“There is no doubt that the concentration of the media in the hands of economic groups and political leaders affects the quality of democracy in the Dominican Republic. And it has its origin in a legislative framework that does not place limits on ownership of the structures responsible for serving people’s right to information.”
Jhonatan Liriano*/July 2015
With 10 million inhabitants and a territory of 48,000 square kilometers that takes up half of an island in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has a broad media structure.
The country currently boasts 46 open TV channels (8 VHF and 38 UHF), eight national newspapers in print format, 90 cable TV service providers, 379 radio stations (146 AM and 233 FM), 92 stations that identify as community organizations but that have been created and managed by the government, 471 digital newspapers, and 544 news or editorial blogs according to the registration platform Livio.com.
The preliminary data from a study that UNESCO will release soon indicate that 98% of the media that operate on the radio spectrum under the authorization of the Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Instituto Dominicano de las Telecomunicaciones, INDOTEL) are privately owned and that the government and churches handle the remaining 2%. The fact that government media (including what are said to be community radio stations) maintain a very low level of production quality and thus have little influence on society as a whole is noted in the report as well.
Given its population, territory, and numerous media companies, one might think that the communications field is fairly plural in this country. But that is not the case. A handful of economic groups and political leaders who made their fortunes during their time in office control the most important and influential media outlets in the Dominican Republic.
The most emblematic case of media concentration is that of the Corripio Communications Group directed by José Luis Corripio Estrada (Pepín). Corripio is considered the most important businessman of the past decade because of his millions of dollars worth of holdings in industry, agroindustry, retail, restaurant franchises, car sales, jewelry, fuel distribution, and communications. In 2012, the magazine Mercado placed Pepín at the top of its list of the ten most admired businessmen of the decade and reported that his family owned 28 companies with over 12,000 employees.
In the field of communications, the Corripio Group owns two VHF channels (Telesistema 11 and Teleantillas 2), one UHF channel (Coral 39), four of the eight national print newspapers (Hoy, El Día, Listín Diario and El Nacional), and the radio stations HIJB and La Nota Diferente.
From a quantitative perspective, one could say that this group is smaller than other media owners. However, what this really means is that the TV channels that have captured 48% of the national audience all have the same owner. The same is true of the four newspapers have captured 55.4% of readers in this category in 2012 and have a powerful influence on the country’s social, political, economic, and cultural agenda.
Corripio, the son of Spanish immigrants, has often said that he owns media outlets in order to contribute to society. In a 2013 interview he admitted that the only one of his newspapers that was profitable was the free newspaper El Día.
A second case of business groups with significant control of the media is the partnership of Manuel Estrella and Félix García, who represent the construction and industry sectors, respectively. Since 2008, they have been the owners of Multimedios del Caribe, which includes the national newspaper El Caribe, the TV channels CDN (37) and CDN 2, and the CDM radio channels (FM 92.5 and AM 1040).
Estrella and García are originally from Santiago, the country’s second most prosperous province. Estrella is an engineer who has handled multi-million dollar government construction contracts, especially during the last years of the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD) administration. His various properties and projects are listed on his official Website, www.estrella.com.do.
The co-owner of Multimedios del Caribe, Félix García, has made his largest investments in agro-industrial companies, engraving, painting, detergents, weather treatments, and other products.
The third example of media concentration in the Dominican Republic does have quantitative relevance. It is the Grupo Telemicro media group, which owns three TV channels, 73 radio stations, a national cable TV company, and two digital newspapers. The owner of this group is Juan Ramón Gómez Díaz, an attorney who moved from commercial activity to the ownership and expansion of these media outlets, which have significant penetration in the lower income sectors.
A discussion of issues around media concentration in the Dominican Republic must include mention of Senator Félix Bautista, the secretary of the government party organization, who the Public Prosecutor’s Office formally accused of corruption and money laundering during his time in the Executive Branch. Senator Bautista owns 12 radio stations and two TV channels, and is just one of the political actors who have taken control of major media outlets in the Dominican Republic.
A New Regulation
The concentration of the media in the hands of economic groups and political leaders clearly impacts the quality of democracy in the Dominican Republic. And it has its origins in a legislative framework that does not place limits on ownership of the structures responsible for serving the people’s right to information.
The Law on Expression and Dissemination of Thought (Ley de Expresión y Difusión del Pensamiento) is a document that has yet to be updated since it was approved in 1962, a year after the end of the 30-year dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. The law maintains protection of freedom of expression as a fundamental element and identifies the state as the most important potential aggressor, placing limits on defamation, liable, and safety from the government. This law, which is known as Ley 61-32, does not include any language about media concentration and its connection to the right to information. The General Law on Telecommunications (Ley General de Telecomunicaciones), which regulates the allocation of national radio frequencies, also fails to address these issues.
Several bills have been drafted that would change the regulatory framework for the Dominican media. However, the main participants in the discussion are representatives of the owners of the concentrated media companies and the political class, which has benefitted from the structure of concentration.
In order to move towards a public policy that democratizes the communications service, there must be a discussion in which community organizations, members of the rural population, unions, minority groups, professional organizations, universities, and the people in general actively participate. Meanwhile, the country remains distanced from the major discussions and progress that much of Latin America is experiencing in this field.
* Journalist with a degree from Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD) who has worked at the Listín Diario and El Caribe newspapers in the Dominican Republic. Producer and host of the radio program La República and coordinator of the digital platform El Grillo (elgrillo.do).