By Daniela Estrada
SANTIAGO, Dec 3 (IPS) - Chile is a classic example of the concentration of media ownership in too few hands, says Chilean journalist María Olivia Mönckeberg in her latest book "Los magnates de la prensa" (The Press Magnates). If the state does not exercise stricter regulation, democracy itself may be undermined, she warns.
Mönckeberg, who was awarded the National Journalism Prize this year, said concentrated ownership of the media is a worldwide problem, but added that "Chile is a rather special case" because the system is "more tightly closed, and very lightly regulated," and has been taken over by "extremely right wing" economic groups.
Her book, "The Press Magnates: Media Concentration in Chile", published under the Debate imprint by Random House Mondadori, was launched in Spanish on Nov. 11 in Santiago.
In its 522 pages, the journalist spells out in detail who owns the media in Chile, the help some of them received during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of the late general Augusto Pinochet, and the intricate political, economic, social and religious networks they comprise today.
The disturbing diagnosis by Mönckeberg, who is the present registrar at the University of Chile's Communication and Image Institute, is set out on page one of the book, which she was able to finish thanks to a grant from the government National Book and Reading Fund.
Concentration of ownership is the overwhelming reality in the printed press; radio stations "show similar symptoms"; and television, launched originally by the Catholic University of Valparaíso, is highly commercial in nature, swamped with showbiz celebrities, reality shows, gory crime reports and sensationalism, Mönckeberg's book says.
Among the media magnates scrutinised by the journalist and academic are Agustín Edwards Eastman, owner of the El Mercurio chain of newspapers, Álvaro Saieh, head of the Consorcio Periodístico de Chile (COPESA), and Sebastián Piñera, owner of the Chilevisión television channel and the presidential candidate for the rightwing Coalition for Change.
The El Mercurio group, with around 20 national and regional newspapers, and COPESA, which controls the newspapers La Tercera, La Cuarta and La Hora, a radio network and the magazines Qué Pasa and Paula, comprise a "duopoly" in the Chilean press.
Mönckeberg also tackles the business interests of the late billionaire Ricardo Claro, who owned the Megavisión television channel and the magazine Capital, as well as those of powerful foreign investors like Carlos Slim and Remigio Ángel González of Mexico, and Italian-American John Malone.
The author, who worked for the opposition weeklies Análisis and Hoy and the newspaper La Época, which folded after the transition to democracy, quotes several academics who agree that the lack of pluralism in Chile got worse after the dictatorship was replaced by the centre-left Coalition of Parties for Democracy, which has governed the country since 1990.
This was because the Coalition left virtually untouched the neoliberal political and economic order that had been imposed by the dictatorship, with its laissez-faire approach to market forces.
Power, and the way it is concentrated in different spheres, has been a constant interest of Mönckeberg's, who studied journalism at the Catholic University of Chile, and teaches journalism ethics and investigative journalism at the University of Chile.
This is shown by her previous published investigations: "El saqueo de los grupos económicos al Estado chileno" (How Chile’s Economic Groups Sacked the Chilean State), published in 2001; "El imperio del Opus Dei en Chile" (The Opus Dei Empire in Chile, 2003); "La privatización de las universidades. Una historia de dinero, poder e influencias" (The Privatisation of the Universities: Money, Power and Influence, 2005); and "El negocio de las universidades en Chile" (The University Business in Chile, 2007).
A graphic example of the lack of pluralism in the country, she says, is the fate of her own book. Only a few radio stations, internet media and foreign correspondents have called to interview her. Chile's media duopoly have not contacted her, any more than they did when her previous books came out. (END/2009)