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Free press, pluralism and democracy: Media challenges in Latin America

May 3, 2013


Newspaper kiosk in Buenos Aires    

World Bank

  • On World Press Freedom Day, experts discussed the role of the media and governance in the region.
  • Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate in economics, stressed the importance of good media governance that helps overcome inequality. He also spoke against media concentration and monopolies.
  • Cases from Argentina and Mexico were discussed at the conference, which was organized by Columbia University’s School of Journalism with support from the World Bank.

World Press Freedom Day was a global trending topic for most of the day on Twitter in Spanish. Among the thousands of messages published, that of Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos stood out. From his account, @JuanManSantos, he tweeted: “We defend the freedom of the press with a passion because it is a basic right. We reaffirm that commitment on World Press Freedom Day.”

The World Bank in Latin America contributed to promoting the day by supporting and rebroadcasting the conference “Press Freedom, Press Standards and Democracy in Latin America” on its website. At the conference,  organized by the Columbia School of Journalism, a group of experts discussed the role of the public and private communications media in social development and the strengthening of institutions in the countries of the region.

In Latin America, freedom of expression and the press is a recognized value and the strengthening of democratic institutions through increased pluralism and diversity is a topic on the regional agenda.

“With so many conflicts between governments and the press in some countries, we thought it would be a good time to examine the issue,” said Edward Schumacher, who is an Ombudsman at National Public Radio, a U.S. public radio station and Conference Organizer. Media representatives and experts participated in the conference, including Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics.


" A media system that is plural in terms of content, vision and ownership, ensures more active participation of public opinion in development processes and involves citizens in decision-making associated with defining a country’s development priorities. "

Sergio Jellinek

World Bank Manager for External Relations in Latin America and the Caribbean

A panel of academics opened the event with a discussion on the challenges presented by the implementation of new regulations for media systems in some countries.

Roberto Saba, from Palermo University in Argentina, and Mexican Alejandro Madrazo from the Center for Economic Research and Teaching and Georgetown Law School, both shared case studiesfrom their countries.

They were joined by Ricardo Trotti, from the Inter-American Press Association, who recalled the words of former World Bank President James Wolfensohn: “Press freedom is fantastic for the economic development of communities. To reduce poverty, we must liberate access to information and improve its quality because information empowers people and when people are empowered, they can make better choices.”

The Press and development

Stiglitz offered a master class on how, from an economist’s viewpoint, the press plays an important role in “calling attention to the abuses of governance in both the public and private sectors,” as well as how information is a type of public good, which should benefit everyone.

He spoke of impediments to the traditional press, including media concentration, the lack of diversification, difficulty in accessing information in some cases and the competition with new digital media. According to Stiglitz, these challenges must be overcome in order to have strong communication media who give a voice to all types of people and help to reduce inequalities.

Two country case studies were analyzed during the conference: Argentina, in which executives of the Clarín and La Nación newspapers discussed media systems with legal experts, including the law which regulates audiovisual media in that South American country.

A panel on Mexico discussed the recent legislation that opened up the market to increased competition and conceded a new role to the government.

Another panel discussed trends in media self-regulation, concentration and political impact.

On that subject, Sergio Jellinek, World Bank Manager of External Affairs for Latin America stressed the importance of ensuring social inclusion through new media such as digital television and its regulation.

A media system that is plural in terms of content, vision and ownership, ensures more active participation of public opinion in development processes and involves citizens in decision-making associated with defining a country’s development priorities,” said Jellinek.

At Columbia University today, Schumacher announced that the conference will have a second part, to be held on October 21 and 22, in conjunction with the 75th edition of the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes, the most prestigious awards of the Columbia School of Journalism for journalists in the Western hemisphere. On that occasion, participants will discuss the role of the Internet, social networks and media systems, with case studies from Venezuela and Brazil.