Media monopolies in Guatemala and their influence on elections: The CICIG report
EntreMundos Analysis. September, 2015
The July, 2015 report “Political Finance in Guatemala” published by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), states, “communications media play a decisive role in the political process” (p. 55), and that three trends in the Guatemalan media market suggest that the mass media have a strong negative influence on elections.
The first trend is that “the structure of national media ownership tends to reinforce social inequality, as the national media are strongly concentrated” (p. 56). A 2009 investigation cited by the report reads, “a dozen families dominate electronic media, controlling all television broadcasters and almost all radio broadcasters, and two business groups made up of nine families control all the newspapers in the country and 99% of circulation” (p. 56).
Mexican media mogul Ángel González, for example, runs a monopoly of open (VHF) television channels that includes channels 3, 7, 11, and 14” (p. 120). CICIG explains, “González is, further, owner of one of Guatemala’s principal radio networks, which not only allows him to influence political preference, but also means that all politicians must arrive at agreements with him if they want to promote their candidacies” (p. 57). His nicknames in Guatemala include “The Ghost” and “he who places and removes rulers.”
Further, six corporations dominate the radio spectrum. CICIG cites two, Emisores Unidas and Radio Corporacion Nacional, as having “strong links to politics” (p. 58). Emisoras Unidas, for example, is part of a group that owns Canal Antigua, PubliNews, and Contrapoder. One of its principal owners, Erick Archila, was Minister of Energy and Mines until May of this year, when he resigned. He is under investigation for corruption. His viceminister, Edwin Rodas, replaced him, only to resign within the week. He was arrested in June, also accused of corruption.
The second trend that worries CICIG is “the establishment or the purchase of communications media by political leaders to convert them into de facto instruments of their communication and propaganda strategies. The concentration of the media and their links to politicians have produced complex relationships that, in many cases, generate conflicts of interest” (p. 59).
A 2013 study cited in the report states that participating journalists denounced “cable media concentration, as certain politicians, including, for example, two former presidential candidates… have already acquired various channels, and therefore the problem of censorship is growing” (p. 59).
Added to this is the growing tendency among politicians to use communications media to transmit propaganda and hide this from the authorities to be able to exceed limits on spending imposed by law. It is increasingly difficult to monitor both the media and political parties, since the parties increasingly use local, regional, and international media, and “some television news organizations disguise candidates’ ads as news” (p. 49). “This involves hundreds of businesses that broadcast several hours of advertizing a day as well as the infomercials of local political figures” (p. 59).
Because of all this, TSE authorities and private studies like those of Citizen Action “only take into account a sample” of political party spending in communications media and the free publicity the media often offer (p. 49).
Further, “through agreements that include access to media, people affiliated with owners and interested parties have been candidates for Congress or named to cabinet positions. And… some parties have created media conglomerates that respond directly to their interests” (p. 82).