Dear Mr. President:
I am writing to you as a member of that generation of communicators who poured their youth into the effort to break the information blockade imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship, denounce serious human rights violations and advocate for the advent of democracy. I do so in a personal capacity, but I trust that what I say to him will be shared by those of us journalists who have grown old in the conviction that one of the fundamental pillars of the republican ideal is freedom of expression and, in particular, diversity of information.
Until September 1973, Chile prided itself on the large number of media outlets that served a population barely half the size it is today. It was only a matter of going to any newsstand to see the existence of several newspapers of different ideological orientations, as well as countless magazines on cultural, political, religious, sporting and other topics. There were also media for young people, women, workers and the most varied social groups. We were an example in Latin America and the world, while celebrating the State’s commitment to promote university television and also reading with such laudable initiatives as Editorial Quimantú, which managed to get books into the most modest homes in the country, at a reasonable price, of course.
You and I know what happened with the military coup and the massive closure of the media, the persecution of free journalists and the most dreadful concentration of information in our history. Despite the existence of three or four magazines, a couple of radio stations and two open newspapers, in addition to the clandestine ones, which set themselves the task of bringing the horrors of the civil-military regime to the public’s attention. This is how the media we founded and in which we worked suffered the most varied forms of harassment in the form of constant injunctions, arbitrary closures, imprisonment, exile and even a ferocious murder, such as that of our colleague at the magazine Análisis, José Carrasco Tapia.
What we never thought, then, is that each of our media would be forced to close their pages during the post-dictatorship period, after having suffered so many attacks from the military regime, which could have been worse had it not been for the international solidarity that was lavished on us and the enormous roots we gained among the Chilean people. I have the honour of being one of the most awarded national journalists in the world, and I have also received the National Journalism Award in 2005.
However, no one can make amends for the forced silence that was imposed on us with the policy of extermination of our media put into practice from the first Concertación government onwards. An unjust and ungrateful persecution that had intellectual and material authors that we have identified in hundreds of articles, interviews and lectures, especially to journalism students of all universities.
For us there was no state publicity and no government or parliamentary laws or measures aimed at consolidating the democratic and independent press we represented. It was well known that a solid contribution agreed by the Dutch government in favour of a daily newspaper and three magazines was blocked by La Moneda and we could not find a way to unblock this impediment despite the intense lobbying we did with those who had been our friends before arriving at the Executive. The idea was to stifle us economically and take over our media with the aim of silencing us for good. All of which we fully accredited at the time.
The Netherlands and other European countries understood that the transition to democracy would be very difficult for our publications, so they wanted to give us a final and generous contribution that would help us to sustain ourselves definitively. However, they were warned from La Moneda that any support to the press would be seen as unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of our country.
Eventually, we were told that the new government wanted to muzzle a press that continued to demand justice, the deepening of democracy and reparations for the victims of repression. We were told that it was preferable to undertake a “policy of enchantment” towards the media that had been pro-Pinochet and were reluctant to change. That by writing off their debts and guaranteeing them support, they could be “tamed”. In the fear, of course, of the new authorities of a new military intervention, as well as because of the irritation at the demands or criticisms of those of us who had practised free journalism and enjoyed broad moral authority.
Of course, all that persecution of our media, as well as that of countless social organisations, continues in impunity, except for the recognition by many judges and magistrates of our informative legacy, which is why the courts were able to move forward in clarifying so many episodes against the dignity of individuals and Chilean society as a whole. In addition, to this day, our media are valued for their enormous contribution to the social mobilisations that destabilised the dictatorship.
Unfortunately, however, many of the most valuable editors and reporters of the past were forced to change their activities, although some of us have managed to continue to express ourselves through digital communication, some radio stations and numerous personal blogs. It has been an arduous task, but possibly as rewarding as the one carried out under the dictatorship.
I think, dear President, that diversity of information is not only the task of journalists and social communicators. It is a matter of observing how in Germany, France, the United States and other nations legislation is being passed to prohibit media concentration, to repeal harmful regulations such as VAT on books and to define soft credit lines for those who want to start up news and cultural media. In this way, in some of these countries even today, printing paper is subsidised, and governments come directly to the rescue of publications at risk of disappearing due to their economic precariousness. In other words, what has also happened in Chile is being done, but in the opposite direction. That is, through the arbitrary allocation of state advertising to large and powerful publishing companies, the chronic and wasteful financing of National Television and other forms of bribery that are more in line with the practices of bribery that cause so much damage to politics.
From the above, we can only deduce that what has suited the post-dictatorship governments is citizen disinformation and media showmanship. It is tragic to see the high levels of bias and disinformation among Chileans, for example, with regard to what is really happening on Earth. As well as the way in which attempts are made to turn compatriots into mere consumers, convincing even the poorest and most marginalised that living in Chile is a privilege in relation to the chaos prevailing beyond our borders. Happily, however, after several decades, the Social Outbreak came and today there are signs that the neoliberal regime may be close to collapse. For many years, our political class used the binominal electoral system and disinformation to cling to public office and its perks.
An active commitment to diversity of information must become imperative for the authorities. It will not be enough for the new constitution to redefine the entire scope of our rights and obligations. Fiscal resources must be allocated and concrete initiatives must be taken by the State, such as stimulating the founding of new media, the recovery of a public publishing house to promote artistic and literary creation, and encouraging reading, especially among the poor and the young.
“To inform is to educate”. Especially in today’s world: an effort that is achieved through quality journalism with the appropriate and comprehensive training of communicators. That is, with people who are capable, not only of disseminating news, but also of discovering the real events in them, as soon as they are able to interpret them and “translate” them to their recipients.
It is indisputable that social networks represent a great advance, but also severe damage to freedom and knowledge. While specialisation is healthy and inevitable, we journalists must assume ourselves as “the historians of the present”. For this we must be well equipped with the contributions of science, art, culture, politics, economics and international relations. Because in reality there has never been aseptic news that cannot be explained in a set of factors, causes and effects. In a selection that must be reasoned and responsible.
It is also known that the proliferation of journalism schools and universities without good educational standards has meant the graduation of thousands of professionals who are uneducated and even limited in the use of new information technologies. This was a recurring theme, moreover, in the Senate of the University of Chile, of which you and I are members. At that time, we also pointed out the precarious ethical training, not only of new communicators, but of university graduates in general.
Believe me, as I write these few lines, I am encouraged by the hope of seeing your sensitivity to such a crucial issue as diversity of information. I am confident that the new generation entering government service will finally serve this purpose, which has so far been so despised by the mere holders of power and purely competitive politics.
At my age, I am encouraged only to fulfil to the end my vocation and practice my freedom and independence. This means being “a keen observer of reality” and a watchful eye on the behaviour of the authorities. That is why we will be watching you in a friendly manner and, if necessary, whip you or make you uncomfortable. As required by our professional ethics and ethical convictions.
I sincerely wish you the best of governments and I greet you warmly.
Juan Pablo Cardenas