Mapping digital media: Argentina

Type Report
Title Mapping digital media: Argentina
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2012
After almost three decades of democratic rule and a decade after a deep economic, social, and political crisis,
Argentinean institutions have regained overall stability and, in recent years, the country has undergone a
process of economic expansion, with improvement in all major economic indicators.
Th is stability has been muddied since 2008 due to a process of political and media polarization, the roots of
which can be found in the confl ict between the government and agricultural sectors sparked by an attempt to
change the tax system and export regulations. Th e dispute gave rise to a series of confrontations between the
government and opposition parties that extended to most political topics in the country. Opposition parties
managed to limit the government’s power in the Parliament elections of 2009, but they were clearly defeated
by the incumbent Cristina Fernández in October 2011, allowing her a new four-year term in power.
Th e majority of media outlets portrayed this confl ict in a way that clearly favored the farmers, while
opposition parties received the explicit support of some private media. As a result, some small media groups
have positioned themselves as allies of the Government, while larger groups—most notably Clarín, the main
media group in the country and a leading force in Latin America’s media landscape—have been strongly
critical of the current administration. Th e positioning of the diff erent groups has direct repercussions on the
media outlets owned by them, generating a rather polarized media discourse.
Against this backdrop, and under the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration, two events that are both
highly relevant to the transformation of the media system took place in 2009: the passing of the Audiovisual
Communication Services Law (Ley de Servicios de Comunicación Audiovisual), and the adoption of a digital
standard for terrestrial digital TV (TDT).
Th e SCA Law, besides setting the regulatory framework for digitization, introduced signifi cant changes in
the media landscape. Among other issues, it reserved a portion of the spectrum for non-profi t civil society
organizations, imposed public service obligations on private media, specifi cally granted native communities
the right to receive radio and TV licenses, included regulations to facilitate media access for people with visual or hearing impairments, created an independent regulatory authority, added transparency requirements to
license holders, established limits to concentration and to broadcasting cross-ownership, and prohibited
telephone companies from holding media licenses. Th e participatory nature of the debate on the SCA law,
with its public discussions and open forums, constituted an unprecedented event in the history of media
policy in the country.
However, the actual impact of the SCA law has been somewhat muffl ed due to the opposition of large
media groups to parts of the new law—which has in some cases taken the form of court litigation—the
lack of cooperation in its implementation from political parties in the opposition—which have refused to
appoint members to the independent authority created by the law—and the temptation on the part of the
Government to use the new regulatory framework to promote media groups aligned with the administration—
interestingly, the new law reserves to the Government the right to grant licenses in large urban areas, while
in other areas it is the new independent authority that grants licenses. In addition, the new law says little
about digitization, and is not designed for a media landscape in which the convergence of audiovisual media,
telecommunications, and the internet plays an increasingly relevant role.
Since the SCA Law did not contain specifi c provisions on digital media, the process of digitization of
broadcasting has followed a separate path. Also in 2009, the Government approved a decree that established
the Argentinean Terrestrial Digital Television System (Sistema Argentino de Televisión Digital Terrestre,
SATVD-T), adopted the Japanese-Brazilian ISDB-T TV standard and introduced a 10-year term (2019) for
the analog switch-off . However, the digitization of broadcasting is still in its early stages and the media system
in Argentina is still dominated by analog media. Both radio and television are close to full penetration levels,
but while over 97 percent of the 14 million homes in the country own a TV set, only a small portion of those
sets are digitally enabled.
Th us far, there have been few changes in media and news consumption that can be linked to digital migration.
Television continues to be the medium of reference. Th ere is only limited terrestrial TV delivery, and it is
focused on the large urban centers. In parallel, Argentina is among the South American countries with the
highest percentage of cable TV subscribers (almost 70 percent of Argentinean households that own a TV set
have a cable subscription). Th e cable TV market is supported by the added value of internet service provision,
a segment that in the 2005–2010 period doubled its number of subscribers. Television is the main source of
news in the country, and while the ratings of the most popular newscasts in free-to-air television have eroded
there has been a parallel growth, starting in 2008, in the viewership of cable news.
Even though the newspaper market has remained quite stable over the last few years, it has actually been
aff ected by digitization on two related fronts. First, most newspapers in the country have lost circulation—in
some cases, such as the leading daily, Clarin, the loss has been signifi cant, 19% from 2008 to 2010—and,
while there is no conclusive evidence on this, part of the decline can be attributed to online media and news
consumption. Second, the online versions of some newspapers have managed to establish themselves as the
most-visited online news sites.Digitization and the consequent rise in the use of social networks and digital platforms on the part of
Argentinean society are changing the system of social production and the circulation of information and
entertainment in a country where the expansion of broadband connections has doubled over the past fi ve
years. Th ere is a dramatically increasing number of blogs that contribute to the political debate and off er news
and opinions from various fi elds of expertise and that feed back into the workings of mainstream media. Th at
said, however, the most visited news sites are the online versions of mainstream offl ine news media.
Regarding the internet, the digital divide remains a central issue, not only in terms of social groups without
the economic means and the skills to use the net, but also in terms of the uneven quality of the access
provided in diff erent parts of the country. While connectivity has increased signifi cantly over recent years,
network access growth is geographically concentrated in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA), where
70 percent of connections are located, including both broadband and dial-up.
In fact, one of the main problems of the Argentinean communication system is that content production is
strongly centralized in Buenos Aires and is focused on the capital, and this is particularly noticeable in the
case of TV. Th e concentration of the population and of most economic activities in Buenos Aires city and the
AMBA region have shaped a structure in which the main newspapers, radio broadcasters of national scope,
TV channels (both open terrestrial TV and pay-TV), content producers in general, and news suppliers in
particular are based in the federal capital. Media in the provinces reproduce for the most part the content
produced in the capital, thus also reducing diversity.
Additionally, the concentration of ownership and market domination by the leading operators is a pervasive
trend extending to almost all platforms. Th e concentration of property in multimedia groups, such as
Clarín, that have dominant positions in print, radio, and free-to-air and pay television, restricts diversity.
Nonetheless, there are some print, radio, and television outlets that belong to diff erent owners and can
provide a diverse off ering. But even when the provision of information is diverse and comes from diff erent
sources, consumption continues to be highly concentrated. All in all, it could be argued that the media
market presents a somewhat diverse off ering but a highly concentrated demand.
Th ese diff erent layers of concentration—around the capital, around large media groups, and around a limited
set of off erings—may be counterbalanced by the process of digitization, with its technological and regulatory
changes. For instance, minority groups have taken advantage of digitization to produce information,
disseminate it, and do advocacy work. And even though there has been no substantive boost to their
appearance in traditional media, there has undoubtedly been a positive impact on the online visibility of such
groups. Th e current situation also off ers the public service broadcaster the opportunity to become a much
more relevant player in the media system in the country. But the transformative potential of digitization will
no doubt be aff ected by the polarization of the social and political forces of Argentina that prevents rival
groups from acknowledging shared goals and agreeing on a course of action to obtain all the possible benefi ts
of this transformation.

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