Various communications organizations and opposition party leaders expressed their displeasure and concern regarding the acquisitions of media holdings by companies linked to President of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes.
Rubén Ayala*/ November 2015
The organization VOCES Paraguay, which represents community radio stations and alternative media in that nation, issued a statement entitled “The Dangerous Road for Democracy and Freedom of Expression in Paraguay.” The document states that “over the course of this year, the group owned by President Horacio Manuel Cartes Jara acquired the media holding of two groups: first, Grupo Nación de Comunicaciones, owned by the Domínguez family, which includes the La Nación newspaper, Crónica (a publication with print and digital versions), and two radio stations (Montecarlo in FM and 970 AM).” The statement continued “he also acquired channels of the Grupo Multimedia, which were owned by former President Juan Carlos Wasmosy: the newspaper ‘Popular’, the online newspaper ‘Hoy’, and the online radio station ‘Laser Stream’. As such, Grupo Cartes has acquired three print newspapers, three digital publications, one AM radio station, one FM radio station, and one online station, all in all totaling nine media channels.”
In its complaint, VOCES Paraguay “rejects the concentration of media ownership because it poses a serious obstacle to the creation of democratic culture, given the lack of diversity and pluralism in the production of information and content, and the monopolization of freedom of expression in opposition to equality of opportunities.” At the same time, the organization “rejects the conduct of the President, who as administrator of public office has the primary obligation to comply with and enforce the legal framework and the rule of law in the nation.” VOCES also “condemns the oligopoly of the media for going against fundamental principles and human rights such as equality of opportunity, news and ideological plurality, and communications diversity.” The community radio organization demands that “the state promote public policies on communications and audiovisual media laws that respect the right to communication, guarantee diversity and news plurality and diverse content, and promote unlimited respect for and equality of opportunity related to freedom of expression.” Finally, the most recent statement by VOCES Paraguay “calls on international agencies such as the Offices of Rapporteurs of Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, the UN, UNESCO, Mercosur, and Unasur to carefully monitor this situation, which goes against freedom of expression and democratic culture in Paraguay.”
The Paraguayan Journalists’ Union (SPP) released its own statement, “rejecting the concentration of the media and alerting the community to the risks to democracy posed by the head of the Executive Branch who, in addition to trying to coopt other government branches, is conducting an aggressive campaign to dominate the media.” The SPP also stated that parallel to this the government “has reduced the public media to becoming mere spokespersons for the governing party.”
Opposition leaders also have issued statements regarding these developments. Senator Desirée Masi of the Partido Democrático Progresista (PDP) released a statement to the press expressing her party’s concern over “the concentration of the media” and noted that “concentration of media power, in the case of the President, combines with political and economic power in a manner that is not beneficial to the country, the President, or democracy.”
Senator Hugo Richer of Frente Guasu, the party of former President Fernando Lugo, stated that “at the social and political level, the concentration of the media in the hands of the current President or any other cannot be taken as routine because this affects democracy, the quality and depth of the press, and freedom of expression.”
Another legislator who stated that he rejects media concentration was Senator Adolfo Ferreiro of Partido Avanza País, who said that “the accumulation of communications media in a single sector can be used as a tool to manipulate public opinion and to generate a ‘single voice’ through a media that does not allow the people to access the truth about the most important issues regarding politics or the economy.”
While the Paraguayan Constitution does not explicitly refer to monopoly, oligopoly or the concentration of the media in the articles on communications and the exercise of journalism, Articles 27 and 30, respectively, mention the guarantee of news pluralism and state that the law will provide equality of opportunities regarding free access to the use of the radio spectrum.
There is a reference to the term ‘monopoly’ in the section on economic rights that we believe could also apply to the commercial media. Article 107 states as follows: “Competition in the marketplace is guaranteed and the creation of monopolies and artificial increases or decreases of prices that stand in the way of free competition shall not be permitted”.
Telecommunications Law 642/95, which is the subject of strong criticism by organizations that defend and promote the right to communication and democratization of the media in Paraguay, due to its discriminatory contents and more commercial than legal focus, establishes in Article 16 that the purpose of Conatel (the entity that applies the law) is to “prevent anti-competitive and discriminatory contents and artificial decreases or increases in prices and rates. Article 29 states that communications services must be offered under a system of free competition.”
Furthermore, Article 7 of Decree No. 1435 on the Telecommunications Law states that “access to the use and provision of telecommunications services is subject to the principles of non-discrimination and equality of opportunities. As such, companies providing said services may not deny them to any individual or legal entity that meets the conditions established for the use of said service.”
There is no doubt that in Paraguay it is imperative to engage in wider discussions of the importance of plurality and diversity in the production of and access to information, as well as the scope and implications of freedom of expression for the consolidation of our still weak democracy.
It is also important to accompany this discussion with public policies in the field of communications and a legal framework that is in keeping with international standards of freedom of expression and the right to communication that specifically prohibit monopoly, oligopoly, and any attempt to concentrate the media in the hands of a few. This is most important when, as is the case of President Cartes, there is a connection to economic and political power that may generate unforeseeable negative consequences for democracy in Paraguay.
* General Coordinator Nacional VOCES Paraguay
Asociación de Radios Comunitarias y medios Alternativos del Paraguay