RSF launches Media Ownership Monitor in Colombia
Jan 20, Bogota: Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the international press freedom organization, launched its Media Ownership Monitor (MOM) project, a global research and advocacy effort for promoting media pluralism, in partnership with the Federación Colombiana de Periodistas (FECOLPER).
During a press conference organized at Centro de la Memoria, Paz y Reconciliación, the two organizations presented the research conducted during three months in Colombia, the first country where this project based on a standardized and transparent methodology is being implemented. Data and findings are available on the website www.monitoreodemedios.co.
The MOM Colombia looked at all types of media (TV, radio, print and the Internet) included in the EGM (Estudio General de Medios) 2014 and concentrated on the ten largest outlets in each category.
Among key findings, it was established that, at a national level, the top four newspapers (Q´hubo, ADN, El Tiempo and Al Día) garner two thirds of the total readership and the largest two TV channels post over two thirds of market reach and some 78% of TV advertising revenues. It was also revealed that three corporations – Ardilla Lülle, Santo Domingo (Valorem) and Sarmiento Angulo – accumulate 57% of market reach across all types of traditional media (printed press, TV and radio), due to their ownership of respectively 18 (Adrilla Lülle), 6 (Santo Domingo) and 17 (Sarmiento Angulo) media outlets. In regional newspaper markets, the publishing group El Periódico, property of businessman Eduardo Suárez Burgos, represents a particularly interesting case. With its 11 newspapers already established, it now extends to other areas of the country through the daily "Extra", which currently has 18 local editions. The investigation also produced evidence of the dominance of free and tabloid newspapers, mostly owned and operated by the same traditional publishing groups. Additionally, a trend towards pay TV subscriptions was identified with over 50% of the total television consumption.
“Media pluralism is a cornerstone of any diverse and open society and for this reason, high concentration of media ownership – as we see it here in Colombia – puts democracy and freedom of opinion at risk,” says Christian Mihr, Executive Director of the German section of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). He also referred to the annual World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters without Borders where Colombia ranks only 128th out of 180 countries.
“Media ownership means power to shape public opinion,” states Adriana Hurtado, President of FECOLPER: “Every citizen in this country who uses the media should be concerned about who is controlling what. Media is not just like any other business!”, she adds. “The difficulty for us was the lack of publicly available market data,” explains RSF project manager Nina Ludewig, “which is in the public domain in many countries but here in Colombia, it seems kept like a state secret!”
The team also encountered transparency problems in other fields, such as public spending on advertising, for example. “We believe that more than 500 billion pesos are spent annually by the government to buy airtime or pages in newspapers. This is a huge subsidy, but it remains mostly unclear where the money goes and what the deals behind it might look like,” says Adriana Hurtado. “Given the high degree of concentration, but also the economic and political stakes of media owners, it should not come as a surprise that journalism in Colombia is characterized by extensive self-censorship,” points out Christian Mihr. He adds: “We call on the government and legislators to impose strict, effective regulation to break media oligopolies in Colombia.”
The Oslo Times