04/01/2013 | President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is predictably perceived as the most influential person in Argentina. But right behind her in the top five of people with clout, there appears a lot entirely associated with the media crusade her government is waging on the media establishment: Marcelo Tinelli, Jorge Lanata, Grupo Clarín itself and union boss Hugo Moyano.
The study on perceived influence, conducted by Giacobbe Consultores on 500 people countrywide (http://giacobbeconsultores.com/descargas/INFORME_INFLUYENTES_2012.pdf), is an indication about how much the media conflict has shadowed the rest of the Argentine agenda during 2012 — at least in the eyes of the average news consumer. With no signs of a thaw, the conflict is likely to continue to stain the tone of public information as the Fernández de Kirchner administration faces key midterm elections in October.
Tinelli, Lanata and Moyano are all arguably connected to Grupo Clarín in its policy of resistance to the government’s drive to enforce the anti-trust chapter of a Broadcasting Law passed by Congress in October 2009. The three will play an important role as the media imbroglio enters (yet) another final sprint leading up to a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the law. Yet the wildest of the three cards is Marcelo Tinelli, the country’s most popular television host.
Tinelli does not make a living out of politics, but he is no stranger to the game either. The variety evening show he has hosted for 23 years tops viewership ratings year after year. Tinelli has devoted most of his airtime in the last three seasons of his programme Showmatch to field a local version of Dancing with the Stars, and thus delivering very little political content to its vast audience of non-politicized voters.
But over the last two decades, Tinelli has enjoyed playing the odd man out in the political arena in some crucial moments. In 1995, President Carlos Menem closed his re-election campaign on his show. In 2001, President Fernando de la Rúa committed one gaffe after the other live on his show and gave another push downwards to an already ailing presidency. In 2009, congressional candidate Francisco de Narváez used the jokes of his Showmatch imitator to open campaign rallies in the province of Buenos Aires. Tinelli now says he could resurface a political parody segment called Gran Cuñado (“Big Brother-in-Law”) in the run-up to the October elections this season. The script of a candidate’s imitator reaching two million households a night can potentially boost or bust the most elaborate political marketing campaign.
Although Tinelli airs on Grupo Clarín’s Canal 13, he has weight on his own and does not necessarily follow the group’s political strategy line by line. When former president Néstor Kirchner died in October 2010, Tinelli was one of the few personalities outside the government’s inner circle to get to embrace the President and personally express his condolences. Tinelli is a populist in the best sense of the word: somebody who seemingly understands the mood of the masses better than others. Empathy gets him the viewers. No politician would want him on the opposite corner.
The immediate political path of the other two top fivers on the influence list is a little more predictable. Both multi-media journalist Jorge Lanata and teamsters’ union boss Hugo Moyano face the challenge of staging a rerun of a year (2012) in which they somehow spearheaded criticism of the government. Lanata’s Sunday evening television show Periodismo para todos was the main fodder for middle-class anti-government protests in September and November. Moyano, formerly a staunch government supporter, rallied dissent in union ranks that culminated in a general strike in November and a demonstration in Plaza de Mayo in December. They might find it difficult to match their feat in 2013.
There is influence other than analog-world TV shows, traditional journalism and political activism, and leaders around the world are increasingly testing them. 75 percent of the heads of state on this planet are exploring digital influence and now have Twitter accounts, according to a study conducted by the firm Digital Daya (http://www.digitaldaya.com/epetition.php?id_petition=69). Almost every one of them is expected to have joined the Twitterverse by the end of this year. “We expect Twitter will become a de facto communication tool for nearly all heads of state in 2013,” said the study.
With nearly 1.5 million followers, President Fernández de Kirchner ranks seventh in the world, in a list topped by President Barack Obama with 24 million followers. Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, currently fighting for his life in Cuba, is second with just short of four million followers. Fernández de Kirchner stands right behind Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. The Argentine President’s position in the Twitter chart is boosted by another study indicating Argentina ranks first in worldwide desktop social networking engagement, with nearly 10 hours per visitor each month — almost double the global average of 5.2 hours/month. The measurement was made by the digital audience analysis firm comScore based on the monitoring of two million web users worldwide (http://tinyurl.com/brvah2y). Tine-lli has just joined Twitter a few weeks ago. Lanata might want to have second thoughts about not having an account.
Marcelo J. García (@mjotagarcia) is a former Herald writer and coordinates the Communications Department at the Society for International Development (www.sidbaires.org.ar)