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BUENOS AIRES, Apr 30 2012 (IPS) - According to a book published in the Argentine capital, major Latin American newspapers with access to the secret cables obtained by Wikileaks decided not to print them because doing so would run counter to their own interests.
“Wiki Media Leaks”, by journalists Martín Becerra and Sebastián Lacunza, analyses the information about the relationship between the region’s newspaper companies and the United States, through its embassies.
“Many media outlets have communicated the leaked material, but only on extremely few occasions have they dared to publish diplomatic documents that could harm them, let alone any that specifically refer to them,” the book says.
Hundreds of thousands of secret, confidential and unclassified United States diplomatic communications were obtained by Wikileaks, a not-for-profit organisation, and handed over to large newspaper companies in 2010 for publication.
The cables span the period from December 1966 to February 2010, although the vast majority of them are from 2008-2010.
Lacunza, an IPS contributor with a degree in communication sciences, said the idea arose when he and his colleague saw that media with access to the cables “were reluctant to publish some ‘juicy’ ones that referred to themselves.”
Among their most notable findings was the “moderate nature” of ambassadors’ responses to “the tremendously audacious, illegal proposals of the media élites,” Lacunza told IPS.
According to the book, U.S. diplomacy has in certain circumstances been less aggressive, more accommodating, and less radical in its preferred options than local élites.
Beginning with an overview of the media in Latin America, Wiki Media Leaks goes on to detail which outlets in different countries had privileged access to the cables that were leaked by the organisation headed by Australian activist Julian Assange.
The investigation emphasised the concentration of news media ownership in very few hands in most countries of the region. However, as the authors point out, this is not generally a concern for Washington.
The book includes a chapter specifically on Argentina, which sheds light on clashes between the main newspaper companies and the centre-left government of President Cristina Fernández.
Another chapter deals with the strategies employed by the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires with friendly countries like Peru, Colombia and Chile.
Later on, the text focuses on countries with more problematic relations with Washington, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Honduras. And finally it analyses the cases of Brazil and Mexico, the region’s largest economies.
The book by Lacunza and Becerra, who holds a doctorate in information sciences, shows that in some countries like Argentina and Brazil, renowned columnists from newspapers and television programmes have taken their protests against their (left-wing) national governments to U.S. embassies, where they have sought support for their opposition arguments.
These arguments, expressed in the media, are collected by the embassies and sent to the U.S. State Department as part of their analysis, in a circle Becerra describes as “information endogamy.”
One of the journalists mentioned in the book is Joaquín Morales Solá, a columnist with Argentina’s La Nación newspaper, and a programme presenter on a pay channel belonging to the Clarín consortium; another is William Waack, with Brazil’s TV Globo. Both were quoted by the respective U.S. ambassadors “to keep the cables from appearing to be completely subjective,” the book says.
Lacunza told IPS that the practice of appealing to the embassies, while governments were attempting to create more progressive laws on the media, had turned out to be “a failed strategy” by the media, “belonging to bygone decades.”
In the chapter on Argentina, former U.S. ambassador to this country Earl Anthony Wayne says the Clarín media group “is not always managed as responsibly as we would like,” and adds that the Clarín newspaper, the flagship of the consortium, which boasts the highest circulation in the country, “can topple governments.”
“The (Fernández) government has a point about the Clarín group. It does have a tremendous amount of clout because of its dominant presence in print, TV, cable, and radio,” the ambassador said. He also said there is still plenty of press freedom in Argentina.
Wayne said that in the Argentine media, “there is more focus on rumours and unchecked assertions than the best media standards would call for.”
U.S. cables about Peru, Colombia and Chile are magnanimous, but not bereft of criticism of the media in these countries.
Peruvian newspapers that campaigned against now President Ollanta Humala were termed “sensationalist.”
In Colombia, the embassy said the media were “closely aligned with the government” of former right-wing president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), the predecessor of current conservative President Juan Manuel Santos, and were restrained in their stance on Uribe’s confrontation with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
The embassies were generally more critical of media policies in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador – all of which are governed by leftist presidents – but they also criticised the lack of rigour or independence of media outlets aligned with the political opposition.
“(Bolivian President Evo) Morales is correct that wealthy families are the primary owners of Bolivia’s media outlets and that they generally have a conservative, pro-business outlook. These families often do not share President Morales’ political views,” one cable says.
In Ecuador, former U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges acknowledged there was “a grain of truth” in the observations of President Rafael Correa to the effect that “the media play a role here, in this case, of opposition,” another dispatch says.
“Many media owners come from the élite, from the business world, and they feel threatened and defend their own interests through the media,” said Hodges.
Cables from the U.S. embassy in Venezuela expressed surprise over a visit by Miguel Henrique Otero, the head of the newspaper El Nacional, asking for funding from Washington to counteract the withdrawal of government advertising.
As for Honduras, the book says that U.S. ambassador Hugo Llorens spoke out from day one about the “coup” perpetrated Jun. 28, 2009 against former president Manuel Zelaya, and criticised the media for their stance against the government and against democracy in the country.
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