...And Well Tied Down: Chile's Press under Democracy

Article excerpt

Lóon-Dermota, Ken.... And Well Tied Down: Chile's Press Under Democracy. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.193 pp. $64.95.

Ken León-Dermota's analysis is a case study of Chile's press and the effects wrought by a concentration of media ownership into corporate hands of an emphatically narrow ideological stance. It is a study relevant to historians of American and European media, where a similar trend in consolidated ownership is occurring.

Officially, Chile is a democracy with a free press. Its current elected government evolved from a U.S.-backed military coup in 1973 that brought to power dictator Augusto Pinochet. The coup had ejected from office Socialist President Salvadore Allende.

Prior to and during Allcnde's rule, the Chilean media, under diversified ownership, vigorously debated political ideas. Political parties, from communist and socialist to marginally democratic and fascist, had newspapers and radio stations that presented their respective views. Allende owned a significant share of Radio Portales, which regularly broadcast his government's views. ElMercurio, the nation's most powerful newspaper, led the opposition. Free-market economists, trained at the University of Chicago and given a forum at E/ Mermrio, teamed with conservatives at Catholic University, in the business community, and in the aristocracy to create the public perceptions necessary for a coup.

During Pinochet's iron-fisted rule, opposition news media were at first closed or purchased, but eventually the news media environment loosened, and opposition media appeared. Opposition newspapers regularly printed investigative reports on the dictatorship, though not always without government reprisals.

Indeed, the news media were instrumental in convincing Pinochet to call elections, which put the dictator out of the presidency though his collaborators in the media, in the business community, at Catholic University, and in the aristocracy remained in control of the country. The conservative elite in Chile retains its strong grip on the country largely by manipulation of public opinion through its control of the media, Leon-Dermota discovered during a year-long investigation.

He shows that as Pinochet was leaving the presidential palace in 1990, a few wealthy Pinochet friends and collaborators engineered the purchase of the nation's newspapers, radio stations, and magazines using public funds (Chile's television stations remain in the hands of the state or are otherwise co-opted.). "The owners of these media control the practice of journalism and manipulate public perceptions so as to perpetuate the ideals of the dictatorship, even under democracy," he concludes. …

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