military control. In the other Central American countries, the authors observe, outside forces such as the United States or the United Nations intervened at the end of the wars to impose limitations on the military. In Honduras, where no war occurred, although the military buildup was enormous, the military still maintains considerable power.

In Chapter 5, Valerio Fuenzalida tackles the question of public television in Chile. In Latin America as a whole, as well as in Chile in particular, public television has a long record of failures. Public has often meant state-owned television at the service of the propaganda needs of governments. Within this context, important efforts have been made in Chile toward the establishment and strengthening of a public television system since the return of democracy. The inclusion of legislation to guarantee political pluralism, program diversity, and financial autonomy in the current legislation are major advances, particularly considering the absence of similar initiatives in other countries in the region. In addition to perennial difficulties in making pluralism effective, Fuenzalida's chapter illuminates a number of problems that public television currently faces. Against the backdrop of substantial political changes brought about by the consolidation of democracy, the Chilean media environment has changed remarkably in the last decade with the entrance of foreign companies and the multiplication of channels. As has happened in other countries, public television had to accommodate these changes. It is expected to produce content for mass audiences and to be financially solvent. It receives public funds according to its performance in the ratings. A series of legal considerations, however, relatively isolates public television from broader commercial pressures that private networks regularly face. Subsidies aim to support programming that, particularly given the small size of Chile's market, private companies are not likely to produce. In summary, Fuenzalida argues that Chilean public television exists at the point of convergence of different interests and different demands. Since the return of democracy, it has managed somewhat successfully to strike a balance among competing forces, a balance that perhaps reflects the delicate equilibrium that exists among political interests in the country at large.

In Chapter 6, Fernando Calero Aparicio suggests that in Colombia the movement of constitutional reform toward increasing decentralization of the state, a growing free market economy and globalization, and a deepening political, social, and economic crisis created the conditions to renegotiate the relationship between the state and the media. One of the most important changes was the decentralization of television that began in 1985 with the authorization of three regional channels, which were, like the national channels, set up as public/private hybrids. This decentralization coincided with the gradual reform of the Colombian state itself that included, for the first time, the popular election of mayors. In 1991 the reform process culminated in a new Constitution that included language substantially modifying the relationship between the state and broadcasting. Article 20 guaranteed freedom of expression, meaning the right to inform and be informed truly and impartially, and to establish mass media that will be free and will exercise social responsibility. The right to reply under equality of conditions also was guaranteed; censorship was prohibited.

As a result of the new Constitution and of the legislation that followed, an independent body was set up to regulate television and guarantee equality of access including a prohibition of monopolistic practices. Under this new body (Consejo Nacional de Televisión) Colombian television exploded in a plethora of administrative and legal formulas, including for the first time full ownership of television stations by the private sector. Contemporary Colombian television consists of national, regional, local, and municipal stations as well as subscription cable services.

These reforms, however, did not occur in a political or economic vacuum. Between 1994 and 1998, the administration of President Ernesto Samper, formally accused of ties with the drug mafia, was charged with political manipulation in the nominations of members of the body regulating television. An economic recession dealt an even more serious blow to the new television panorama, originally projected for an economy growing at 4.5 percent annually. The faltering economy cut into the advertising revenue of the new stations, throwing their future into doubt. The shrinking advertising base led to fierce competition and charges of unfair and monopolistic practices among advertisers and broadcasters. And, for the first time, foreign capital entered Colombian media through direct investments from Venezuelan and Spanish media companies in the new national private networks. At the same time, regional and local stations suffering from the recession found it more difficult to produce public service content. The economic turmoil in Colombian television took place in the context of growing civil unrest and narco-terrorism; by the end of the century, the central government had ceded control of over one-third of the national territory to guerrilla forces. While the state no longer controlled broadcasting and many more outlets were now available for the expression of different opinions, the combination of political turmoil, terrorism, civil unrest, and weak economic conditions cast a long shadow over the financial and journalistic viability of the majority of the new private and public broadcast outlets.

The tight relationship between the state and the media has been a dominant feature of Mexican communications. Two chapters deal with this issue in the context of important changes in the country's politics and media. In Chapter 7, Rick Rockwell analyzes continuity and change in the relationship between the government and print and broadcasting media before and during the landmark 2000 presidential election in which, for the first time in its seven-decade history, the PRI lost to the Partido de Acción Nacional's Vicente Fox. Rockwell describes the rise of publications ("the mavericks") that investigated and criticized PRI authorities in the years preceding the historic election. Uninterested in playing the role of a lapdog press to the ruling PRI, a handful of newspapers and newsweeklies pushed the boundaries of a media system characterized by widespread corruption and favoritism. Throughout the PRI's long presidential tenure, the media as a whole did not even make any pretense of impartiality and fairness. The monopoly Televisa repeatedly declared its unflinching support for the PRI, officials dictated the news, newspapers survived on life support provided by government subsidies, and the existence of different forms of corruption was an open secret in Mexican newsrooms. Whenever a newspaper dared to cross the accepted boundaries, PRI officials promptly shut down any form of criticism. In this context, the emergence of investigative reporting was both a symptom and a cause of increasing political opening. Despite changes, old practices persisted during the 2000 election. Both Televisa and TV Azteca slanted election coverage in favor of the PRI, and intimidation and murder of dissident reporters persisted. Questions remain unanswered, Rockwell concludes, about whether the PAN's victory will fundamentally alter the historic pattern of state-media relations. Given the power of the presidency in Mexican politics, he suggests, the future of state-media relations hinges largely on whether the Fox administration has the political will to change old practices.

Similar questions about the future of media systems underlie John Sinclair's analysis in Chapter 8. Sinclair concentrates on the analysis of how dominant monopolies in Brazil and Mexico have adapted to changing political and technological conditions at the same time they are undergoing generational changes in upper management. Historically identified with patriarchs that ran tight ships, Televisa and Grupo Globo, partners in regional satellite business, have been confronting different domestic conditions. The consolidation of TV Azteca means that, for the first time in its history, Mexican television is not synonymous with Televisa. Having been the kingmaker of Mexican politics and an unabashed defender of the PRI since the early days of radio broadcasting, Televisa remains the powerhouse of Mexican media. It is no longer the monopoly that it once was, however. In Brazil, Grupo Globo's dominant position in over-the-air television is not under threat as other networks hardly offer substantial competition. In new media industries such as cable and satellite, Grupo Globo faces limited competition in duopolic markets. In any case, Sinclair suggests, both Televisa and Grupo Globo could not do business as usual as they had to form alliances with global corporations to remain dominant in new audiovisual markets.

In Chapter 9, Aníbal Orué Pozzo analyzes the changes that the Paraguayan media underwent with the collapse of the thirty-five-year Stroessner dictatorship. Gen. Alfredo Stroessner ruled Paraguay between 1954 and 1989, one of the longest dictatorships in the history of Latin America. Even before Stroessner, the army played a major role in the country. The Paraguayan military were active in broadcasting, beginning with the rise of National Radio under the military in 1940 and continuing throughout Stroessner's long rule with the implementation of a mandatory daily national radio network of all private stations. When private television stations began in 1965, the military did not see a need for a mandatory national network. Orué Pozzo attributes this to the shared political interests of the various actors involved in the process and their satisfaction with the situation. Providing that the media did not question the sociopolitical framework of the dictatorship's scaffolding, they were bound for success. And this was the consensus compromise worked out all through the dictatorship. Orué Pozzo argues that during the last years of the dictatorship the consensus compromise showed some cracks. In the mid-1980s several dailies were closed sporadically—in the case of ABC Color, for a longer period, along with the radio station Ñandutí. Despite these incidents, Orué Pozzo writes, "There was no economic conflict that might have caused media entrepreneurs to look for allies in the popular movement to confront the Stroessner government politically. The consensus policy manufactured throughout these years brought benefits to media and communications interests." Orué Pozzo observes little modification of this basic consensus policy with the gradual democratization of the country. He notes that despite the large-scale political changes, the government continues to negotiate with the largest economic groups and hold the key role in the distribution of broadcasting licenses. Significant changes have occurred, however, in the use of the mass media during the electoral process, a process that started with the political transition. Television especially has become an important, central force in the electoral process. Orué Pozzo hints that the 1995 Telecommunications Law potentially created a new framework for developing communication in the country, even without an explicit policy regarding the media. In conclusion he observes that media owners and politicians have reached a new consensus compromise that allows them to continue their activities without any political setbacks. Perhaps more significantly, however, this compromise has been achieved without opening the airwaves to the parts of society that still are not seen or heard on Paraguayan broadcast media.

The proximity between ruling powers and commercial media interests has also been central to recent developments in the Peruvian media. In Chapter 10, Luis Peirano argues that the Peruvian media experienced the combination of open market economics with increased political control during the Fujimori administration. In 1992, the second year of his first presidency, Fujimori dissolved the Peruvian Parliament and the Supreme Court and took over the country in a bloodless coup d'état supported by the military. Fujimori sent soldiers to maintain control in the leading opposition newspapers and the most important radio and television stations. Using executive powers, Fujimori modified the law regulating private investment in the telecommunications sector, allowing for privatization of the state-owned telephone company and of the rapid-growth cellular phone companies and cable television channels. The military success of Fujimori against the Sendero Luminoso and his economic success in combating hyperinflation and in privatizing state-owned industries guaranteed his reelection. During his second presidency, according to Peirano, Fujimori developed a style and concept of management of the mass media that, while respecting their formal rights, resulted in an authoritarian regime of strict control. Helped by a growing recession, Fujimori maintained control of the media through the direct ownership of one television station and the selective distribution of advertising dollars by the government, by far the largest single advertiser in Peru, to private stations. Other means of control included the support of a tabloid press that attacked the opposition media, a tightening of self-censorship on serious television journalism, and court decisions facilitating the takeover of opposition television stations resulting in a significant reduction of hard-hitting television news and discussion. In the case that received the most international attention, Fujimori used the selective application of limitations on foreign ownership of Peruvian media to remove the owner of a vocal opposition TV network (Channel 2), Baruch Ivcher. Israeli-born Ivcher was stripped of his Peruvian citizenship in 1997 and forced to relinquish control of Channel 2. The station had conducted investigations of government officials. The Peruvian government also charged Ivcher with tax and customs violations (Ivcher went into exile in Miami and returned to the country after Fujimori's unexpected resignation in November 2000).

In Chapter 11, Roque Faraone describes the Uruguayan transition to democracy as a unique Uruguayan solution that influenced the future course of state-media relations. A civilian government was elected in March 1985 after a peaceful negotiation with the military, which realized that its time in power was over amidst an unfavorable international climate. This "Uruguayan solution" put many limitations on the actions of the new (and subsequent) civilian administrations. Although all remaining political prisoners were freed, most of the decisions taken during the twelve-year military government were not changed. The climate of political freedom was different from the one that characterized Uruguayan society between the 1920s and 1960s. The fact that the military appropriated the Dirección Nacional de Comunicaciones had not only institutional but also symbolic value. Media owners who had temporary permits understood this decision perfectly well in terms of being careful about the content of future broadcasts. Faraone's description of Uruguayan television under democracy is bleaker than perhaps expected given the early hopes for real change. Although television improved technically, with longer hours, wider audiences, and more interviews and talk shows, it did not carry out investigative reporting on controversial issues or attempt to air information critical of the current or past regime. The habits developed during the dictatorship and the fears of the military presence persisted—"national defense, pension privileges for officers and their families, the excessive number of personnel, and the disappeared were never debated."

The attitude of Uruguayan broadcasters toward the state over the last decade has been pragmatic—offering support for those in power and opportunities for the larger opposition parties, including the left-wing party, as long as these are moderate, colorful, or scandalous. The state-owned channel remains a very minor player, kept low-key by the opposition of the cartel-like three national networks. Even the advent of cable could not change this relationship. Faraone concludes: "The political and television powers maintain relations as associates. Private television seems to say, 'As long as you don't harm my business, you will receive coverage.' The political power seems to say, 'As long as you support power, you will be treated well.' Both seem to say to the military: 'You will not be touched.'"

Jose Antonio Mayobre analyzes changes in the Venezuelan media in Chapter 12. At the center of his analysis is the role of the media in the rise of Lt. Col. Hugo Chávez from leader of the failed 1992 military putsch against President Carlos Andrés Pérez to being elected president in 1998. A deteriorating economic and political climate during the Caldera administration in the early 1990s served as the backdrop for this process. Oil prices had sunk to new lows on the world market; unemployment and poverty thus had increased. The broadcast media, distancing themselves from the traditional political elite, criticized the political parties and leaders who had allowed the country to reach this state. President Caldera pardoned Chávez after he had served two years in prison. After his release, Mayobre writes, the Chávez populist movement of support for Chávez "caught fire and stared to develop and grow. Meanwhile, polls and pollsters kept reassuring the traditional political class that a movement of this sort could never really catch on in Venezuela." Majorities also voted to discard the 1961 Constitution and elect a National Constituent Assembly, charged with revamping the country's institutional framework. Chávez dissolved Congress, and voters gave Chávez followers a resounding majority of the membership in the new assembly.

Mayobre compares Chávez to other Latin American populist leaders. Chávez created his own newspaper and weekly call-in radio and television programs and used "highly symbolic visual and semiological elements such as the creation of the People's Balcony in the Miraflores Presidential Palace as well as military parades and uniforms. The traditional media, caught by surprise by Chávez's swift and total rise, in Mayobre's words, "seemed to turn into paper tigers under the onslaught of the emerging populist movement." The two major television channels, Radio Caracas Channel 2 and Venevision Channel 4—joined by a host of new satellite, cable, and broadcast outlets in the past decade—were at a loss and turned their attention to their more robust international operations. HBO and Sony both established offices in Caracas, taking advantage of low costs and an educated workforce, but with few contacts with local media. By 2000 Chávez was firmly in control of the country without, it appears, the benefit or support of the media. In fact, he seems to have cut the traditional tie between media and politicians. With the exception of the owner of a regional radio station elected as an independent, no member of the National Constitutional Assembly appeared to have ties to the media. Although they campaigned against the Chávez presidency, the major media outlets moderated their voices of opposition, even when Chávez exercised his right to link the national networks to broadcast presidential speeches, military parades, and official ceremonies. Mayobre concludes that the surprising public support for Chávez's use of the media is somehow linked to the public's concomitant lack of affection for the traditional media outlets. By the time Chávez arrived on the scene, Mayobre observes, Venezuelan broadcasters had dropped any pretense of quality or minimal sense of social responsibility. Perhaps as proof of the public's dissatisfaction with the media, in December 1999, Venezuelans overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that changed the structure of government and included a new right for Venezuelan citizens: "the right to timely, truthful, impartial and uncensored information." The Miami-based Inter-American Press Association suggested that the wording could lead to a crackdown on news media.

In summary, several threads run through the chapters. First, media democratization remains a pending task in Latin America. Since the return of civilian rule in the 1980s and 1990s, the media has experienced substantial changes that have largely benefited concentrated private interests at the expense of wider political and social goals. Aided by privatization and liberalization of media markets and often with close ties to ruling political powers, commercial interests were in a position to consolidate their grasp on domestic media. They have been extremely successful in bringing new media technologies into their fold. Dominant interests in the cable, satellite, and Internet industries are largely the same interests that control old media. Early hopes about media democratization that arose after civilian governments replaced military dictatorships did not materialize in concrete policies. The weakness and/or absence of a tradition of antitrust legislation in the region has discouraged any optimism about substantial changes in the near future. One of the most remarkable features of contemporary media policies is that questions of media protectionism and cultural nationalism, which were prominent in the past, have almost entirely disappeared (Waisbord 1998). Similarly, issues of public access and control of the media also have been remarkably absent. The prospects for a vast array of political and social interests to become effective participants in media operations and policymaking remain bleak. Because recent changes have been largely planned and executed without consultation or participation of society at large, it is more difficult to foresee significant changes toward democratization of media institutions.

Another thread is that the centrality of the media in Latin American democracies deserves continuous attention. Improving the quality of the region's democracies requires media organizations that can effectively monitor ruling political and economic powers. The penchant of media owners to court government officials in order to advance multiple business goals hardly suggests a firm commitment to maintaining a proper distance from those whose actions they should scrutinize. When the advancing of their business interests overshadows the public interest, and when the expectations of the powerful are deemed more important than the needs of citizens, the media are hardly a paragon of democratic virtue. The fact that some administrations have resorted to authoritarian means to suppress dissent and criticism adds more reason to worry about the prospects of media democratization. Particularly in countries that have a checkered record with regard to respect of freedom of speech and other constitutional rights, such actions run counter to democratic principles that are fundamental for the existence of a democratic media.

Finally, the dynamics between media and politics in Latin American democracies, the authors also conclude, need to be understood by bringing together local and global developments. The strengths and weaknesses of globalization and national control must be filtered through the lens of local politics. Globalization does not make domestic politics irrelevant. The effects of globalization are varied, depending on internal politics, the structure of media systems, the size of media markets, the conditions for production of media content, the entrance of foreign capital into national markets, and the regionalization of media industries. Consequences are comparable but take different shape across the region. The two forces, local politics and global media, must be analyzed together to arrive at a comprehensive picture of contemporary Latin American media.


“This book makes an important contribution in bringing together a wide range of essays that address the relation between globalizing media industries and the state in contemporary Latin America. The contributors are very solid, very deeply knowledgeable about the countries they are addressing; this is an impressive assemblage of expertise from across the region.”
Daniel C. Hallin, Professor of Communication and Political Science, University of California, San Diego