An oft quoted statement by Eduardo Galeano nicely sums up the central theme of this NACLA Report and deserves to be quoted at length: “Never have so many been held incommunicado by so few. More and more have the right to hear and see, but fewer and fewer have the privilege of informing, giving their opinion and creating. The dictatorship of the single word and the single image, much more devastating than that of the single party, is imposing a life whose exemplary citizen is a docile consumer and passive spectator.” Indeed, Latin America’s commercial media remain in the hands of a minute clique of dominant corporations. But along with the increasing consolidation of ownership in this sector—or perhaps because of this consolidation—there are emerging alternative media in several countries. In this NACLA Report we look at these recent changes that, in some ways for better and in others for worse, are transforming the media landscape throughout the Americas.
The roots of Latin America’s increasingly consolidated media can be traced back to the age of dictatorships, when a handful of media corporations created mutually supportive relationships with the authoritarian governments of the day, enabling them to create quasi-monopolies or duopolies in their respective domestic markets. As John Sinclair explains, these corporations have continued to amass domestic market dominance and have used this dominance as a basis for internationalization. Sinclair notes that with the advent of globalization and economic integration, media giants in Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina have partnered with global media conglomerates from abroad, making them “subject to the vagaries of global finance and the strategies of U.S.-based global media corporations.”
With the fall of the various military dictatorships in the region and in some cases the end of long-time one-party rule, state control and influence over the media began to diminish. In the case of Mexico, Sallie Hughes and Juliet Gil explain how the civic-oriented journalism that emerged in the newsrooms of Mexico’s print media in the 1980s and 1990s played an instrumental role in loosening the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s 71-year grip on power. Hughes and Gil write that a new wave of journalists and editors opened political spaces by reducing the regime’s “ability to control the contours of public discourse.”
Marcelo Ballvé weighs whether a similar brand of “civic-oriented” journalism will be lost with the ongoing concentration of Latino media in the United States. At issue is whether these corporations will maintain a sense of responsibility and commitment towards the burgeoning Latino community, which they claim to represent, as they integrate media models and practices of the general market.
As the hemisphere’s corporate media consolidate at a blinding pace, citizens across the Americas—in fact, across the globe—are creating alternatives that challenge the mass media’s control of information, and, literally, giving them a run for their money. Three articles of this NACLA Report serve to highlight some fascinating alternative media outlets operating in Latin America.
Many of these alternative outlets are integrated into local, national or international social movements. NACLA’s associate editor Teo Ballvé looks at how the alternative globalization movement’s Indymedia collective provided more comprehensive coverage of events than that offered by huge media corporations at the September 2003 World Trade Organization meeting in Cancún, Mexico. He also describes how the global Indymedia network is changing the way we think about media. Marie Trigona discusses TV-piquetera, which produces broadcasts by Argentina’s piqueteros, or unemployed workers. TV-piquetera is not only a tool to counter the criminalization of the movement, but also a vehicle for self-expression that encourages growth and change within the piquetero movement.
In many cases the challenge is not just in being an alternative to the corporate media, but in providing information at all. Gregory Wilpert considers the important role of Venezuela’s community media during the failed April 2002 coup and the media blackout that accompanied the coup attempt. With the private media corporations unabashedly supporting the coup and state media outlets shut down by the coup leaders, community media became the sole domestic source of information about pro-Chávez activities. Following the coup, Chávez realized the important role played by community media and began actively supporting their mission.
Although these examples of alternative media outlets have achieved some success, the prognosis for local media in Colombia is dire. For years, Colombia has been one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Carlos Lauría’s treatment of the ongoing slaughter of journalists in Colombia stresses the importance of safeguarding the freedom and security of the press, so that the voice of the people is heard.
Few would argue that a free, vibrant and dynamic press is not an essential component of the democratic ideal. But the ongoing concentration of media on both sides of the border is undermining what should be considered a fundamental right of citizenship: access to information. Fortunately, many people are relying less on corporations to spoon-feed them information and are taking matters into their own hands and becoming media makers, not media buyers.