Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy: Ernesto Carmona

Vos el Soberano today reposted part of an article by Ernesto Carmona, entitled Ethical Implications of the Concentration of media and their political and economic relationships in Latin America.

The complete original, which is widely reposted and can be downloaded, was presented as part of a seminar on "Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy" which was held in Quito on October 23, 2009, from which a video clip can be seen on YouTube. It should be required reading for anyone working on issues of contemporary Latin America, and is particularly pertinent to thinking about the connection between lack of true journalism in Honduras and the coup d'Etat of June 2009. Since it runs to 21 pages, it is impossible to provide a complete translation here. But it is worth highlighting a few key points.

Carmona begins:
The major media in Latin America suffers a profound ethical crisis because it does not fulfill its essential mandate to inform "truthfully and opportunely". On burying the notion of free and impartial media and the "duty to be informative" associated with the origins of the press, journalism lost its ultimate ethical purpose: to assist man to satisfy the necessity and the right to be informed in order to take decisions about the achievement of a "good life".

The loss of ethics, accelerated by the concentration of media and stimulated by the neoconservative model imposed in the last four decades, that also paved the way for the excesses of the great unregulated concentration of corporate and financial power causing the present crisis set loose in the developed nations, constructed a media tyranny, by erecting a "mediocracy" that defines and regulates almost all the areas of contemporary life.

The concentration of media property grew in all the world in unison with the dominant roll of the large transnational corporations that exploit natural resources of the poor countries, stimulated by post- WW II neo-colonialism, with the pretext of aiding "development" of the underdeveloped nations, rich in raw materials, agricultural potential, and fuels.

After noting that these developments were flagged over fifty years ago, Carmona continues
The media are instrumental in the conservation of a status quo of a great concentration of wealth and in some Latin American countries attempts to directly exercise political power, like another party, identified with economic power....Its objective now is not information, but rather the substitution for public opinion, arrogating to itself the right to conceal information in a system of biased, manipulated, if not prefabricated, and always predigested, "news".

This could be a description of the media in Honduras in the run-up to the coup. But Carmona actually relates it to the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela.

Carmona identifies the concentration of ownership of media in Latin America as key to these developments:
Liberty of expression is understood as freedom of trade that permits the sale of news, ideas, subjective interpretations of reality as one product more that competes freely in the market. However, the monopolistic concentration generates unemployment and impedes the materialization of real competition.... There do not exist mechanisms for the population to impose the type of journalism that they want to consume, although the polls always indicate that they desire news, true news.

The "dream of free competition" is a myth in a journalism dominated by monopolies, duopolies, and oligopolies, that do not allow competition and destroy the competitors, including buying them to make them disappear, as is frequent.

This is where Carmona turns to Honduras as an example:
A present-day example of media tryanny is Honduras, where the major media belong to the same economic and political chiefs who overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, beaten on by the media estate since the beginning of his government, in January of 2006, due to his unexpected policies in favor of the excluded of this impoverished nation. Just one example, Honduran television is controlled by a single person, José Rafael Ferrari, fierce supporter of the coup and also a major presence on radio. The behavior of the press in Honduras, after the closure of the few competitors critical of the coup, calls to mind the memory of the roll played by the media during the military dictatorships. There does not exist any code of ethics for the owners of the press. Death is news, but today the news dies.

"Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy" was sponsored by CIESPAL, the Centro Internacional de Estudios Superiores de Periodisma para America Latina (International Center for Higher Studies of Journalism for Latin America) describes itself as "an organization that promotes the right to communication in order to democratize society". Carmona is a Chilean journalist, Director of the Chilean Council of Journalists, and Executive Secretary of the Investigation Commission on attacks against journalists of the Latin American Federation of Journalists (CIAP-FELAP).

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