Replying to questions from the audience whether industrialists being allowed to own media companies would pose a danger to the functioning of the media business, [Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar] said: “Cross media ownership is being actively debated now. If that boils down to a game of 3-4 owners what happens to the state of media are some questions being raised. We will work extra time and walk the extra mile but come to decisions one these.”
The documentary reveals an important insight: the countries where most of the attacks come from the government are the same ones where the state controls a relatively greater portion of the media, which fosters a climate of opinion that lacks criticism. For example, in Ecuador, since 2005, the government has created at least 17 state media outlets; in Venezuela, in May of this year, Globovisión network — the only one left with any critical voice — was sold to people close to the regime; and in Argentina, 80 percent of the media is controlled through government funding and advertising.
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?
One continent, multiple media battlefields.
“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.