25/05/2013 | Diez años de kirchnerismo comunicacional. Del software al hardware de la reforma de medios. La inseguridad informativa y la guerra con Clarín. Cuando muchos adjetivos persiguen a un sustantivo, la política está viva. Marcelo J. García lo analiza en el Buenos Aires Herald (en inglés).
Too many adjectives are chasing the noun decade when it comes to defining the Kirchner era. It could be the best or the worst ever, a wasted or a precious time, epic or corrupted, depending on who you read or listen to on this 10th birthday. The government takes on celebrating today with the sole certainty that there is not and there will be not consensus about its role in the history of Argentina any time soon.
This is — and will be for some time — a debatable decade. The government’s media and political communication policy is one of the reasons for that. The Kirchners era has challenged first the software and then the hardware of Argentina’s mainstream politics and media — and later both, following the moment circa 2008 when the administration parted company with the country’s largest media player, Grupo Clarín.
It all started on day one, 10 years ago today. The chicken-and-egg question about whether the Kirchners did not like the press or vice-versa is as unanswered now as it was on Néstor Kirchner’s inauguration day, when the protocol-unfriendly new President was hit on the forehead by a photo camera as he was greeting supporters in Plaza de Mayo. The image of a President bleeding slightly due to a cut caused by a press person who stood between the leader and the people was a colourful snapshot then but would be a perfect symbol now of the media decade that followed.
And still, while kirchnerismo in office was not always the oligopoly-slayer, reform-driven movement it would become later on, its suspicion of the media powers-that-be is part of its essence rather than just political opportunism.
A week before he was inaugurated, the Kirchner camp made the first use of a newspaper to accuse another newspaper of conspiracy. Página12 published a story saying the editor of La Nación, Claudio Escribano, had set a “policy ultimatum” to the new government, three days after Escribano published a piece in La Nación saying, defiantly, that with Kirchner “Argentina had decided to give itself a government for a year.”
Página12 and La Nación remain loyally pro- and anti-government, respectively, to this day. Others have not kept the same line of conduct. The most notorious of the cases, of course, is Grupo Clarín. The bout with Grupo Clarín had the dual effect of pushing the government beyond its own reform limits and staining every aspect of the political spectrum with a media war angle.
The relationship between the Kirchners and Grupo Clarín was a marriage of convenience that — as it usually happens — ended up badly and got entangled in the courts. During their honeymoon and the first years together, the marriage seemed mutually beneficial, so much so that Kirchner’s oft-clumsy speeches seemed dictation for front-page editors and Grupo Clarín won business benefits from start to finish, literally, of the Néstor Kirchner term (from a law to save media companies from being taken over by foreign creditors three weeks after inauguration to a formal OK to a cable television market merger hours before leaving office).
When the interests collided, the entire edifice collapsed. The stage for the breakup announcement was the long dispute that the government had with the country’s farming sector over export duties in the first half of 2008. The symbolic parting of the waters in the government’s media policy was a “mafia message” cartoon of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner published in Clarín during that conflict.
Without Grupo Clarín on its side, the government was inaudible, so it went out to get some loudspeakers — and take some away from its rivals. The fight for the hardware of political communications came with the best and the worst of the Kirchner era. The centrepiece was the Media Act, a widely-debated fine piece of legislation that carries the best of intentions in its text but faces both legal and market reality restrictions to translate language into reality. But it also included other action, such as the establishment of an army of new, pro-government media, which did change the information environment of a country now accustomed to political hard talk and irreconcilable positions.
By now, the crusade against Grupo Clarín has eaten up half of the Kirchners decade and the two main actors seem increasingly obsessed with each other. Against all odds, the two are also still alive, standing and fighting. It might be in their best interest to continue to keep brawling. It is not, however, in the interest of the rest of the power system — be it politicians, journalists or other public figures.
From coast to coast of the (fill in with your own adjective) Kirchners decade, the relationship between politics and the media can claim the credit of having first rebuilt democratic credibility in the aftermath of the mammoth 2001-2002 crisis to later threaten to detonate it back again. The current state of information insecurity has lasted longer than is advisable for a political machine willing to protect its own interests. If the president were bruised by a press camera today, many would believe she was stung by a wasp.
Marcelo J. García (@mjotagarcia) es columnista de medios del Buenos Airse Herald y coordinador del departamento de Comunicación y Cultura de SIDbaires.