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Media Power in Central America

Media Power in Central America

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Media Power in Central America
    Book Description:

    Media Power in Central America is the first book in a generation to explore the media landscape in Central America. It captures the political and cultural interplay between the media and those in power in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Nicaragua. Highlighting the subtle strangulation of opposition media voices in the region, the authors show how the years since the guerrilla wars have not yielded the free media systems that some had expected. _x000B_Country by country, the authors deal with the specific conditions of government-sponsored media repression, economic censorship, corruption, and consumer trends that shape the political landscape. Challenging the notion of the media as a democratizing force, Media Power in Central America shows how the media are used to block democratic reforms in the region and outlines the difficulties of playing watchdog to rulers who use the media as a tool of power.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09228-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    The cycle of history is at low tide in Central America: the small nations of the land bridge between North and South America were the strategic focus of cold war policy makers in the 1980s, but today they have seemingly dropped from the radar screen of our conscience. Notably, however, the regionʹs civil and guerrilla wars have left an uncertain future as their legacy. With all these countries at peace, and with dictators removed from the scene, the United States has moved its attention elsewhere, to Kosovo, to Colombia, and to China.

    But U.S. policy in the region has itself...

  6. 1 Honduras and the Media Oligarchy
    (pp. 13-29)

    In Honduras Rafael Nodarse is known impolitely as ʺthe pirate.ʺ This is just one of the nicknames that the Honduran establishment hung on this media owner, but it is telling, because it reveals what many think about the methods Nodarse used to obtain his media properties and to keep them afloat. The nickname is revealing also because it casts Nodarse as someone operating beyond the accepted rules of commerce in Honduras.

    Nodarse owns broadcast and cable television operations based in San Pedro Sula, a commercial center and the nationʹs second-largest city. Nodarseʹs Canales 6 and 69 (operating on VHF and...

  7. 2 El Salvador’s Newly Respun Corporatism
    (pp. 30-50)

    In 1999 El Salvador elected a young new president, and many wondered whether a new generation of leadership would help the country forget its bitter civil war. When he was inaugurated, thirty-nine-year-old Francisco Flores Perez of the ARENA party (the Spanish abbreviation for the National Republican Alliance) pledged a new economic future for the impoverished country.

    On the night of his election victory, however, he also wanted the country to remember the past. On that night he invoked the name of his partyʹs founder, the controversial Roberto dʹAubuisson. DʹAubuisson was an ally of the Salvadoran oligarchy who had organized death...

  8. 3 Panama’s Media Civil War
    (pp. 51-69)

    The mean season was in full roar in Panama during August 1998. In some parts of the tropics, the mean season is what locals call the rainy season, a time of daily thunderstorms. Each day a drenching storm pummels the region. After the clouds clear away, the country steams under intense sunlight.

    During this uncomfortably sticky season, the Panamanian government was exhorting voters to change the countryʹs constitution. Raul Perez Balladares, then the president, was hoping to run for a second term of office, although the constitution prevented it. Pushing through the constitutional change, political operatives reasoned, would give him...

  9. 4 The Return of the Conservatives in Nicaragua
    (pp. 70-90)

    The story of the media and political power in Nicaragua is yet again one of important families: this time, the Chamorros and the Sacasas. Both families have controlled the nationʹs presidency, and both families enjoy tremendous influence inside the nationʹs media. Both families rode the wild turns of Nicaraguaʹs history in the past century: guerrilla war, dictatorship, revolution, and counterrevolution, all in a land where even nature conspires to make death a constant companion. For to know Nicaragua, a land of lush mountainscapes and picturesque lakes, is also to know its history of devastating earthquakes and hurricanes.

    During the nineteenth...

  10. 5 Guatemala’s Struggle with Manipulation
    (pp. 91-107)

    A new media era in Guatemala makes itself heard each day at 4 a.m., but ironically the sound echoes an ancient time in this part of Central America. The distinctive clicks and diphthongs of one of Guatemalaʹs Mayan dialects float across the country, transported on the signal of Radio Nuevo Mundo. This is the call of the campesino. Prime-time listening for this group of farm laborers begins before dawn, since they are usually toiling in the fields as the capitalʹs office workers begin to rise.

    Although Mayan programming has expanded on Radio Nuevo Mundo and other radio outlets since Guatemalaʹs...

  11. 6 Costa Rica, the Exception That Proves the Rule
    (pp. 108-125)

    As the twenty-first century begins, Costa Rica faces a new challenge from outside the nationʹs media system. Known for years as ʺthe Switzerland of Central America,ʺ Costa Rica has developed as an enclave of peace surrounded by tumult. The countryʹs advanced social welfare and educational systems, along with its long-standing democracy, have proved to be buffers against the wars raging elsewhere. They have also provided strong foundations for the countryʹs journalists. The countryʹs prosperity and educated population of 3.5 million have become highly attractive to media investors in the information age.

    In a pattern atypical for Central America, international investors,...

  12. 7 State Power, the Static in the System
    (pp. 126-164)

    In Central America journalists are often portrayed as romantic heroes because they accept the Quixotic challenge of tilting against the all-powerful mechanisms of the state. From Guatemalaʹs insightful columnist Estuardo Zapeta to Panamaʹs crusading editor Gustavo Gorriti, leaders in journalism believe that the media must represent society by providing some balance in systems where strong centralized governments prevail. Latin Americaʹs political history shows a predisposition to autocratic and militaristic governments that have often sought to repress free expression. Fearful that competing ideas would threaten their regimes, many Central American governments have turned to censorship, political manipulation, or economic pressure to...

  13. 8 The Threats to Central American Journalism
    (pp. 165-186)

    During the 1990s Latin America became the most dangerous place in the world for journalists: about 150 journalists were killed, and many more were kidnapped, threatened, or attacked.¹ International journalism groups have monitored Latin America carefully, and despite important declines in the regionʹs lethal numbers during recent years, violence and death continued to challenge freedom of expression. Although Colombia and Mexico present the greatest danger for journalists, Central America has been the locus of much of this violence. In 1997 the IAPA held a special conference in Guatemala City to discuss violence aimed at journalists in the region. The group...

  14. 9 Corruption and Corporate Censorship
    (pp. 187-212)

    Until now we have focused on the stateʹs overwhelming power to influence or control the information the media transmit. As we have noted, however, each country in Central America has developed its own unique media culture, and that culture exists in a dynamic system affected by many factors, not just central governments or militaries. As the whirlwind of change tears through the region, the concerns of the state often blend with those of the private sector, or even of criminal elements, all of them conspiring to control the media. We will explore those influences here.

    To understand the complex competing...

  15. 10 The Postwar Evolution
    (pp. 213-228)

    A facile reading of our analysis of the Central American media may leave a reader with pessimistic questions. What hopes do these varied media outlets in differing political systems have to work as a true Fourth Estate? What power do the media possess? Are these media organizations not merely tools of the elite?

    Each of these questions expresses an often complex truth, neither completely positive nor completely negative. We prefer to see the media as an important web connecting elite factions and other powerful forces at work in each of the Central American countries. The media reflect inter-elite battles, but...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 229-250)
    (pp. 251-262)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 263-276)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-280)