“A journalism which favours an equal, non-discriminatory, non-violent society is necessary”

"A journalism which favours an equal, non-discriminatory, non-violent society is necessary”

María Eugenia Vidal

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Hugo Muleiro, a journalist, head of the editorial staff for ANSA news agency, specialising in news relating to infancy and adolescence, leads a programme on Radio de las Madres (Mothers’ Radio) and is a member of Comuna (Comunicadores de la Argentina). He agreed to give Pressenza an interview and told us what this new organisation is about.

Culture

"A journalism which favours an equal, non-discriminatory, non-violent society is necessary”
9/4/11

Pressenza Pressenza International Press Agency Buenos Aires, 8/29/11 A group of communicators began meeting to discuss the constitution of a new association, and immediately began writing, circulating and publishing, for journalists’ day, a manifesto with a series of principles that reflected the absence of a wide area for political participation on issues regarding communication from the communicators’ position. Hugo Muleiro, a member of Comuna tells us what it is about.

– How did Comuna develop?

It was an idea from two or three people. I wasn’t there. They thought that they had to bring together those who saw communication differently, to create a space, create opportunities for colleagues who were seeking a different type of communication. We met one, two, three, five times until it took the form of a non-profit Organisation. It is necessary in view of the role that most of the media has. Faced with this corporate role, there is a political power and we felt that it lacked a distinct professional power to focus the communication.

– What principles does Comuna stand for?

Plurality, the right to information, which is something which is still very new in Argentina and many other countries. In discussions about communication, freedom of expression is the highest value. We adhere to a way of thinking from the right that says that first is the right to communication, which doesn’t invalidate the right to freedom of expression, but expands the obligations of the press as regards the interests of the societies. As we all know, the right to live is a fundamental right, we state that the right to information is another value: the right of all inhabitants to know about issues which concern them. This created a series of obligations for the press. The traditional focus of freedom of expression, as an exclusive value, gives the media and journalists the right to say everything that have access to and the choice that they make of what to say. I cannot deny any of my readers, listeners or viewers information that is paramount. Thus, I sometimes have to sacrifice other information.

– What stage is Comuna at? The statutes are being developed, is that right?

The development of the statutes for a non-profit organisation is a complicated issue because there is a model to adapt. The common model states that there are always active members as long as they pay the membership fees and those who do not pay membership fees are not members. This must be modified as we know that there are journalists who can pay the fees and others who can’t. We’re not going to exclude them because of this. Working on all of this takes time as the lawyers are collaborating voluntarily and are working on it when they can. Thus, the drafting of the statutes is taking a little longer than we had thought. We anticipate that the final draft will be ready by the end of August and we are going to have a general assembly to approve it. Meanwhile, we cannot act legally, as we do not yet exist as an organisation; we can do no more than make public announcements. But we are developing some initial activities.

– Like what?

The organisation must declare the activities that it can do before the law. One of these activities is developing any type of material that can contribute a superior journalistic role. We are thus beginning to develop manuals, although we don’t yet have a name for them, to address childhood issues, which is an on-going drama, the way in which childhood and adolescence issues are dealt with, and also on another type.

– What is the Comuna’s commitment as regards the Audiovisual Communication Services Law?

Complete backing. This is more political identification, insofar as the new Law is associated with the government. By saying that we are going to fight for the application of this Law, we are showing closeness with the government on this, absolutely undeniable, point. We completely agree with the Law. We want each and every one of its articles to be applied and we know that there may be some points to be improved and corrected, some in the Law, others in its regulations. As they arise, we compare them with the reality and realise what problems arise. Some have already arisen: for example, the cost of the charges each new communication entrepreneur has to pay to present them. This is under discussion, examination. These complaints are being heard. In order that those who don’t have money have the chance to register to obtain a licence. But we are one hundred percent in agreement with the Law.

– There is a suspicion, from the dominant media, regarding the level of control by the official authority so that it complies with the Law.

The Law is in force. Each electoral Sunday, particularly the Sunday of the primary election, there was almost no press that violated the prohibition to give results and, to date, I have not seen having said that power is pursuing them for what they did. I’m not someone who is afraid of the controls that a political power wants to implement on an area like communication, which is not a metaphysical, abstract or spiritual area. It’s also a question of money, of people’s lives, of the right to access all the possible goods. I don’t think that it’s problematic for a journalist who wants to do well professionally that someone is watching what they do and from time to time tells them when they have broken the law. I don’t see that there is any threat to the freedom of expression in the Audiovisual Communication Service Law. In Ecuador there is discussion about a law which states that the owner of a bank cannot have a daily newspaper and I agree. It’s a rule of the communication market based on a principle approved by the Ecuador Congress as it understands that it will manipulate the press in favour of its interests. There are regulations which are acceptable. In societies organised under a state I don’t see liberated activities completely for the good intentions of their managers. The states are there to attend to the interests of everyone and see that no one goes too far.

– Related to this topic, what do you think about the concept of independent journalism?

Any communicator who is working in an organisation depends on the organisation where they are. They have some dependency. The established slogan, as a way of promoting itself is to call itself “independent journalism”, is a slogan like many others. It tries to show independence from political power. The mass media institution itself, throughout history, created an image which says that the governments’ interests must be looked after. As they are private companies with owners and not state-run, logically they are not going to say that the state and private businesspeople must be looked after. They are not going to say “look after ourselves”. The figure of independent journalism is propaganda, a slogan.

– Like politically active journalism?

This is also a slogan. I don’t really understand what politically active journalism is. We are almost always politically active. We are always intervening in society: for education, health etc. We can be active for noble and less noble causes, but we are all active as agents who intervene in issues common to other people. Those who act for their individuality are not politically active. In any case, they are politically active for themselves. This also seems like a slogan to me, topics relating to communication are more complicated and cannot be reduced to two words. Independent journalism which TN or certain other Argentinean media groups claim to distance themselves from the political power. Naturally, they are not going to confess that they depend on an economic power, nobody expects them to. Now, when this slogan is deemed as a superior value, the discussion becomes more complex.

– What sense does Comuna give to the journalism ethic?

There is an ethic, but it is not beneficial to put it into words. Yes we believe in an ethic and this is why there are going to be manuals on various topics. We believe in journalism with rules, in some cases they will be ethics and in others, procedural. This means not twisting others’ words, not hiding what others say, not lying, neither hiding nor inventing sources, not discriminating. Part of the good professional ethic is that the sources are clearly named. Until 20 years ago, the Argentinean press traditionally told the reader who was talking, and the reader, based on who was talking, could better position themselves in relation to the speech. The President is going to say that the economy is doing well, nobody hides what the president says. When someone says that the economy is doing badly, sometimes the person who has said it is hidden. But as it appears in the daily papers, on the radio, on the TV, it takes shape. Part of a professional ethic is to clearly tell the reader the source that is being used.

– Moving on to your professional career, did you suffer any business or governmental pressure?

Loads. For example, I was in the Telam agency during the Alianza government, I didn’t have a very big register for them to pressure me to determine or hide news, but there were specific incidents. For example, major complaints by Lilita Carrió, because Carrió didn’t begin to make complaints now, she began a long time ago. Some of the major denouncements that she made caused a ripple and I was asked to keep her profile low. Being a state company, they called the top authority of the company and transferred me. In this situation, you have to fix things as much as possible. Put up the flag, get angry or sometimes accept. I recognise having accepted orders that weren’t pleasant in my opinion. Sometimes I had to jeep my job. I also worked for the Rio Negro paper, for Mr Julio Rasnieri. I was in charge of regional papers, in General Roca, and once published, at the top of the page, a message from the left-wing party without knowing that the black sheep of the Rasnieri family was in this party. The next day, on seeing the paper, I found that the message wasn’t there. The editor who had looked at the pages at the last minute had taken it out and the next day they told me that messages from this party shouldn’t be published so prominently as there was an adversary of the manager’s family in the party. In 2001, in the crises. When the protests were unleashed, I was in Telam the morning that everything began. I was used to, although I was the manager, sitting at the editing table. In Telam there was a lot of tension when the government was bad, there was a lot of news against the government and the staff were asking what to publish. So I took the decisions. When the incidents began in the square I put ‘repression’. There were a few calls asking about the title and I responded that this was what was happening and if they wanted to stop it being published then they would have to replace me because I would continue to do so. They left me.

– One of Comuna’s objectives is journalism training, how is it going to do this?

We are going to develop manuals. What I worry about most is that the topics of childhood and adolescence are dealt with terribly. There is also a lot of discriminatory journalistic language regarding poverty and gender issues. We are stating this in the statutes. We want to do workshops and courses, work with schools and universities to give conferences and seminars. We hope to be able to bring well-known and admired journalists from different academic fields to create debates. We want to be associated with organisations in order to create new media: co-operations, unions, universities which have a communication course and need experience and a professional look: to create a text, display an image, use tones on the radio. There is a possible path to professionalism where the receiver maintains the freedom to interpret for themselves. There is an illustrative figure of “arrogant subjectivity”: imposing the communicator’s point of view instead of the reader’s freedom to have their own. There is a mechanism, a possible procedure, especially in informative journalism. There are young journalists who think that there must be a form of journalistic honesty. We believe that there is a way of doing this and we want to contribute to it.

– But there are also young people who see the main media’s method of journalism.

There is a communication boss for public affairs who influences journalists in training and young people. I was a teacher until a few years ago and it was very difficult for the kids to accept the idea of telling a fact without opinion or the inverted pyramid: start with the most important. Because we know that very few people read to the end, in general they read the first few paragraphs, sometimes only the titles. Asking them to give information without opinion made them look at me in surprise. Now everything comes with an initial personal opinion and somewhere along the way the facts, there is always a trace of individual observation. There are even articles where we know what the writer is thinking. The spectacularity of reality is marked by television needs and as the graphics editor have various televisions, a flow is created and the spectacular begins to be an accepted value. The media will have to begin to get over this at some point. Until the electoral results they give negative news because there is a distance with the public. They are looking to adapt for survival and I hope that this recovery will lead them to be less cocky. A lot of reflection will be needed. A case to think about it the agreement made between the Government of the City of Buenos Aires with the television channels to broadcast the crimes. The channels dramatize them with music and editing. This is what must be regulated. Or is a couple is kissing in a square, why does it have to be televised? It seems invasive to me, it’s the expansion of Big Brother in the worst sense.

– Did Comuna think that it was going to get so many members for this manifesto against the SIP? Is there any signature which surprised you?

No, as regards the signatures, there were no surprises. When the Interamerican Press Society came and a group was formed against the SIP, led by Victor Hugo (Morales), this gesture encourages a lot of people to join. This gave us a lot of encouragement as we felt that there were many colleagues who needed to distance themselves from the SIP discourse, without being part of the ruling party Some will be, others not. These members were a spirit which we collect. We are neither from the government nor the SIP, but not because we are not in the media, but because there is a need for a journalism which favours an equal, non-discriminatory, non-violent society.

Translated from Spanish by Kirsty Cumming

R.Prakash
Post Box # 46,Mavelikara-690101
Kerala,India.
Mob- +91 99 46 75 71 78 / +91 8907704079

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