Can Chile’s Public TV Recover its Role?

Chile’s public television (TVN).

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – If there has been an absent actor during the entire constituent process that Chile has experienced in recent years, it is without a doubt Televisión Nacional de Chile (TVN). Despite everything that has happened in the country, it continues to function from an incomprehensible inertia, incapable of behaving as a public medium, which allows the meeting of society in all its plurality.

The reasons for this inertia are widely known, and they respond to a lack of communication policy from the State that responds to the context of the return of democracy in Chile. Instead, the market ended up regulating the media system, which generated a brutal concentration of these over time (written press, radio and television) and abandonment of public and community media.

This is what was stated in the report called “More amplitude, more voices and more democracy”(1), commissioned by the General Secretariat of Government (SEGPRES) and carried out by the University of Chile, the University of La Serena and the University of La Frontera. It was presented at the beginning of this year 2023, and reveals the enormous problems that Chile has in terms of access to information and communication rights.

Although it does not propose anything very new and that we have not previously known, it was a participatory and plural effort, where different referents and civil society organizations from the communication field were present, with the exception of course of the National Press Association (ANP). The latter controlled by the oligopoly of El Mercurio and La Tercera (Grupo Copesa), which refuse to see communication as a right and prefer to continue with a highly concentrated media system.

The report raises the need to promote cross-cutting issues in the different media in a decentralized manner (interculturality and gender perspective), incorporate media literacy in the school system, promote instances aimed at indigenous peoples, migrants and the LGTBQ+ community, regulating state advertising in the face of underfunding of community media, strengthening public media, creating regulatory frameworks to control hate speech and improving access to connectivity throughout Chile, among many other recommendations.

In the case of public television, particularly that of Televisión Nacional de Chile, it is recommended to finance and implement the law that creates the company, as well as to expand the channel’s programming, in order to be a much more plural. One that really represents the State and the diversity of civil society, which is an enormous debt and that has led to the type of democracy that we have built as a country in recent decades.

Hence the importance of resuming the public role of TVN, which, due to having to finance itself and compete with other private television channels, has had to adapt its programming, and end up reinforcing the agenda of the large, concentrated media. In doing so, it has left aside its educational and social mission, that helps to build a more democratic country and that belongs to everyone.

Surely there will be some who continue to defend the TVN model, as it has relative autonomy from the governments in power, as happened with the misuse of it by the Chilean dictatorship, as well as certain recent left-wing governments in the region that have coapted the public media. However, such is to fall into a neoliberal discourse, since there are other public television experiences, which have not been official spokespersons, as has happened with channels such as the BBC in England, ARD and ZDF in Germany, NHK in Japan or RVTE from Spain.

In turn, it can be argued that TVN was able to sustain itself financially for several years and compete with other private channels, having its heyday in the 1990s and 2000s, but that has dramatically reversed in recent years, as it has had to compete with huge economic groups that have bought private television media (Grupo Claro, Grupo Bethia Falabella, Grupo Luksic, Time-Warner), generating a concentration of media and wealth like never before seen in the country.

Consequently, one does not have to be an expert in the media or have worked in any of them, to realize that the media are not a big money-making business. However, they are key instruments of the large economic groups to install their agenda, and not allowing issues that could politicize and raise awareness in society to become visible, which could allow generating important institutional transformations.

This is not about believing that the media control everything and that we are passive beings who do not think about the information we receive, but the media are the ones that ultimately build public opinion. In the Chilean case, the media is totally currently charged with the security agenda, which may be a relevant issue for the population, but it is not the only thing and it is also addressed from a certain angle.

Due to the above, the government of Gabriel Boric has a historic opportunity to recover Televisión Nacional de Chile (TVN) as mentioned in the report “More breadth, more voices and more democracy”. The document reminds the political sectors that believe in a freer, fairer and more sustainable country, that without a media policy, Chile will continue to have a low-intensity democracy.

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