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Media Shake-Up in Chile: Newsmagazine Ercilla Folds after 58 Years; Daily la Epoca Enters Historic JOA with Media Conglomerate

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Media Shake-Up in Chile: Newsmagazine Ercilla Folds after 58 Years; Daily la Epoca Enters Historic JOA with Media Conglomerate

Article excerpt

Media shake-up in Chile

The Chilean weekly newsmagazine Ercilla, the oldest and one of the most respected in Latin America, ceased publication with its Nov. 5 issue, the largest victim of increased competition in the country for scarce advertising pesos.

The loss of Ercilla coincided with the decision of the management of the financially distressed Santiago daily La Epoca to enter into Chile's first U.S.-style joint operating agreement with the Consorcio Periodistico S.A. (Copesa), which already owns the city's two circulation leaders, La Tercera and La Cuarta. Veteran newsman Emilio Filippi launched La Epoca in 1987 as an opposition voice to then-military strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet (see "Survivor in Santiago," E&P, May 5, 1990).

The death of Ercilla and the plight of La Epoca have raised concerns in Chile over the seeming evaporation of the journalistic pluralism in this newly re-established democracy. Ercilla was a right-wing critic of the center-left government of Christian Democratic President Patricio Aylwin, but five of Santiago's seven dailies - all but La Epoca and the government-owned La Nacion - are owned by conservative Aylwin critics.

La Epoca's management has been taciturn about the terms of the deal, but Fillippi explained to E&P that Copesa would gradually take over the paper's distribution, then its advertising, printing and administrative functions, over two to three months.

"We're not in a hurry," he said.

Fillippi insisted that La Epoca would retain its editorial independence and added firmly, "I remain as director.

"If we couldn't maintain our editorial independence, we would have looked for another group," he said, "but it's a business, and we needed capital. What we're going to do is separate the journalistic part from the technological part and we hope to have a better product."

Fillippi explained that the administrative functions of the paper will be managed by a newly formed corporation headed by seven directors, three from La Epoca, three from a new corporation composed of major Copesa stockholders, and one by common agreement.

He acknowledged that the agreement was the first of its kind in Chile but added, "I doubt that it will be the last."

The closure of the 58-year-old Ercilla took Chileans by surprise, although media bankruptcies have become commonplace this year. Last month the photo-feature magazine Vea, like Ercilla, owned by the Cruzat-Larrain Group, ceased publication after 51 years. Cruzat-Larrain also sold one of its two radio stations, Radio Galaxia.

In July, Santiago lost one of its eight daily newspapers, Fortin Mapocho which, like La Epoca, began publication in 1987 as an anti-Pinochet, pro-democracy medium.

Even before Pinochet yielded power in March 1990 to the elected Aylwin, there had been a proliferation of specialized media in Chile, a highly literate and relatively affluent country by Latin American standards but with a population of only 13 million.

Two privately owned television stations joined the competition against Chile's four traditional stations, one owned by the government and three by the major universities. Today, Santiago's ubiquitous news kiosks literally are carpeted with new magazines and weekly newspapers for women, men, science buffs, hobbyists, businessmen, rightists and leftists.

The right-wing Ercilla had direct competition from four other mainstream newsmagazines in this highly politicized country: Copesa-owned Que Pasa, also conservative but more centrist than Ercilla; the centrist Hoy; and Analisis and Apsi, two left-wing organs that frequently felt the heel of the censor during the Pinochet era.

Even so, Ercilla had not appeared in imminent danger. Ironically, its last issue (No. 2,935) carried a house and claiming 25.2% of the newsmagazine readership, compared with 17.7% for Que Pasa, 17% for Hoy and 15% each for Analisis and Apsi. …

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