Ecuador: Communications corporations and their networks denouncing media concentration:

Contradiction, disinformation and hegemony

Private communication corporations, while transmitting content harmful to the development of our society, try to shape public opinion according to their own points of view.

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In the acclaimed 2003 documentary “The Corporation”, the directors take up the theme of media concentration and pose the following questions: “In a world economy where information is filtered by global media corporations, strongly adjusted by the interests of their powerful advertisers, who will defend the right of the public to knowledge? And what is the price that we must pay to preserve the capacity to make informed decisions?”  The reality is that these reflections, or their answers, are not present, in the day to day, the moment in which we decide to access media communications.


As citizens, we should consider it inadmissible that in Ecuador, on the basis of the discourse of the right to freedom of expression, the brazen operation of private communication corporations and their networks is permitted, when daily, while transmitting content harmful to the development of our society, they try to shape public opinion according to their own points of view.


In recent days, in their newscasts they have blatantly focused efforts to denounce the illegal media concentration of three economic groups A-B-C, as evidenced in the investigation conducted by the Comptroller General of the State of the tender for frequency bands.


These corporations and foundations are awakening a sleeping giant that can devour them, because they obviously do not know that media concentration is not measured only in terms of determining ownership of media outlets in a few hands (as those who for now speak through the media would lead us to believe).


As they present it, the idea of media concentration seems to be present in only one way, referring to the situation in which a person or corporation exercises direct or indirect ownership over a significant part of the media as a result of various processes, such as: awards, acquisitions, mergers, agreements with other companies, frontmen, among others. However, media concentration is a much more technical issue, so diverting attention only to the participation of these three groups is opportunistic in the current political dispute in the country.


It is worth clarifying that, unlike what this select group with their opinions in the media would have us believe, the concentration of media does not start with the current Frequency Band Tender, nor does it date from the years close to the set-up of the Commission for the Frequency Audit of the year 2008. Rather, it has been present in Ecuador for several decades, as it has in several countries of Latin America. International organizations, various universities and theorists around the world have already addressed the issue in a comprehensive manner.


At this point the question is: are the private media, the so-called foundations and the politicians who currently denounce media concentration, willing for the State to truly analyze and regulate the issue with a comprehensive methodology, with international standards? To answer this question let's see what this issue is all about.


First, it must be understood that the de-concentration of the media implies placing limits on the participation of certain groups, in different spaces, to allow for the participation of the rest of society. In this sense, studies conducted by the United Nations conclude that the problem of media concentration, technically, must be addressed starting with the confluence of four analyses:


  • The degree of participation of the media in the advertising market and in other markets (the main source of income for the media);
  • The overall economic income of the media outlet;
  • The size of the audience that the media outlet currently covers;
  • A simple estimate of the amount of media outlets or frequencies controlled by a single actor, in any market (AM, FM, TV, print, portals, etc.).


Each of these elements has a rigor, as well as strengths and weaknesses; but by analyzing them together you can have a real appreciation of the concentration in the communication scenario. For this, there are several methodologies such as the use of concentration indices or coefficients, the Lorenz curve, the Herfindahl-Hirschman index, as well as several studies that have been promoted by the European Commission.


It is worth noting that in Ecuador this type of analysis has never been carried out and the mass media here have been operating for more than 50 years. So far we have never managed to properly complete a tender for the allocation of frequencies; and no work has been done to grant authorization for the operation of print media based on any public policy. But let's go deeper.


Through the use of indicators, the analysis methodology suggests, for example, to consider the growing diversity that exists in the media environment, in which citizens are offered a greater number of information sources each day. This scenario hides an alarming phenomenon, and appears when those communication companies that generate content and news are differentiated from the media that, due to their precarious condition, only redistribute them, present them under a different brand or simply re-interpret them. For the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Relatoría Especial de Libertad de Expresión de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos), for example, it is clear that the concentration of media leads to the uniformity of the contents that are produced or disseminated.


In Ecuador, the number of original sources from which information is generated, compared to the totality of existing media, registers very low levels; even the lowest in Latin America. This is very serious for investigative journalism, since only certain corporations that have the capacity to produce content and news can exercise it. The rest of the media, due to their condition, have no other option but to simply echo these contents. Thus, without needing to be of the same owner, media is concentrated through having only one type of information.


It is also very easy to perceive how digital portals, print media, television and radio stations of different owners act in consensus, under the same editorial line, with the same guests for interviews, as part of an agenda which repeats the same ideas over and over on a given topic of national events to position them as an irrefutable truth in the social zeitgeist.


In order to position ideas, the distribution is made from different sources, but the production of the disseminated contents is constructed from a single hegemonic center. It is a vertical integration of the media, even in some cases achieving internationalization of content.


Any scenario that encourages this type of concentration in the production and dissemination of content is unfit for democracy and generates similar or even worse damage than concentration of the direct ownership of the media.


Concentration must also be measured in each communication market. At present, it is already possible to differentiate between different media markets, such as those of print media, television, radio, even the digital media market. Today, for example, print media offer digital content and radios offer written materials, etc.


In addition to this analysis, we must also clarify the links between the media industry and other related industries; since as a whole, if their position is at the dominant end, they can cause market abuse. In these cases, certain owners can adopt positions that adversely affect society, or influence political campaigns, always under the protection of their extensive business network.


The fabric becomes much more robust if we consider that in Ecuador the banking sector and the private business sector have traditionally concentrated media around a double objective: first, ideological, as they make efforts to transmit the neoliberal discourse and make it become socially hegemonic; and second, economic, due to its cross-participation with other markets.


This last point is important, since other multi-million businesses are also linked here, such as entertainment, sports, fashion, financial and banking entities, political campaigns, advertising agencies, rating and audience measurement, among others, that as a whole are part of the same conglomerate of power.


As a result, a review of the invoicing of the media outlets allocated to legal entities in Ecuador (public information that is available on the webpage of the Superintendence of Companies), reveals that a small percentage of the media accounts for 90% of the advertising market. It will also show that this small group of media has annual billings that exceed one million dollars, reaching in some cases more than 40 million dollars declared each year. Meanwhile, there is a vast group of media outlets that reach less than $ 20,000 a year in billing. Not to mention the billing of those media that are in the hands of individuals or community organizations that have an income of less than $ 500 per year.


The centralization of power over the media and their content does not necessarily depend on their direct or indirect ownership. International standards show that it is possible to consolidate more effective control over information through other channels, without formally implying that a person or corporation has direct ownership of a media conglomerate.


Studies carried out by the United Nations give a strong indication that these modalities of concentration are the ones that prevail in the case of Ecuador and in most Latin American countries. The level of participation of the private sector in communication, which traditionally concentrates the mass media, should also be considered.


According to official figures, in Ecuador from the total of existing media, 90% corresponds to private commercial media, while public communication corresponds to 5% and community communication to the other 5%. That is to say, alternative communication almost does not exist in the daily media offer of our country.


For several decades, we have lived under that scheme, without realizing that diversity and pluralism of ideas are fundamental ingredients that democracy requires from the media sector.


In Ecuador, those who take a citizen’s house away because he cannot pay his debt, are the same entities that market their products in supermarkets, with their advertising agencies; they are the same ones that, through the media, promote political and economic crises, through speculation; they are the same ones that criticize new taxes and those who promote them; and they are the same ones that position certain opinion polls and surveys on transcendental topics. All of this from the comfort of their own media, advertising companies, foundations, and others.


It is vital and urgent that the de-concentration of media become a public policy that the State adopts each year, to be carried out with strict adherence to international standards, as they have now presented in the project of reforms to the Organic Law of Communications.


It is also necessary to reflect on the limits established by the Inter-American Convention in relation to the right to freedom of expression. On whether or not it distinguishes and raises the issue of the ownership of the media and the various dynamics of concentration as a necessary step to defend this right effectively. Likewise, if it distinguishes and suggests how to deal with power structures that have been consolidated in societies like ours, in which the frequency allocation for audiovisual media and permits for the operation of print media have always been influenced by the interests of the business and financial sector.


Very few people could be opposed to our country striving to respect international standards on freedom of expression, yet if we ignore our reality and divert our attention only to the participation of three power groups in the Frequency Competition, we can fall into a perverse trap: allowing the self-regulation of those who have concentrated media for decades, such that the defense will be of their own freedom of expression, leaving the citizenship defenseless.


I hope that the Government will take on this challenge in an integral manner, and also that the foundations, their directors and the private communication corporations, which currently denounce the concentration of media, will carry out the same campaign so that the issue is addressed with international standards. Otherwise, their current attitude would be contradictory and opportunistic.


(Translated for ALAI by Alejandro Licano and Jordan Bishop)



- Andrés Groner, sociologist and researcher
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