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Chile: A Comprehensive Media Law, Another Challenge for Bachelet

During that decade, Chile was frequently mentioned in reports published by international agencies due to the lack of pluralism and information diversity as well as serious attacks on freedom of expression…

Faride Zerán*. Chile, may 2014.

Versión en español | Versão em Português

It is already cliché to hear the term “economic concentration” mentioned every time an aspect of the current Chilean situation is brought up for public debate. There is a concentration of wealth and income distribution in the financial sector and the market, among cable operators, in the telecommunications sector, and, of course, in the media. Tight concentration of media ownership and obstacles to widening the field to allow more actors participate in the ecosystem are just two aspects that have not been substantially modified since the beginning of the transition to democracy in the 1990s.

During that decade, Chile was frequently mentioned in reports published by international agencies due to the lack of pluralism and information diversity as well as serious attacks on freedom of expression.

The debt that the four Coalition of Parties for Democracy administrations (1990-2010) owe to the citizens include the systematic closure of independent media due to a lack of advertising in a country in which the business world has a well-documented conservative bias when it comes time to choose where advertise its properties and services; growing ownership concentration —vertical, horizontal, and as conglomerates— in advertising and audience market shares in all the industries (press, radio, and television, as well as telecommunications); and the complete absence of public media.

All of this is not only a function of the nature of the transition, which failed to directly address the human rights violations committed by the dictatorship, among other issues. It is also related to the fact that the idea that the market would regulate everything was accepted because of the political elite’s hegemony of speech. The premise that “the best communications policy is one that does not exist” was accepted, and this included the right to information.

As a result, during the most recent presidential campaign of Michelle Bachelet (a militant socialist, a standard bearer of the New Majority pact that includes the Coalition’s historical parties as well as the Communist Party), her team was forced to address growing societal discomfort with the narrow media landscape. The situation had already been documented in United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reports over the course of several decades, and it was made clear by the 2011 protests during which numerous stakeholders and experts noted the criminalization of the protests by the ruling elites. The images and contents (re)produced and broadcast by the media, including accusations of manipulation of news coverage of the protests, only reinforced this.

In this context, Michelle Bachelet presented a proposal for creating an educational and cultural national television channel as part of her government programming proposal during her campaign. She also condemned then-President Sebastián Piñera’s veto of the bill on Digital Terrestrial Television, which narrowed the concept of pluralism. Bachelet also announced that she would make the National Television Council part of the Ministry of Culture and Patrimony (which has not yet been created) in order to increase its powers while “maintaining its regulatory role vis-à-vis open television and emphasizing its quality promotion role with regards to the television industry.”

This line of action was to include the submission of a modified bill on public television to Congress. However, this never happened, and even if it had, it would not have substantially changed the current situation.

There has been no mention of the right to information and communication as a cornerstone of the effort to strengthen democracy, pluralism and diversity. Furthermore, there has been no discussion of the need to enrich public debate by creating new spaces for information and the exchange of ideas or a law that would foster the creation of other media that could give voice to the country’s diversity. Such a law would require being capable of seeing all of these aspects as a whole, including the fate of the 60 million dollars spent every year by the government on advertising and publicity campaigns. These millions have undoubtedly contributed to the consolidation of a narrow media system that is inaccessible to other stakeholders as well as members of the general public.

*Coordinator of the Freedom of Expression and Citizenship Program at the University of Chile, recipient of the National Journalism Award (2007).

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