Bolivia: Media conglomerates may come to an end

Fortunato Esquivel

In 1997 the Law on Telecomunications was approved, a law which is presently in force and which may now be in its death agony as the Parliament begins this week (1) to debate new norms which will replace the 1997 legislation, to the great benefit of the people of Bolivia, and which will probably bring to an end the rule of the media conglomerates, which can only be compared to the great landed estates of other times.
The law currently in force, enacted by the neoliberal government in office at the time, reorganized the radio spectrum, although in truth this was a genial device to get rid of radio stations run by unions, which were the only media in opposition to the neoliberal establishment. From that time, all were given a licence for twenty years, the period established for the use of frequencies.
The twenty years would end in 2017, but by then new regulations will be in force in accord with legislation to be debated this week. The authorities have indicated that the concession of frequencies will be to the order of 33% for the private sector, 33% for the public (government, administrations, cities and public universities) and 34% for community radios and those controlled by first nations and groups of small landholders (campesinos).
At the present time, 98% of the frequencies are in the hands of the private sector whose privileges allow them to establish true "media conglomerates" that guarantee political power to manipulate public opinion.
The norm currently under debate refers to the concession of frequencies in radio and television, but the announcement alone mobilized the owners of these media conglomerates to "denounce" this legislative proposal as an attack on their interests. The leader of the station owners is a former employee of the U.S. Embassy and a competent producer of programs in the Voice of America. He affirmed that the new legislation intends to divide the frequencies into sectarian groups.
The new Telecommunications Law will ensure an adequate distribution of frequencies. It should prevent bankers and powerful economic interests from monopolizing frequencies, and using them to maintain their power, since the media are strategic elements that should also not be in the hands of foreigners.
In these times of change, the media should be at the service of and benefit all Bolivians through a free, equitable and participative communication, which would support the aspirations of peoples whose struggles for real change have been building up for some time now.
If we look carefully at the present situation, one can only conclude that the media are at the service of oligarchs. They are their instruments of domination and subjection in support of their own interests, which is sufficient reason to hope that the legislation now under consideration in Parliament will put an end to the patrimony of the oligarchy and transform it into the property of all Bolivians.
The monopolies are coming to an end
The Telecomunications Law will replace existing legislation and regulate the technical functioning of audiovisual media. It is possible that some time in the future, some thought will be given to another Media Legislation which could regulate the content and legal exercise of communicators, beginning with the owners, who at the present time, for the most part, have nothing to do with journalism. We hope for an auspicious labour on the part of legislators who must be able, without fear, to continue with consultations and technical advice as necessary.
On being approved promptly, the Telecomunications Legislation will put an end to the neoliberal control that has been in force for fourteen years, as well as to the chaotic disorder among frequencies assigned and in the content of radio stations that are more than a thousand in number and television stations that number some five hundred channels.
Media oligarchs
Three television networks have accumulated an enormous power to manipulate public opinion, at the service of sectarian political interests and in fierce opposition to real change towards inclusion which may be seen for the first time in Bolivia. Who are the proprietors and what interests do they represent? Here they are:
Red Uno
Its proprietor is the businessman and politician of Croat origin, Ivo Kuljis Füchner. He forms part of a society with Gonzalo Sáchez de Lozada (MNR – Nationalist Revolutionary Movement), Carlos Palenque (CONDEPA – Patriot Awareness), Johnny Fernández (UCS – Solidarity Civic Union) and Manfred Reyes Villa (NFR – New Republican Force). As a politician he was a failure, but he obtained significant benefits for his enterprises.
In the business world, he is involved in successful operations in banking, the supermarket chain Hipermaxi, the meat-processing operation Fridosa, Kupel industries, cattle raising on a large scale, exportation of soya, real estate and educational institutions, among others.
This begin as an effort on the part of journalists who hoped that from their professional competence, they would be able to offer television programming that would be less alienating. At the time they were unique in their national programming.
However, impartiality does not appear to have much of a future in this country and this network moved towards neoliberalism, sliding in that direction until it ended up in the hands of an Arab businessman Abdalá Daher, whose interests, among others, are the importation of electronic equipment. Daher is not involved in political activity and the only scandal in which he was involved was having been subjected to pressure to contribute to Eduardo Rosza Flores to head up the separatist movement in Santa Cruz.
This network is the most radical of the media conglomerates, related to CNN in the US and under the proprietorship of the Monasterios family, whose principal representative is Osvaldo Monasterios Añez, an active militant in the MNR and a member of Parliament on two occasions.
His media network has much to defend, since the Monastarios are tied to large banking enterprises, producers of soft drinks, ice cream, alcohol and its derivatives, large cattle estates (including the Nelore cattle), importation of furniture, administration of the duty-free zone Zoframaq (Puerto Suárez), among other interests.
The interests are there, this is clear
Such an enormous economic power is defended by a large band of journalists through programmes carefully structured to mount a tenacious opposition to the present process of change, based on surveys and investigations that are clearly manipulated, and quite obviously discard their hardly credible pretensions of impartiality and objectivity.
The members of Parliament who will consider the new Telecomunications Legislation are obliged to consider whether the media should be in the hands of powerful businessmen whose interests may twist public opinion, if they can ensure the collaboration of chosen manipulators who work for them, if they can be found.
ALAI AMLATINA, 12/07/2011. (Translation: Jordan Bishop).
(1) NDLR: On the day this article was published (July 12) the Chamber of Deputies approved the project of the Telecomunications Legislation which will guarantee an equitable distribution of frequencies, and the projected legislation is to be sent to the upper chamber (the Senate) for revision and approval.

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