Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

LATIN AMERICA: Public Media Expanding

Mario Osava

ASUNCIÓN, Oct 27 2011 (IPS) - The public media are growing in Latin America, with a new focus that puts an emphasis on independence from the state and the backlash from the private media, said journalists, academics and officials meeting in the Paraguayan capital.

“The public media and government communication have to move along separate tracks,” said Paraguay’s communication minister, Augusto dos Santos, addressing the international seminar on “Public Media and Society: The Global Experience and the Latin American Path”, held in Asunción Wednesday Oct. 26.

Autonomy, a commitment to the citizens, and “listening to all sectors” are necessary conditions for the public media, the minister said.

Paraguay, which hosted the seminar ahead of the 21st Ibero-American Summit, to be held Friday Oct. 28 and Saturday Oct. 29 in Asunción, launched its first public television network in August.

In Ecuador, the public media have undergone a major expansion, fostered by the new constitution that went into effect in 2008, which sparked a dispute with private companies that dominated the media in the country, said Orlando Pérez, assistant director of the state-owned El Telégrafo newspaper.

Among other things, the new constitution banned the possession of media outlets by bankers, who in the past owned a large portion of the media, Pérez said.

“The voices and the content in the media diversified, and the 14 indigenous nations gained access to the airwaves, started broadcasting in their own languages, and trained journalists,” he said.

The national public broadcasters and community radio stations triggered “an unprecedented reaction” by the traditional private media groups, which lost a share of the “advertising pie” as well as ratings, said Pérez.

El Telégrafo was boycotted by the private sector, and copies of the paper were even removed from newsstands.

Peru, on the other hand, is a latecomer to the movement that has been going on in Latin America over the last decade. The country’s state-owned media were “dismantled, reduced to nothing” by the administration of Alan Garcia (2006-2011), and the government of President Ollanta Humala is now attempting to rebuild them with a focus on the citizens and social inclusion, said Blanca Rosales, the president’s spokesperson.

“My staff only consisted of two administrative workers,” said Rosales, who added that the Radio Nacional station did not even reach the entire capital, and the public TV station was just barely surviving on a meagre budget.

But that should change under the left-leaning Humala – “who was not the private media’s favourite” – in office since July, she said.

In Brazil, public broadcasters already existed, such as 22 TV stations run by state governments and nine radio stations.

After a lengthy process of debate, the Brazilian communications agency EBC was created in 2007 to organise the public media system, and TV Brasil – the first federal public network – began to operate in December 2007. The NBR state-owned news station was also established, to report on government policies.

But the last two governments, led by left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, were able to make little headway in changing the media landscape. That is because the media is dominated by powerful private groups, and there is little public support for implementing a system to regulate TV stations, said Carlos Tiburcio, a former adviser to Lula.

“Brazilian society does not discuss the media much,” and media companies react harshly to any proposed regulation or modification, as if “their rights were being trampled on,” he said.

But, he added, now that private telecoms operators want to get involved in offering pay TV services, the traditional media companies are demanding government intervention.

Tiburcio called for greater government financing for the public media, in order to “ensure equality.”

In the face of “the concentrated power of the private media, the state has to give unequal treatment to the different sectors, in order to bring about some kind of balance,” he said.

The funds have to come from the national budget – in other words, from taxpayer money, said Ivanir Bortot, chief editor of the public Brazilian news agency Agência Brasil, run by the EBC.

Although TV Brasil’s programming reaches 69 countries, its broadcasts do not reach the entire national territory, such as remote scarcely populated places that would never be of interest to the private media.

In the view of Argentine expert Martín Becerra, full national coverage and reaching remote underserved areas is one of the three conditions that public media must meet.

The others are social participation in oversight and programming, and sustainability to ensure continuity, unlike state bodies or policies that can disappear when the government changes.

Creating a public media outlet is a process that requires training of reporters and conditions of “independence and plurality” – two concepts that were repeated by different speakers at the seminar organised by the Paraguayan government Secretariat of Information and Communication for Development (SICOM), along with the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the IPS international news agency.

Models of public television from other continents that were mentioned at the seminar included Japan’s NHK, Britain’s BBC and Televisión Española (TVE), Spain’s most popular TV station.

Other international media networks like Telesur, which was founded in 2005 by Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay, were also discussed at the seminar, which continued the debate launched at a previous gathering in June in Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital.

Nine national agencies, including Venezolana de Noticias (AVN), Cuba’s Prensa Latina, Mexico’s Notimex and Argentina’s Telam, created the Latin American Union of News Agencies (ULAN) in June, seeking synergy to strengthen state and public journalism and news, said Daniel Giarone, manager of international development at Telam.

Also emphasised was the role played by public and community radio stations, like Radio Viva in Paraguay and Radio Pio 12 in Bolivia, and initiatives like the Latin American Association for Radio Education (ALER) and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC).

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