Rise of a New Watchdog in Latin America

Article excerpt

Buoyed by the spread of democracy, Latin America's press is fast gaining in influence, boldness and credibility, says journalism professor Mario Diament [1]. The technology revolution stands to make the process irreversible

Latin America has been through quite a few profound political transitions over the past two decades. What part has the press played in this process? Is there a kind of regional model that defines its relationship with political power?

You can't really talk about a "regional model," but of similar experiences. According to conventional wisdom, the more democracy you have, the more press freedom there is, but this still varies from one country to the next. In the past, a sizeable part of the Latin American press had close ties to political and economic interests through its owners. Those interests routinely took precedence over journalistic impartiality. But during the 1970s, journalists became very politicized. Many became subversive and partisan writers, distorting the role of the press and badly undermining its credibility. However in the 1980s, as democracy spread across the region and a new generation of journalists less marked by past events came to the fore, a very refreshing and positive change took place.

Can you give a few examples?

Mexico and Guatemala are two of the most interesting cases. The Chiapas uprising in Mexico had the effect of cutting short press allegiance to the ruling party, the PRI, which went hand-in-hand with rampant corruption. Chiapas came on so suddenly that the government of President Carlos Salinas didn't have time to put together a media strategy to deal with the situation. As a result, part of the Mexican press began reporting very openly on events. I think it's safe to say that to a large extent, this new attitude on the part of the press sounded the death knell of one-party domination and opened the way for Vicente Fox's victory in the presidential elections in 2000.

In Guatemala, during the short-lived seizure of full powers by President Jorge Serrano on May 25, 1993, censorship was imposed and the press defied the government for the first time. …