Let’s admit it: Britain is now a developing country

by Aditya Chakrabortty via The Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/britain-now-developing-country-foodbanks-growth?CMP=fb_gu

Elite economic debate boils down to this: a man in a tie stands at a dispatch box and reads out some numbers for the years ahead, along with a few micro-measures he’ll take to improve those projections. His opposite number scoffs at the forecasts and promises his tweaks would be far superior. For a few hours, perhaps even a couple of days, afterwards, commentators discuss What It All Means. Last Thursday’s autumn statement from George Osborne  was merely the latest enactment of this twice-yearly ritual, and I bet you’ve already forgotten it. Compare his forecasts and fossicking with our fundamental problems. Start with last week’s Pisa educational yardsticks , which show British teenagers trailing their Vietnamese counterparts at science, and behind the Macanese at maths.

Or look at this year’s World Economic Forum  (WEF) competitiveness survey of 148 countries, which ranks British roads below Chile’s, and our ground-transport system worse than that of Barbados. Whether Blair or Brown or Cameron, successive prime ministers and their chancellors pretend that progress is largely a matter of trims and tweaks – of capping business rates and funding the A14 to Felixstowe. Yet those Treasury supplementary tables and fan charts are no match for the mass of inconvenient facts provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development , the WEF or simply by going for a wander. Sift through the evidence and a different picture emerges: Britain’s economy is no longer zooming along unchallenged in the fast lane, but an increasingly clapped-out motor regularly overtaken by Asian Tigers such as South Korea and Taiwan. Gender equality? The WEF ranks us behind Nicaragua and Lesotho.

Investment by business? The Economist thinks we are struggling to keep up with Mali. Let me put it more broadly, Britain is a rich country accruing many of the stereotypical bad habits of a developing country. I began thinking about this last week, while reporting on graphene , the wonder material discovered by Manchester scientists and held up by cabinet ministers as part of our new high-tech future. Graphene is also the point at which Treasury dreaminess is harshly interrupted by the reality of our national de-development. Briefly, the story goes like this: Osborne funnelled a few tens of millions into research on the substance. It’s the kind of public-sector kickstart that might work in a manufacturing economy such as Germany – but which in Britain, with its hollowed-out industry and busted supply chains, has proved the equivalent of pouring money down a hole. One university physicist described how this was part of a familiar pattern of generating innovations for the rest of the world to capitalise on, then sighed: “One day, we’ll stop thinking of ourselves as a major economic power, and realise we’re more like South Korea in the early 60s.” South Korea, by way of comparison, has already put in over 20 times as many graphene patents as the country that discovered it. How can any nation that came up with the BBC and the NHS be considered in the same breath as India or China? Let me refer you to one of the first lines of The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor , in which a wise old man warns International Monetary Fund  officials and foreign dignatories: “India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.” Stop thinking of development as a process that only goes in one direction, or which affects a nation’s people equally, and it becomes much easier to see how Britain is going backwards.

Even banana republics have cash: it just ends up in the hands of a very few people – ask the bank managers of Switzerland or the hotel concierges of Paris. In Britain, we have become used to having our resources skimmed off by a small cadre of the international elite, who often don’t feel obliged to leave much behind for our tax officials. An Africa specialist could look at the City and recognise in it a 21st-century version of a resource curse: something generating oodles of money for a tiny group of people, often foreign, yet whose demands distort the rest of the economy. Sure, Britain has iPads and broadband – but it also has oversubscribed foodbanks.

And the concept of the working poor that has dominated political debate since the crash is also something straight out of development textbooks.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen defined development as “the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency”. Yet when it comes to social mobility, Britain now has the worst record of all advanced countries – and will soon be overtaken by the newly rich countries of east Asia. And it’s when wealth is concentrated in too few hands that the forces of law and order get used as a militia for the elite – and peaceful dissent gets stamped upon. That’s why police are now a presence on our business-friendly university campuses; it also explains why Theresa May had the front to try to deport Trenton Oldfield for disrupting a student rowing competition (sorry, the Boat Race). This isn’t a sub-Rhodesian moan about Britain going to the dogs. But as my colleague Larry Elliott said in his most recent book, Going South, the sooner we puncture our own complacency at having created a rich economy for the few, and think of ourselves as in dire need of a proper economic development plan, the better. Otherwise, we’re well set to corner the world market in pig semen . The United Kingdom of spoink.

Colombia’s internally displaced people caught in corridor of instability

Colombia’s internally displaced people caught in corridor of instability

Despite progressive policies, battles over territory and drug trafficking mean the number of IDPs is increasing

MDG : Colombia : IDP Rosalba Dura in Norte de Santander

Colombia has 4.7 million internally displaced people, according to government figures. Above: Rosalba Duran and her family. Photograph: Obinna Anyadike/IRIN

Rosalba Duran and her family of 11 live in a single-room hut on a patch of government-owned land on the outskirts of El Tarra in the northern province of Norte de Santander, Colombia.

Eight months ago, she had a house in town and her husband a job at a nearby fish farm. But the home in which they had lived for 25 years was next to an army checkpoint that had come under repeated fire by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) guerillas.

The Durans felt they had no choice but to move to this miserable stretch of mosquito-infested land, without running water, miles from the nearest schools. They are officially part of the roughly 5 million, or one in 10 Colombians, displaced by the conflict waged by the Farc, its revolutionary cousin, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and successive governments since 1964, originally over land reform and social justice.

Norte de Santander, bordering Venezuela, forms part of a corridor of instability stretching across the mountainous northern part of the country to the province of Choco on the Pacific coast.

The prominent graffiti extolling the Farc and ELN throughout these Andean towns, even a banner across the road in one setting the speed limit and levying a fine on those that disobey, underlines this is a contested region, despite ongoing peace talks in Cuba between the Farc and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.

The mayor of El Tarra, Jota Mario Arenas, is honest about the difficulties he faces in trying to walk the line between the guerillas and the country’s capital, Bogotá, in a town in which the insurgents wield tremendous influence. Central government feels distant here, soldiers nervously patrol the streets, potential targets for the mines and improvised explosive devices increasingly employed by the Farc and ELN. The only doctor at the health post quit recently – the rumour was that he had been threatened.

Clashes over coca eradication

Since June, the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander has been in turmoil, with clashes between farmers and the army over the government’s periodic coca eradication programme. Farmers say it will deprive them of a livelihood, as no alternative crops are established before the coca is uprooted, while the government accuses the Farc of provoking the unrest and a strategy of confinement – the closure of roads in the area that locks up local communities, affecting their access to supplies.

“I do what I can,” Arenas told IRIN. But it was clear his political survival depends on not rocking the boat in what has historically been a major coca-growing region, where smuggling – petrol from Venezuela included – is routine, a vacuna or unofficial tax, is added to virtually every purchase, and the state struggles to provide services, security and the opportunities that would allow young men to resist taking sides in the conflict.

But it was to the local authorities that the Duran family turned to for help. Although land was provided, it was only 200 metres from an oil pipeline that the guerillas had tried three times to blow up. When IRIN visited, the Durans had received two payments, amounting to $1,100 (£725), and were expecting a third and final instalment from the Victims’ Support Unit. “This is not enough for so many,” Rosalba said.

According to the government’s figures, Colombia has 4.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), based on monitoring that started in 2000. NGOs, which begin their count from 1985, put the number at 5.7 million.

For the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), the significant point is that the numbers are increasing. “There were more people displaced in the first quarter of this year than over the same period last year. Although they’re talking peace in Havana, there are still growing numbers of IDPs, more people affected by mines than in Afghanistan, and a reduction in humanitarian funding,” Ocha’s head of office, Gerard Gómez, told IRIN.

The IDP system

Colombia’s IDP policy looks progressive, strengthened by Santos and key court rulings. It recognises their rights, including to emergency assistance, social support and land restitution. “Unfortunately many of these rights are routinely violated,” assistant director for policy at the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Mary Small wrote. “In general, programmes for IDPs do not cover all IDPs, are uneven in quality, end too soon and are underfunded.”

“They are great laws, but the problem is implementation,” Gabriel Rojas of the NGO CODHES (in Spanish) said. How IDPs are registered – and the trust required in the authorities to include your name – is one area. Until a constitutional court verdict earlier this year, the law did not recognise the casualties of the expanding violence of the rightwing former paramilitaries known as Bacrim, which will increase the demands and costs of the programme.

The shortfalls of the system also include a crisis of protection, where IDPs pushing for rights to land restitution have been attacked, especially by paramilitaries in league with the new landowners; bureaucratic undercapacity worsened by the tangle of the various programmes; and the basic problem of implementing care and support in the middle of a conflict where the government has incomplete control of the country.

Military pressure has pushed the Farc and ELN into hard-to-reach areas like El Tarra, or along the underdeveloped Pacific coast, and an eastern axis covering Arauca, Casanare, Vichada, Meta and Guaviare. Many of these disputed regions are drug-producing, mineral-rich or straddle lucrative smuggling routes. It is terrain shared with the Bacrim, elements of the former death squads, which, after demobilisation in the mid-2000s, re-emerged as rich, networked and ever-ruthless mafias. Along with the guerillas, they have a mutual interest in maintaining the state at arms length and their stake in the illicit economy.

“For the overlapping armed groups of guerillas, neo-paramilitaries, narco-traffickers, and organised crime, the war has splintered into a fight for control of land for large-scale agriculture and ranching, the drug trade, illegal mining and, at the Venezuelan border, the movement of gasoline,” Small said. “As the war has become de-ideologised, all armed groups rely on the strategic use of terror to control communities and silence opposition.”

African-Colombians, indigenes most affected

The violence employed by the guerillas, Bacrim and the military gives Colombia the world’s largest population of IDPs. It is to a great extent a rural crisis, in which African-Colombians and indigenous people are disproportionately affected. Although constituting just 14% of society, they comprised an estimated 83% of those driven from their homes in 2010, according to a Global Humanitarian Assistance report (pdf).

The majority of displacements involve a steady trickle of individuals or families moving to the cities. But major upheavals – of 50 or more people – are on the rise. Notorious gangs like Los Urabeños and Los Rastrojos were responsible for the majority of these displacements in 2011, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Intra-urban displacement is also a growing phenomenon, with vulnerable IDPs shuttling between poor and unsafe neighbourhoods controlled by drug-dealing gangs. “They don’t want to leave the cities because at least they have access to services,” Rojas said.

In the remote ore-rich regions, gold, coltan and tungsten is replacing coca as the main revenue generator for armed groups, with only an estimated 14% of the gold produced in Colombia mined legally, according to Ocha. Communities farming the land are in the way, so large-scale forced dispossession is occurring. It can be at the barrel of a gun, a coerced sale at rock-bottom prices or a land grab legalised by a crooked notary.

Colombia’s long history of strong regions, weak central government and astonishing levels of violence by various groups of armed young men, suggests the crisis may not end with the formal demobilisation of the Farc, should the Havana talks reach a settlement.

Colombia is a middle-income country and in many respects has the trappings of a modern economy. But, according to Gómez: “In a country where you have [lucrative] drugs, gold and extortion, you might get a peace agreement today, but in the coming years there could well still be violence.”

• This article was amended on 14 August 2013. In the original, the writer referred to Mary Small as a Central America migration researcher. This has now been corrected. The quote from Small in paragraph 12 has also been amended.

The horror of international silence before Syria’s violence

Where are those powerful men who claim for democracy and justice everywhere? Where are the fighters of a fair world? Where is the decency? Where are the cynic leaders that are diverting their sight from the horrors of Syria?

This is a graphic narrative of the sad facts that are happening in Syria, accompanied by some words from Pablo Neruda.

“Furrowed motherland, I swear that in your ashes you will be born like a flower of eternal water,

Captura de pantalla 2013-08-22 a la(s) 20.11.44

I swear that from your mouth of thirst will come to the air the petals of bread, the split inaugurated flower.
Cursed, cursed, cursed be those who with ax and serpent came to your earthly arena…

Captura de pantalla 2013-08-22 a la(s) 20.10.55

Cursed be those who one day did not look, cursed cursed blind, those who offered the solemn fatherland not bread but tears, cursed sullied uniforms and cassocks of sour, stinking dogs of cave and grave…

Captura de pantalla 2013-08-22 a la(s) 20.08.57

This that was created and tamed, this that was moistened, used, seen, lies -poor kerchief- among the waves of earth and black brimstone.
Like bud or breast they raise themselves to the sky, like the flower that rises from the destroyed bone, so the shapes of the world appeared. Oh eyelids, oh columns, oh ladders.

Captura de pantalla 2013-08-22 a la(s) 20.09.09

Everything has gone and fallen suddenly withered.

Captura de pantalla 2013-08-22 a la(s) 20.07.32

You will ask: why does your poetry not speak to us of sleep, of the leaves, of the great volcanoes of your native land? 

Come and see the blood in the streets,  

Captura de pantalla 2013-08-22 a la(s) 20.08.15

come and see the blood in the streets,

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come and see THE BLOOD IN THE STREETS!

Captura de pantalla 2013-08-22 a la(s) 20.06.41

They have not died! They are in the midst of the gunpowder, standing, like burning wicks. 

Captura de pantalla 2013-08-22 a la(s) 20.07.04

Their pure shadows have gathered in the copper-colored meadowland like a curtain of armored wind, like a barricade the color of fury, like the invisible heart of heaven itself.

Captura de pantalla 2013-08-22 a la(s) 20.06.21

It is so much, so many tombs, so much martyrdom, so much galloping of beasts in the star!

Captura de pantalla 2013-08-22 a la(s) 20.05.15

Nothing, not even victory will erase the terrible hollow of the blood: nothing, neither the se, nor the passage of sand and time, nor the geranium flaming upon the grave…”

 

Text: Pablo Neruda: “Spain in our hearts” (1937)

Source 1: http://www.cbsnews.com/2302-202_162-0.html

Source 2: http://uk.reuters.com/article/slideshow/idUKBRE97K0AJ20130822#a=10

DE-GROWTH DEFINED: INTERVIEW WITH SERGE LATOUCHE

At: http://www.stopwarming.eu/?news&id=203

Q&A: ‘Time to De-Grow’
IPS, August 3, 2009
Claudia Ciobanu interviews economist SERGE LATOUCHE

BUCHAREST, Aug 3 (IPS) – Serge Latouche, professor emeritus of economic science at the University of Paris-Sud, is one of the main proponents of “the society of de-growth”.

He calls for “abandoning the objective of growth for growth’s sake, an insane objective, with disastrous consequences for the environment.” The need for a ‘de-growth’ society stems from the certainty, he says, that the earth’s resources and natural cycles cannot sustain the economic growth which is the essence of capitalism and modernity.

In place of the current dominant system, Latouche argues for “a society of assumed sobriety; to work less in order to live better lives, to consume less products but of better quality, to produce less waste and recycle more.”

The new society would mean “recuperating a sense of measure and a sustainable ecological footprint,” Latouche says, “and finding happiness in living together with others rather than in the frantic accumulation of gadgets.”

Author of many books and articles on Western rationality, the myth of progress, colonialism and post-development, Serge Latouche describes the main principles of the de-growth society in his books ‘Le Pari de la Décroissance'(The Bet of De-Growth) and ‘Petit Traité de la Décroissance Sereine” (Small Treaty of Peaceful De-Growth) published in 2006 and 2007.

Serge Latouche spoke to IPS correspondent Claudia Ciobanu about de-growth society.

IPS: What are the features of the society of de-growth, and are any practices in the world today compatible with this vision?

Serge Latouche: De-growth does not mean negative growth. Negative growth is a self-contradictory expression, which just proves the domination of the collective imagination by the idea of growth.

On the other hand, de-growth is not the alternative to growth, but rather, a matrix of alternatives which would open up the space for human creativity again, once the cast of economic totalitarianism is removed. The de-growth society would not be the same in Texas and in the Chiapas, in Senegal and in Portugal. De-growth would open up anew the human adventure to the plurality of its possible destinies.

Principles of de-growth can already be found in theoretical thought and in practical efforts in both the global North and the South. For example, the attempt to create an autonomous region by the neo-Zapatistas in Chiapas; and many South American experiences, indigenous or others, such as in Ecuador, which has just introduced in its constitution the objective of Sumak Kausai (harmonious life).

All sorts of initiatives promoting de-growth and solidarity are starting to spread in the global North too: AMAP (The Associations for the Preservation of Peasant Agriculture in France, that promote direct links between producers and consumers, and organic agriculture), self-production according to the example of PADES (the Programme for Self-Production and Social Development, developed in France to help individuals and communities produce goods for themselves and others, eliminating monetary interchanges).

The movement of Transition Towns started in Ireland and spreading in England could be a form of production from below which closest resembles a society of de-growth. These towns are seeking firstly energy self-sufficiency in the face of depleting resources and, more generally, promote the principle of community resilience.

IPS: What would be the role of markets in the de-growth society?

SL: The capitalist system is a market economy, but markets are not an institution which belongs exclusively to capitalism. It is important to distinguish between the Market and markets. The latter do not obey the law of perfect competition, and that is for the best. They always incorporate elements of the culture of the gift, which the de-growth society is trying to rediscover. They involve living in communion with the others, developing a human relationship between the buyer and the seller.

IPS: What strategies could the global South pursue in order to eliminate poverty in a different way than the North has, at the expense of the environment and producing poverty in the South?

SL: For African countries, decreasing the ecological footprint and the GDP are neither necessary nor desirable. But from this we must not conclude that a society of growth must be built there.

Firstly, it is clear that de-growth in the North is a precondition for opening up of alternatives for the South. As long as Ethiopia and Somalia are forced, during the worst food shortage, to export feed for our domestic animals, as long as we fatten our cattle with soya obtained after destroying the Amazonian forest, we are asphyxiating any attempt at real autonomy in the South.

To dare de-growth in the South means to launch a virtuous cycle made up of breaking economic and cultural dependency on the North; reconnecting with a historical line interrupted by colonisation; reintroducing specific products which have been abandoned or forgotten as well as “anti-economic” values linked to the past of those countries; recuperating traditional techniques and knowhow.

These are to be combined with other principles, valid worldwide: re- conceptualising what we understand by poverty, scarcity and development for instance; restructuring society and the economy; restoring non-industrial practices, especially in agriculture; redistributing; re-localising; reusing; recycling.

IPS: The de-growth society involves a radical change in human consciousness. How is this radical change going to come about? Can it happen in time?

SL: It is difficult to break out of this addiction to growth especially because it is in the interest of the “dealers” – the multinational corporations and the political powers serving them – to keep us enslaved.

Alternative experiences and dissident groups – such as cooperatives, syndicates, the associations for the preservation of peasant agriculture, certain NGOs, local exchange systems, networks for knowledge exchange – represent pedagogical laboratories for the creation of “the new human being” demanded by the new society. They represent popular universities which can foster resistance and help decolonise the imaginary.

Certainly, we do not have much time, but the turn of events can help accelerate the transformation. The ecological crisis together with the financial and economic crisis we are experiencing can constitute a salutary shock.

IPS: Can conventional political actors play a role in this transformation?

SL: All governments are, whether they want it or not, functionaries of capitalism. In the best of cases, the governments can at most slow down or smoothen processes over which they do not have control any more.

We consider the process of self-transformation of society and of citizens more important than electoral politics. Even so, the recent relative electoral success of French and Belgian ecologists, who have adopted some of the de- growth agenda, seems like a positive sign. (END/2009)

Serge Latouche

Controversial documentary ignites press freedom debate in Chile

Talking about the media as the fifth power, here is a reference to “El Mercurio” a Chilean newspaper which was fundamental in the 70s and 80s to all the things that happened in the country.

Also, here is the documentary called “El Diario de Agustin” (just in spanish by now) which was censored in all medias in Chile, spite it has been prized internationally.

Controversial documentary ignites press freedom debate in Chile.

A reclusive media baron, accusations of censorship and a prize-winning documentary that won’t be shown on television: The story of ‘El Diario de Agustín’ resurfaces.

In a triumph of irony “El Diario de Agustín,” a documentary tracing the murky influence of Chile’s historically largest media chain throughout the last half century, has become the center of a censorship battle after the film’s television premier was cancelled.

el-diario-de-agustin-500x364The documentary, directed by Ignacio Agüero and produced by journalist Fernando Villagrán, traces the media conglomerate El Mercurio S.A.P.’s involvement in Chilean politics throughout the last 60 years.

The film’s title, which translates to “Agustín’s Paper,” refers to El Mercurio owner Agustín Edwards Eastman who, since taking control in 1956, has presided over a period of unprecedented media influence.

Five years after its release, the documentary has still not been shown on television, sparking questions over Edwards’ and El Mercurio’s continued influence over Chilean society.

A Chilean institution

Often described as the Andean country’s paper of record, nationally distributed El Mercurio is the Santiago version of a Valparaíso newspaper of the same name opened in 1827. Taking into account its Porteño heritage, El Mercurio is the longest-running Spanish-language newspaper in the world.

In 1877, the Edwards family acquired the newspaper and it has remained in his family ever since.

The conglomerate currently owns three national and 20 regional publications and, together with Copesa media group, which owns La Tercera, accounts for 95 percent of print media in Chile.

“Chileans: El Mercurio lies”

The documentary follows six Universidad de Chile journalism students as they complete their thesis on El Mercurio’s influence on the country’s politics.

The investigation focuses on the newspaper’s campaigns of misinformation as well as its complicity in covering up human rights abuses during the dictatorship.

El Mercurio has been the subject of numerous controversies since Agustín Edwards inherited the media group more than 55 years ago.

During the 1967 university reform movement, El Mercurio falsely labelled student protesters as “Marxists”, alleging a “patent communist influence.”

The students’ response, spelled out in a banner hanging from their university’s entrance, was unequivocal: “Chileans: El Mercurio lies.”

The phrase is now a key reference point and, more than 45 years later, was recently updated by the modern student movement to “Chileans: El Mercurio still lies.”

The documentary explains how, in 1970, shortly after Salvador Allende’s election, Agustín Edwards traveled to the U.S. and met personally with U.S. President Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. While there, Edwards secured U.S. government funding for a propaganda campaign against the Allende government.

Most shocking is the conglomerate’s collusion in covering up human rights abuses perpetrated by the military regime during Pinochet’s dictatorship.

By 1975, mounting international pressure and a potential U.N. visit convinced the military regime of the need to explain the disappearances of hundreds of opposition party members. The media was its tool of choice.

La Segunda, a part of the El Mercurio media group, ran the infamous  headline “Exterminados como ratones,” (“Killed like rats,”) falsely claimed in-fighting among leftist groups was responsible for the deaths of people who had in fact were disappeared by the regime’s military police.

The students’ thesis research on El Mercurio has now been published by the Universidad de Chile.

While there has been no official recognition by El Mercurio of their complicity in the dictatorship’s abuses, some of the documentary’s most striking scenes arise from the student investigator’s attempts to question former staff such as former company director Arturo Fontaine, who led the group from the late 60s to early 80s.

In one scene, Fontaine appears relaxed as he answers questions about the origin of the newspaper’s nickname when a question on his knowledge of the military regime’s human rights abuses takes him by surprise causing him to abandon the interview, colliding with a microphone stand in his haste to escape.

newspaperFear of provoking debate

Following its release in 2008, “El Diario de Agustín” was featured in numerous film festivals and won Best Latin-American Documentary at Atlantidoc in Uruguay.

Since then it has been shown widely around the Spanish-speaking world, making its absence from television screens in Chile notable.

In 2010, TVN bought the rights in a contract that committed them to show the documentary three times in as many years.

Two years later, with no screening in sight, the filmmakers began to ask questions.

Then, a showing at midnight on Nov. 23, 2012 was announced, only to be cancelled at the last minute.

In January 2013, TVN claimed that the film would be shown in an upcoming documentary series, only for the program to be announced with “El Diario de Agustín” conspicuously absent.

A public spat between Villagrán and the channel’s director, Mauro Valdés, culminated in the former accusing the TVN boss of being “scared” of Agustín Edwards in an interview with The Clinic in December 2012. The television company chose to break the contract citing the application of “unacceptable public pressure” on the part of Villagrán according to local press.

At first, Valdés’ apparent reluctance to screen the film seems puzzling. Chile has a free press and, although shocking, the film’s subject matter has already been published in various academic research projects and is widely available on the Internet.

Villagrán sees the problem as one of self-censorship emanating from a fear of upsetting the established powers or provoking debate.

“It is still a guide for the political class. Politicians are scared of entering into conflicts with El Mercurio because its vast media power means that they could be punished. They feel that if they are not in El Mercurio they could lose their political career,” Villagrán said.

On Monday, award-winning journalist Faride Zerán expressed similar sentiments during a debate entitled “Why El Diario de Agustín won’t be shown on Chilean television.”

“It is not because the right have such great tentacles of power that they can silence citizens,” Zerán said. “It’s that bureaucrats and politicians look after their jobs, their relationships and their networks, and they don’t want to upset the powers that be.”

Then and now: The state of independent media during the dictatorship and under democracy

A strange paradox in Chilean media is the contrast between the thriving alternative scene that, despite censorship and intimidation by security forces, proliferated in the late-1980s and the comparatively low number of independent publications today.

Villagrán is unequivocal about the limits of Chilean media today, saying that key issues are often neglected by the homogenous and conservative mainstream.

“It is not exaggerating to say that for a time during the dictatorship there was more diversity in the press than we have today in democracy. This speaks very badly of Chilean democracy,” Villagrán said.

While Chile enjoys freedom from government intervention in the press, structural factors limit diversity of opinion according to independent watchdog Freedom House.

In May 2012, Freedom House cited the print duopoly and its “stifling” effect on independent print media as a factor in their downgrading of Chile’s press status from “free” to “partly free.”

El Mercurio’s and Copesa’s domination means that the editorial positions of the vast majority of Chile’s media are considered right-wing and center-right respectively.

What caused the collapse?

The mainstream narrative of the collapse of the independent media sector is that it was a simple consequence of the market — the alternative publications simply could not compete and so they failed.

A former manager of the iconic anti-Pinochet magazine APSI, Villagrán says this narrative is belied by the collapse of La Tercera and El Mercurio in the 1980s, only for them to be rescued by the government.

“They are here now because the state saved them. They were rescued while the publications that didn’t support the dictatorship were suppressed and harassed,” Villagrán said.

Freedom House currently suggests that structural issues curtail the potential of new publications starting up.

“Media groups are tied to financial and advertising interests, and control distribution channels throughout the country, creating high barriers to entry for new publications,” reads the watchdog’s report.

Villagrán sees distribution of advertising as a key factor in the collapse of many alternative publications in the 1990s.

“Not just private companies, but even the supposedly democratic government distributed the majority of advertising to large media chains, without considering sales numbers,” Villagrán said.

“El Diario de Agustín” will be shown at Arte Normandie cinema, Santiago from April 23 to 28 2013.

By Sam Edwards (sedwards@santiagotimes.cl)
Copyright 2013 – The Santiago Times”