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2 de mayo de 2010








Eight... Seven... Six...
By Marcelo J. García
For the Herald.
You cannot understand politics in Argentina today if you don’t understand the media. And one good place to start a crash course on media and politics is the most controversial television show of the hour. It is called Seis, Siete, Ocho.
Seis, Siete, Ocho (6,7,8) airs on prime-time state broadcast television every evening. A simple idea: five people and two guests sit around a table to comment on the way the news is carried by the mainstream media. It is the fronline of the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration’s war on Clarín, the country’s media behemoth. 6,7,8, treats journalists and media companies as political actors standing on an equal footing with opposition politicians.
Having journalists talking about fellow journalists on primetime television is news. The mainstream press and the top journalists have been a sacred cow in Argentina since democracy’s restoration year 1983. As most institutions and corporations fell on the wrong side of the public’s esteem to the tune of the recurrent economic and political crises, the reputation of the media managed to survive virtually unscathed. 6,7,8 is doing what was never done before: blatantly showing alleged political intentions behind media companies and some of the top journalists that work for them.
It may not sound exciting, but the result, at least from a television point of view, is quite entertaining. 6,7,8 is not very popular ratings-wise. Some 170,000 people watch it every evening, which is well above the state-run Channel 7’s average but less than half the people that buy Clarín every morning and less than a third of the viewers of the Clarín Group’s Channel 13 evening newscast Telenoche. But it is more commented than watched and its pro-active audience has organized two demonstrations via Facebook in defence of the Fernández de Kirchner administration and its media reform drive.
Whether the shady intentions the programme attributes to some journalists are true or not, it seems some people out there are willing to take them for a fact. A show like 6,7,8 is technically no more than a slingshot against the mammoth media establishment. Critics accuse the show of amounting to cheap government propaganda and of having launched a virtual witch-hunt against critical journalists. Some have even compared it to Channel 7’s news coverage during the 1982 Malvinas war against Britain, best remembered for its “We are winning” line. But such comparisons are as fallacious as the stalwart pro-government arguments. Over-reaction by media owners and journalistic bigwigs is only counterproductive.
6,7,8 is one more blot for a public life that has been severely twisted since Congress passed last year new media legislation in a government-sponsored legislative blitzkrieg. The mainstream media, most notably the newspaper Clarín via its dominant position in the media market, seem on the verge of breaking all rules of journalist decency and has turned every page of its thick daily into an editorial against the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration. The government and some of its followers react by launching attacks on Clarín on every front, as if their lives depended on it. The latest battle included the appearance of anonymous posters featuring snap-shots of well-known journalists who work for Clarín and questioning their “independence.” The reaction over a minor incident for a war of these proportions was, again, irrational: The government kept silent  for days until yesterday (See also Page 3), the media lords overplayed their role of victims.
The unnecessary blows flying both ways are only hiding the real debate, which is when and how the new Media Law will come into force. The bill is a fine print of legislation, described by a UN envoy as “the most advanced in the continent and an example for the whole world.” Political drive for the bill to be effective is prior to the Kirchners and will likely survive their political decline. The bill is now entangled in the courts over a legislative technicality filed by an opposition deputy. The paradox is that the opposition would have more clout in the daily management of state-run media like Channel 7 were the media reform actually implemented (as per article 132 of the new law).
Individual journalists are stuck in a fight that goes well beyond them. Some are convincing as the play their part as government supporters or critics; others look like pawns in somebody else’s game. The credibility countdown, meanwhile, is moving fast, as shown by a November poll by the journalists’ association FOPEA: 51 percent of the public believes journalists are closer to the establishment than the people (versus 32 percent who say the opposite), and 49 percent believe information is controlled by media tycoons (versus 12 percent who believe information is actually in the hands of journalists).
6,7,8 is not to blame for that, at least not the only one to blame. On 6,7,8’s favour, one might say that about a decade ago, prime time on state-television featured half-naked ladies and apple-splitting competitions. At least today, flaws included, the word politics is omnipresent.
Marcelo García, a former Herald staffer, holds a degree in Media Studies (University of Buenos Aires).


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