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Latin American media policies are shaped by two historical facts. First, Latin American political systems started to open up in the late 1980s. Liberal democratic politics are thus a comparatively recent development (Smith, 2005). In the majority of countries, media systems had been controlled by corporate media groups with close ties to authoritarian regimes and dictatorships (Fox, 1989; Mastrini & Becerra, 2005). Most of the Communication Acts in the region were set in this context. Consequently, there were no national trajectories of public service broadcasting development. To illustrate the panorama of Latin American media policy, I propose the following international coordinates of observation (Gómez, 2012). At one pole, some countries accord a central role to market logic, whereby light handed regulation favors powerful economic agents, and public authorities hold a referee status. This policy framework has been implemented since the late 80s (Schiller, 1990) and forms part of a larger process called marketization (Murdock & Wasko, 2007). At the opposite pole are normative public policies which seek to reform national communication systems against the following principles: a) constitutionally entrenched rights of communication; b) legal support for the growth of third sector media (community and indigenous media, non-profit associations, etc.). Such support includes spectrum allowances and specific licensing arrangements; c) de-concentration of media ownership. Together these tendencies constitute a de-commodification of communication policies. In other words, the hegemony of the market logic over the media system is challenged by social and community actors. Of course, the different national processes of media reform in Latin America may incorporate a mixture of elements from the two poles. Identifying these poles of development help provide answers to the following questions: How should the freedom of expression be guaranteed? What or whom is restricting the freedom of expression?

“Democracy, the press and free enterprise are inextricably bound up,” says Roberto Civita, director of the Brazilian magazine Veja, the most widely read in Latin America: defending free speech would entail protecting the freedom of businesses, starting with the press. But what happens when a political leader is elected on a programme that includes challenging the interests of the private sector and media bosses? Ever since leaders determined to end (or try to end) neoliberalism came to power in Latin America, and parties defending the traditional elite became weaker, the media has had a mission. As Judith Brito, editor of the conservative Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo, puts it: “Since the opposition has been weakened so much, it is the media that effectively fulfils this role” (O Globo, 18 March 2010) — sometimes very inventively.

Whose free press? – Le Monde diplomatique on Latin America

How does the media shape political change? How have journalists both challenged and offered cover for authoritarian regimes? Questions like these have been brought to the fore in recent years by the “Arab Spring” that has rocked authoritarian and military-dominated regimes across the Middle East, in which both professional and “citizen” journalists have played key roles. These same questions arose again and again in Latin America in the 1980s, where the late twentieth century’s great wave of global democratization began. This interdisciplinary, transregional research conference, featuring pre-circulated papers, will bring together scholars who study print, broadcast, and digital media in Latin America, in order to think critically about the relationships between media cultures and political change in Latin America and to develop innovative tools to for scholars to more critically interpret media sources in historical research.

As newspaper publishers enter a new era, Kantar Media’s Global TGI believes newspapers have a key role to play in this changing landscape, but recognises that business models need to change to incorporate direct audience interaction. Recent research by the company provides publishers with insight to inform their strategies by showing the different social media habits of people around the world. In terms of engaging with user generated content (UGC), the number of internet users reading articles or comment varies significantly by country, with Latin America featuring strongly. 47% of internet users in Brazil and 44% in Argentina read UGC on newspaper websites, compared to only 35% in GB and 26% in Germany. Not all countries have high levels of user interaction however. Latin American countries again show the highest rates of activity in submitting articles or comment on the websites of newspaper publishers, with 27% in Brazil and 26% in Argentina. This drops to only 17% in Germany and 12% in GB.