Argentina is located in the southernmost part of Latin America. It has more than 38 million inhabitants, the main language is Spanish, and the Catholic religion is predominant. Since 1983 it has had a democratic system of government which formally guarantees press freedom in its Constitution. Article 14 of Argentina’s National Constitution sets the guarantees for freedom of expression. The legal framework limits itself to the regulation of citizens’ rights and journalists’ responsibilities. Since the return of democracy freedom of expression has been exercised, although it has sometimes faced legal challenges on interpretation.
Argentina has a robust media structure. There are many newspapers around the country, six of which have national coverage. Radio and television have a national outreach through a system that privileges licenses to the private sector. State-run radio stations and TV channels also have a nationwide presence, yet with very small audiences. Even though the end of the 1990s saw the appearance of national broadcasting systems, commercial exploitation of radio broadcasting has a local character. In 2005 nonprofit community radio broadcasting was authorized.
In this region of Latin America informal ties exist between the state and the media owners (Sinclair 1999). The predominance of a commercial model, based on private ownership, is complemented by unwritten pacts of mutual convenience. In this way, the media owners benefit from the freedom to operate in the market, while the state maintains informal control over the content. However, this has not precluded the existence of tensions between the political and business sectors.
For the 15 years from 1974 to 1989 Argentina’s media system was unique: a near state monopoly working on a competitive and commercial basis. In effect, many TV channels and radio stations were left in the hands of the state, which limited itself only to the control of content. Television and radio stations were managed commercially and competed for mass audiences. It was during the military dictatorship that the current Broadcasting Act of 1980 was approved.
The difficulties of establishing a democratic regulatory framework reflect the structural characteristics of Argentine broadcasting: early dependence on foreign capital and production; historical centralization of the system around Buenos Aires; discrimination against nonprofit organizations; regulation and control coming under the umbrella of central government; privatization of profits and nationalization of debts. The continuation of these policies point at a complex hegemonic social-institutional network. The use of the public media for the dissemination of official activities remains common.
Argentina saw an early development of the press, which went hand in hand with a high literacy rate in regional terms. This is evidenced by the foundation of two important dailies: La Prensa (1869) and La Nación (1870). Both still represent politically and economically powerful groups. The newspaper Clarín came out in 1945, during Juan Domingo Perón’s first government, albeit with no political ties. Clarín has become the country’s major publishing success and main newspaper in terms of print run in the Spanish-speaking world. Its economic power enabled it to expand, particularly during the 1990s, to other media sectors. The group now owns newspapers, terrestrial TV and cable channels, radio stations, information technology firms, cinema productions, and entertainment companies.
There are more than 100 daily newspapers, six of which have national outreach. The country boasts 56 newspapers for every 1,000 inhabitants. The printed press is still largely financed by Argentine capital. Recent trends in the regional press are its growing impoverishment (it depends largely on government advertising), as well as the growing number of acquisitions by larger national media groups – although the number of publications remain roughly unchanged.
The model adopted for broadcasting was generally inspired by the North American system, with a family ownership structure. Though it is still run along commercial lines, the internationalization of markets in the 1990s has led to the surge of new management forms, in line with international strategies.
The 1960s saw the consolidation of the broadcasting model that predominates today roughly along the same lines: private companies that compete for audiences, centralization of production in Buenos Aires, and a dependence on North American capital. During the
1970s and 1980s the main TV channels came to depend on the state. The military dictatorship (1976 –1983) benefited by staging a strong propaganda campaign. The same happened, to a lesser extent, during the government of Raúl Alfonsín (1983 –1989), who did not know how to modify the media legacy of the dictatorship – and ultimately lacked political will to do so.
During Carlos Menem’s first government (1989 –1995) Argentina began the process of the privatization of broadcasting and telecommunications services, whose predominant features since then have been: the emergence of international capital flows; an accelerated process of mergers and acquisitions; adaptation of the legal framework to private sector interests; and instability of the control bodies.
Both radio and television have a strong penetration index of 98 percent of households. There are 850 legal radio stations and 2,000 that operate without state permits. There are 43 television channels and 50 percent of households have cable TV. In recent years there has been a strong growth of Internet access (25 percent of the population) and mobile telephony (66 percent). The economic crisis of 2001 significantly affected the whole media industry, which managed to overcome this setback only during 2004. From a high of US$4 million in the 1990s the advertising market plummeted to US$1,000 million.
Media policies in Argentina present an evident paradox: strong state intervention with a lack of a state policy taken in the interest of society as a whole. The state has had a decisive influence in the broadcasting sector (defining licensing terms, granting subsidies, sanctioning a legal framework), but at the same time it has lacked a sustained policy. Instead, it has acted by responding to the demands of the moment.
- Fox, E., & Waisbord, S. (eds.) (2002). Latin politics, global media. Austin: University of Texas Press.
- Mastrini, G. (ed.) (2005). Mucho ruido, pocas leyes: Economía y política de la comunicación en Argentina (1920 –2004) [Much ado about laws: Economy and politics of communication in Argentina (1920 –2004)]. Buenos Aires: La Crujía.
- Sinclair, J. (1999). Latin American television: A global view. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Ulanovsky, C. (1997). Paren las rotativas: Historia de los grandes diarios, revistas y periodistas argentinos [Stop the rotaries: A history of the great newspapers, magazines and journalists in Argentina]. Buenos Aires: Espasa.
- Varela, M. (2005). La televisión criolla: Desde sus inicios hasta la llegada del hombre a la luna 1951– 1969 [Local television: From its origins to the arrival of man on the moon 1951–1969]. Buenos Aires: Edhasa.