Chile’s protests and the media

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY VIDEO) — What began as a spontaneous demonstration over planned subway price rises in Santiago has morphed into the largest protest movement in Chile since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship almost 30 years ago.

Protesters have since shifted their attention to much bigger issues: inequality and an unrepresentative political class, news outlets included.

In a country with the most concentrated media ownership in Latin America, there is a lot of resentment on the streets directed at news stations. Demonstrators accuse some outlets of dedicating too much airtime on looting and not enough on either violations by security forces or the underlying issues behind the civil unrest.

“There’s a perception that journalists are not telling the truth. They are connected to a vested interest. Mostly private interests,” Jorge Saavedra, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge, tells Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post.

He says that in some cases, protesters have also targeted journalists.

“You will see that most of the protests were shot by drones. From really high in the air. Because they would have problems with a camera in the streets. Their vans would be vandalised,” Saavedra says.

In Chile, the richest one percent holds more than a quarter of the country’s wealth. They are also well-positioned to affect, if not control, the news narrative.

Community radio host Raul Rodriguez argues that the coverage of the protests by television channels and mainstream radio stations has not been balanced.

“What TV channels have done is to remain on the side of the ruling class, opinion makers and experts. But what is the underlying issue? It is that the neoliberal, neocapitalist model is at the expense of social rights. Rights that were stolen during the dictatorship and which remained hijacked as neoliberalism was deepened by our democratic governments,” Rodriguez says.

The historical backdrop is central to this story. There is a deep, lingering resentment of the media which goes back to the Pinochet era. Many Chileans remember that the fourth estate failed them completely back then and they say that journalists are still not listening to them today.

The country’s oldest and best-selling paper, El Mercurio, has more to answer for than most. In the early 1970s, the paper was bankrolled by the CIA and paid millions of dollars to produce stories to destabilise the democratically-elected government of leftist President Salvador Allende.

It then went on to cover up brutal human rights violations committed by the Pinochet regime, which killed thousands of Chileans.

During the recent protests, the paper’s offices in the coastal city of Valparaiso were broken into and set on fire.

“This is a memory, a painful memory. The attack against El Mercurio is symbolic,” says Valerio Fuenzalida Fernandez, a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

He adds: “It is a very important newspaper in Chile associated with a right-wing movement that was in line with Pinochet. You cannot talk about Chile without knowing what El Mercurio has said.”

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