Tag: newspapers

The Kirchners Go After the Newspapers in Argentina

Argentina’s power couple (President Cristina Fernández and her husband and former president Néstor Kirchner) took their fight against the country’s major newspapers one step further today when the government released a report that might ultimately give it control of the company that distributes paper to the newspapers.

The government report targets Papel Prensa, a private company that belongs to a group controlled by Clarín and La Nación, Argentina’s major daily newspapers, and that distributes paper to 170 newspapers all over the country regardless of their editorial line and ideology.

The government claims that the previous owners of Papel Prensa sold the company back in 1976 under pressure from the military junta that then ruled Argentina. The report says that the government will sue the board members of both newspapers for “crimes against humanity” and “illegal purchase” of Papel Prensa. It also brings up charges of financial irregularities and unfair competition in the distribution of paper.

Both Clarín and La Nación vehemently deny the charges, pointing out that in the 27 years under democratic governments, Papel Prensa has never been impugned in the way it was acquired back in 1976. They claim this is a plan from the Kirchners to take over the company, and thus extend government control over the distribution of the newspapers main input: paper.

This is not the first time that the government has targeted Papel Prensa. Two weeks ago, the Commerce Secretary, Guillermo Moreno, stormed the company’s board meeting wearing boxing gloves and a helmet, shouting “you won’t vote here.” Last Thursday, Moreno, along with 10 others, broke into the offices of Papel Prensa shouting “I’m the owner” while trying to take over offices and desks.

Even though they no longer control Congress, the Kirchners have found a way to get what they want largely because of the divided and weak opposition. However, they might be pushing the envelope in picking such a contentious fight in a country where freedom of the press is still valued.

Journalists Condemn Attack on the Free Press in Ecuador

On Monday I wrote about an Ecuadorian court’s sentencing of Emilio Palacio, editor of the opinion section of El Universo, to three years in jail. Since then, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed “profound concern” about the prison sentence for Palacio, and the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have strongly condemned it.

Op-ed writers from leading national newspapers have signed a statement condemning the court’s decision. This statement was published in El Comercio, El Universo, Diario HOY and La Hora. So far 47 columnists have signed on. See an updated list here of those of us who express our solidarity with the accused journalist.

Diversity in the Newsroom

The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, is very concerned that “journalists of color” make up only 24 percent of the Post’s reporters and editors. That might seem like a lot to some observers, but Alexander notes that minorities are 43 percent of the people in the Washington area, and it’s essential that the newsroom staff mirror the community the paper is serving.

Well, maybe. As a longtime Post reader, I don’t really know which of the editors and reporters are nonwhite, and I don’t really care. I would hope that the Post would hire the best reporters and editors, in order to put out the best possible paper – with the best possible reporting, writing, copyediting, proofreading, and analysis.

But if reflecting the community is essential, why are race and gender the only categories to be considered? Alexander doesn’t mention sexual orientation. Does the Post have gay (and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and questioning…) journalists in the correct proportions?

And how about ideological diversity? In the 2008 exit polls, 23 percent of voters described themselves as white, Protestant, born-again or evangelical Christians. A survey of American religion said that 34 percent of Americans describe themselves as evangelical or born-again. How many editors and reporters at the Post would describe themselves that way? I’ll bet that born-again Christians are the most underrepresented group in elite newsrooms. But they weren’t mentioned in Alexander’s column. A CBS/New York Times poll in December found that 18 percent of respondents described themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement. How many Post journalists are? The Post has recently assigned reporter Amy Gardner to “train her sights on the emerging Tea Party movement and developments inside the Republican Party.” Is she a Tea Party Republican? If not, isn’t that sort of like hiring a white person to “train her sights on African-American politics and developments in the black community”? Cato’s studies on the libertarian vote classify about 15 percent of Americans as libertarian. How many Post journalists would be categorized as libertarian?

Slate, the online magazine owned by the Washington Post Co., which shares some content with the Post, reported in 2008 that 55 of its 57 staff and contributors would be voting for Barack Obama, with 1 for John McCain and one for Libertarian Bob Barr. I’m not going to look up the details, but I’m pretty sure that’s unrepresentative of the country as a whole and even of the Washington area.

If newspapers are going to move beyond strict merit hiring to hire reporters and editors who “reflect the community,” then they shouldn’t stop at race and gender. Let’s see some ideological diversity in elite newsrooms.