“…the control of radio and television broadcasting concessions by politicians, who tend to promote themselves and their allies, limit expression and use (such concessions) as tools to aggressively attack their political opponents.”
OBSERVACOM Staff /December 2015
The independence of the media is under threat in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) according to the UNESCO report entitled World trends in freedom of expression and media development: regional overview of Latin America and the Caribbean, which stated that “The lack of independent regulators aligned with international standards has remained.” This situation is mainly due to government pressure and the primacy of economic interests over the regulatory bodies of the audiovisual media, which in general lack institutional designs with sufficient safeguards incorporated to protect themselves against such interference.
The document highlights how the broadcasting landscape in the region is characterized by two scenarios: the first refers to those media contexts dominated by state-owned media, which have regulators appointed and controlled by the state, directed by officials appointed by the government, and which are financially and politically dependent. In the second scenario are those private commercial media outlets that are economically concentrated, and where regulatory bodies respond to the political and economic interests of the most influential media groups.
Given that in most countries of the region monitoring bodies depend on the government and the party in power, or powerful private-sector economic interests, regulation ends up favouring select groups at the expense of freedom of expression and pluralism. The report also draws attention to the control of radio and television broadcasting concessions by politicians, who tend to promote themselves and their allies, limit expression and use (such concessions) as tools to aggressively attack their political opponents.
Absence of international standards
UNESCO warns that the regulation of the communications sector (telecommunications and broadcasting) in the region is confusing, and despite the recent regulatory reforms undertaken in the various countries, given that many of the new regulations do not correspond to international standards for freedom of expression issued by the bodies that interpret agreements, and to which most of the States of the region have committed themselves to implement.
In turn, the regulatory landscape has become more complicated by the processes of digital switchover and technological convergence. For example, and in terms of the Internet, a lively debate has arisen among governments as to whether or not it is necessary to define specific regulation. Some countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Chile have issued regulations that guarantee the neutrality of the network and limit the liability of intermediaries as a means to protect freedom of expression. However, in many other countries in the region organizations defending freedom of speech and digital rights groups have made accusations regarding the censorship objectives with respect to the intention to regulate the Internet, when (such regulations) violate the principles of net neutrality or criminalize expressions expressed via the network.
In this context, the lack of independent regulatory bodies not only affects the freedom of expression and information, but also has implications for other areas of the media system, such as the working conditions of news staff, particularly journalists. In this sense, the migration to online media has had a negative impact on the number of jobs and has changed the profile of workers and their training, without the States having taken steps to mitigate these impacts, by specifically demanding that state or private media companies respect the labour rights of journalists.
The report raises an alarming scenario for this professional practice: “Limited time and resources to cover the news coupled with deficiencies in the education system and the poor quality of journalism courses have created structural challenges affecting the exercise of journalism in the region. As a result, journalists have scarce training in investigative journalism, inadequacies in mapping and portraying contexts, and limitations in knowledge and understanding of power structures.”
Academic networks: monitoring of the media
Lastly, the UNESCO document notes that the creation of Media Observatories and Research Centres dedicated to monitoring the ethical dimension of media performance, as well as the impact on freedom of expression and information, is a necessary measure to strengthen improved regulatory environments that respond to the current challenges faced by freedom of expression in the region, as well as contributing towards the expansion of regional cooperation in this area.