09/11/2012 | We are now technically between 8N and 7D. The two brand dates stand for Thursday’s massive November 8 anti-government demonstration and the December 7 moment of truth for the four-year-old clash between the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration and the country’s largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarín. These two moments symbolize Argentina’s highly polarized political scene as the yearend nears. Their proximity in the calendar is indirectly proportional to any apparent chance for the two clashing camps to find some common ground.
But imagine for a moment there were channels of communication between these two seemingly irreconcilable forces. What if there was a negotiating table? President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner could, for instance, call a cadena nacional television broadcast to say something along these lines:
“The plan to reform Argentina’s broadcast media legislation was in our 2007 presidential campaign platform. The bill we submitted to Congress was the product of years of grassroots and academic debate on how to democratize communications. The passage of the bill by Congress in 2009 followed thorough debates conducted throughout the country — in an unprecedented process praised by the United Nations’ special envoy on freedom of expression. My government will continue to defend the spirit and final purpose of the bill, which we fully believe will lead to more diverse voices joining our public life.
“And still, as I enter the final sprint of my second and final term in office, I believe we all have to ask ourselves why we have failed to turn the good intentions declared in the bill into reality on the ground. Over the last four years, we have been carried away by emotions, sometimes justified, other times not, and we have mostly forgot that our first and foremost responsibility as leaders is to effectively introduce reform that benefits the majority of the people.
“This is why I have decided to call the authorities of Grupo Clarín to Government House today. We have for the last four years attacked each other, and worn ourselves out in the process, instead of sitting down as democratic players and concentrate our energy on complying with the law in such a way that it both meets its original goals and preserves the rights of the actors involved.
“Do not get me wrong: the Media Act will be enforced and its spirit will be fully respected. Congress had the people’s mandate to vote it and I have the people’s mandate to enforce it. But I have decided to look into ways of making the affected party, in this case Grupo Clarín, feel that their rights are being respected. Also, we do not rule out introducing further amendments to the law if they were needed in order to reach better results.
“I am doing this in the firm belief that reaching an agreement is beneficial for all the stakeholders involved in this market and in general for the public, whose most basic right to get access to accurate information is being threatened. And I also believe this is good for the international reputation of our country, so that we can show we can resolve our conflicts through dialogue and consensus.”
That hypothetical next morning, you would then get an editorial like this on Clarín, the country’s widest-read newspaper:
“Grupo Clarín is initiating a path towards fully abiding by the Broadcast Media legislation passed by Congress in 2009, after obtaining guarantee from President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner that the government’s press policy will become more open.
“Our Group has been part of Argentina’s public life for over six decades. Our daily Clarín has become a synonym for newspaper for many Argentines. Since our birth in the mid 1940s, our Group has been marked by the hectic history of our country and we have not been free from mistakes and bad decisions.
“We are self-critical and we apologize to the Argentine people for our role during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. Not only did we not report on the crimes that were being committed by the brutal regime, but we engaged in business with those illegitimate authorities to benefit our own corporate interests. We are ready to engage in a Truth commission to contribute to any pending investigation related to those years, most especially the case of the Papel Prensa newsprint company we acquired and built during the dictatorship.
“And still, we also reaffirm our strong commitment to the democratic values that have guided Argentina since 1983. The journalistic department of our multi-media organization has always tried to reflect reality and follow the mood of our readers. We are a market-driven organization whose first loyalty lies with our readers, viewers and customers. That will not change and, while we hope to maintain respectful institutional ties with the authorities, we also know it is in the nature of our work to have tense relations with governments at all levels. The war of trenches surrounding the Media Act has harmed our ability to be objective and therefore our credibility. We are now willing to reclaim it.”
If one can’t even imagine words like these being spoken in public Argentina 2012 it is because, apart from the 30 days between them, there seems to be no point of contact between 8N and 7D.
Marcelo J. García (@mjotagarcia) is a former Herald writer and coordinates the Communications Department at the Society for International Development (www.sidbaires.org.ar)