24 August 2011

Citizen protests draw attention to media concentration problems, says new RSF report

A surge in citizen unrest in Chile, from students demonstrating against an unfair and expensive school system to miners demanding better working conditions, may help break up the country's media oligopoly inherited from the Pinochet regime, says a new report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

According to RSF, the protests are a challenge to a political, economic and media system inherited from the Pinochet years. "During the last 20 years of rule by the Concert of Parties for Democracy, media ownership continued to be concentrated in very few hands, hindering pluralism and leading to conflicts of interest," said RSF.

"There are now fewer print media in Chile than there were at the end of the dictatorship," Francisco Martorell, former vice president of the Journalists Association of Chile and current editor of the monthly "El Periodista", told RSF.

The report highlights the "national oligopolies" of El Mercurio and Copesa, owners of the newspapers "El Mercurio" and "La Tercera" respectively, which are the sole beneficiaries of a subsidy system established under the dictatorship that is worth US$5 million a year.

RSF describes a similar situation in the radio world, whereby the Spanish media group Prisa, owner of "El Pais" newspaper, also "owns about 60 percent of radio frequencies."

But with today's protest movements, media concentration is being questioned.

"There is an increase in awareness and even an emerging citizenship that was reined in for a long time because of the trauma left by the dictatorship," Manuel Fuentes, the Santiago bureau chief of the Spanish news agency EFE, told RSF.

RSF points to how online, community and alternative media have played a central role in protest movements against rising education fees, the HydroAysén hydroelectric project, the working conditions of miners and the protests of the Mapuche minority.

"Existing on the margins has ended up bringing us together in an alliance," said Pia Figueroa, the head of Pressenza, an online agency that specialises in covering conflict and promoting non-violence. "The support of our external networks is decisive in the process of building alternative forms of communication."
Read more about Chile's changing media landscape in the RSF report
Citizen activism challenges protected media oligopoly

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