These are some of the findings of the Media Ownership Monitor (MOM) Argentina project, a collaborative research carried out by Reporters without Borders (RSF) and the Argentinian media workers’ cooperative Tiempo Argentino. Based on a methodology already implemented in almost 20 countries, MOM investigated the most influential media in Argentina (TV, radio, print and online), with the aim to highlight who the media owners and their political and economic interests are. The results of the project were announced on April 10th in Buenos Aires and are now available in English and Spanish at argentina.mom-rsf.org.
“There was a lot of public debate about the role of the media and the effects of media concentration in Argentina when the Law on Services for Audiovisual Communication was enacted in 2009”, Gerardo Aranguren, Editor of Tiempo Argentino, explains. “Then the administration of President Mauricio Macri reversed the process and removed a considerable part of that law. As a result, big media holdings could escape public scrutiny and any obligation to make their interests more transparent” he added. “That’s why we need the MOM project now to draw the attention towards those businesspeople that control the increasingly narrow news agenda that Argentinians consume every day !”
“In Argentina, we are observing that the absence of direct censorship does not automatically mean that the media is diverse and free” added Emmanuel Colombié, RSF’s Regional Director for Latin America on the occasion of MOM Argentina launch. “Economic pressures and concentration of ownership can limit the capability of journalism to hold those in power to account. With our online publication we want to provide a tool for every citizen in this country to better understand the underlying interests, powers and challenges that define Argentina’s media landscape”, says Colombié.
High level of concentration everywhere
The sample of media investigated by MOM includes 52 national outlets: 14 Television channels, 14 radio stations, 10 printed newspapers and 14 news websites. Most of them are owned by a few private companies mostly located in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires. They concentrate audience shares, income from private and state advertising, news production and distribution networks. State-owned media outlets are less and less influential.
Each of the four media sectors (TV, radio, printed press and online) in the MOM study shows high levels of ownership and audience concentration. Grupo Clarín is the only conglomerate that has a considerable market power in all areas of the media and telecoms industry. Other less important actors include Grupo América (formerly, Grupo UNO), which has focused on free TV and radio since it sold its cable TV company Supercanal in 2018; and Grupo Indalo, which holds interests in radio, TV and print, although its future is uncertain due to the judicial investigation involving the group’s owners, who were in prison at the time of this study.
Except for the TV network run by Grupo Clarín (with a market share of 22.6%), the most popular TV stations are mainly run by foreign investors (with Viacom owning the largest TV network that concentrates 15.1% of the audience, and Turner and Fox owning some of the most popular TV channels). Among online news portals, Infobae (Grupo Infobae, 1.39% of the digital audience) ranks first, followed by Clarín (0.97%) and La Nacion (0.69%). Among the ten leading newspapers, three belong to Grupo Clarín: Clarín, La Voz del Interior (from Córdoba), and Los Andes (from Mendoza). They accounted for 47.8% of the national readership in 2018. La Nacion and Diario Popular are also important players. Radio is the medium with the highest diversity and number of owners, though it is more concentrated in terms of audience. Four groups (Clarín, América, Indalo, Cadena 3) control most parts of the Argentinian radio market.
Across all four sectors, four media conglomerates combine 46,25% of the national audience, with 25% of it controlled by Grupo Clarín alone.
Deregulation in the Macri era
When analyzing the leading media outlets in Argentina, it becomes obvious that concentration in the industry has grown in recent years considerably. The fact that large conglomerates have become more powerful is largely due to the deregulation practices furthered by the national government.
Media policy is a central issue of Mauricio Macri’s administration. In fact, his first decisions after he became president in December 2015 focused on the media sector. During his very first days in office, he signed a set of executive orders aimed at removing many of the policies implemented by his predecessor Cristina Fernández’s administration, which was met with fierce resistance by the media business owners. Within his first month in office, Macri met their demands, merged AFSCA and AFTIC – the regulatory entities responsible for the enforcement of the Law on Services for Audiovisual Communication and the Law on Telecommunications and ICTS, respectively – and loosened or removed many of the limitations to radio and TV concentration, and to cross-media ownership.
Thanks to these changes, Clarín was able to expand into the telecommunication industry: its Cablevisión division merged with Telecom, thus becoming the largest media conglomerate in the history of communications in Argentina and turning Clarín into one of the most powerful of all companies in the country.
In addition to this business-friendly, regulatory support, Argentina’s national government provides media companies with the largest amounts of funding, both direct (official advertising) and indirect (such as financial help, loan forgiveness, fiscal and social security debt redemption, license extensions). As a result, the government’s leverage is considerable and most media outlets’ editorial lines remain highly influenced by, with the owners highly dependent on any changes in government.
Large involvement in other economic sectors
The leading media holdings obtain most of their revenues from a mix of related businesses or other economic sectors, so their media outlets tend to operate mainly to promote these other, more profitable interests. Clarín for example, achieved not only a dominant position in all media segments, but also controls a majority interest in the only newsprint (paper) factory in the country, PapelPrensa S.A. (together with La Nacion and the national government). In addition it holds interests in fixed and mobile broadband services, the farming industry, tourism, video games and film production, among others.
Grupo América, whose main shareholders and founders are Daniel Vila and José Luis Manzano, holds powerful interests in the energy and oil industries, as well as in the supply of public services. One of their partners, Claudio Belocopitt, owns one of the largest private health care companies in the country, Swiss Medical Group.
The activities of Grupo Indalo, whose owners Cristóbal López and Fabián De Sousa are in prison for tax evasion, were originally spread across the transportation, gambling, oil and fuel sectors. It entered the media industry late in 2010. In 2012, the group grew by purchasing Daniel Hadad’s multimedia group.
Only a small minority of media groups obtains most of its income from traditional content production and publishing. These include Telefé, owned by Viacom, Grupo La Nacion and Grupo Perfil.
Women are highly underrepresented
The role of women in media companies does not match remotely the central role that the feminist movement played in Argentina’s politics in recent years. In the 52 media outlets included in MOM Argentina study, there are only 11 female shareholders to be found. All of them hold significantly smaller shares than men and are close relatives (their heiresses or wives).
In 88.5% of the cases, men define the media outlet’s editorial line. Only in six cases (11.5%) there are women holding CEO, content manager or editor-in-chief (or deputy editor) positions: América TV (Marta Buchanan is General Manager, and Liliana Parodi is Content Manager), Radio La Red (directed by Marcela Patané), Infobae (directed by Valeria Cavallo), Página 12 (directed by Nora Veiras), Radio Dos (Araceli Colombo is Media Executive Officer) and C5N (Verónica Aragona is a member of the Content Management team).
Cooperatives as a business model to defy the economic crisis
While large media groups and their owners have been going stronger and stronger, their employees find themselves on the losing end, also due to the lack of state action and the current economic crisis. In many cases, salaries are dropping by 30% or more, inflation not included, with delayed payments in installments. More than 20 media outlets have been closed down across the country since 2016, and at least 3,500 media employees lost their jobs (more than 2,700 in the city of Buenos Aires alone) over a period of only two years.
However, eight of those 20 media outlets have been recovered by their staff and continue to operate as workers’ cooperatives. So in recent years, as a somewhat surprising and hopeful trend against the backdrop of a global media crisis, in Argentina the media sector is leading the ranking of successfully recovered businesses across all industries.
The phenomenon of independent, non-profit media is not a new one in Argentina, but has been existing for several decades. Although being very diverse in background and shape, what unites these print and online outlets, TV and radio stations is to consider communication a right, not a commodity, independent from the centers of economic power. In early 2019 Argentina has seen over 400 of those alternative media outlets, and the number is becoming larger and larger. Between 2016 and 2018 alone, eight of those self-owned and self-managed companies were founded and Tiempo Argentino, RSF’s partner for MOM in Argentina, is one of them.
Transparency and access to information
Over the five months during which MOM Argentina’s research was carried out, the team faced several obstacles to access information. In general, print and online media companies are not obliged to disclose their corporate structure or any related piece of information. For audiovisual media (TV and radio) this obligation exists according to the Law on Services for Audiovisual Communication. However, many companies simply chose to not comply with the law, and the National Communications Entity (ENACOM) prefers to ignore this breach. As a result, it is burdensome to find out who the real owners of media companies are.
Argentina’s executive branch is the main advertiser in media on both federal and local levels. The national government regularly publishes the budget that is planned to be allocated to media outlets and MOM’s research and analysis efforts are built on these data sets. However only very few local governments provide as easy an access to this information and thus, the picture of Argentine media funding remains incomplete – also as the commercial advertising sector appears mostly opaque, even though the Argentine Chamber of Media Agencies publishes rough estimates annually. Corporate financial information of most of the media companies is also difficult to obtain with the notable exception of Grupo Clarín, which is a publicly listed stock company and thus, obliged to publish detailed corporate data to satisfy financial markets.
Out of 180 countries, Argentina ranks 52th in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index. It lost two positions compared to the previous year.
MEDIA OWNERSHIP MONITOR: A GLOBAL RESEARCH PROJECT
Initiated by the German section of the international human rights NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Media Ownership Monitor project is a global research and advocacy effort to promote transparency and media pluralism at an international level. In Argentina, it was conducted together with Tiempo Argentino from November 2018 to April 2019. The sample of media investigated included 52 national outlets: 14 television channels, 14 radio stations, 10 print titles and 14 online sites.
Tiempo Argentino is a media outlet run by around 100 journalists who decided to create a cooperative to revive the newspaper they worked for after its owners suddenly closed it in February 2016. It reopened as a self-managed media with a print version on Sundays and a digital newspaper from Mondays to Saturdays. It developed a business model based on contributions made by its readers, who provide 70% of its revenues. This allows for its journalists to work independently.
The project is financed by the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Country studies were so far published in Albania, Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, Lebanon, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine. In addition to Argentina, this year, MOM is investigating the media markets in India and Pakistan. For more information, visit the MOM global website: http://www.mom-rsf.org
Tiempo Argentino, Cooperativa Por Más Tiempo:
+54 43425511 – [email protected]
Reporters Without Borders Germany, media relations:
+49 30 6098 9533 55 – [email protected]