Eugenia Mitchelstein and Pablo Boczkowski
Center for the Study of Media and Society, Argentina
Argentina is characterised by a strong and concentrated private media system, comparatively weaker public media organisations, and high online connectivity compared to other Latin American countries.
In spite of relatively high levels of news consumption, citizens tend to distrust both the media and politicians in Argentina. Media and their regulation are often politicised, and the law to regulate convergence between broadcasting and internet services has yet to be considered by Congress.
Online and smartphone access to news has achieved a dominant position among the population surveyed for this study. Almost nine out of ten online users get their information from the internet each week — more than any other source, including television (76%) and print media (42%). Social media are a popular source of news, used by 72%, including 60% who get information on Facebook, 37% on WhatsApp, and 27% on YouTube. Seven out of ten mention the smartphone as a device to access information, compared to 63% that access news on their computers, and 17% that use a tablet.
Argentina’s main newspapers have responded to declining print circulations and advertising revenues by launching paywalls. Clarín, the country’s top-selling daily, began charging users in April 2017. La Nación, the second largest newspaper, followed with a similar announcement in August, and Infobae, a highly popular digital-born portal, and the most-accessed news site according to this survey, announced in November that it would also start charging for content. Clarín reached 50,000 subscribers in November.1 However, it still gets three-quarters of its revenue from the print edition. Only 12% of respondents have paid for online news in the previous year, and Facebook, Google, and Netflix captured 80% of all internet traffic during the second half of 2017.2 Therefore, the feasibility of online revenues replacing print revenues as the main source of income for newspapers remains to be seen.
The crisis in the news industry was also evident in the closure of newspapers, some of which had been in operation for more than a hundred years, such as 141-year-old Buenos Aires Herald, the country’s only English–language newspaper, and 112-year-old La Razón. A news agency, Diarios y Noticias, also folded after 35 years of operation. In contrast, Tiempo Argentino, a newspaper that had been heavily associated with the administrations of former presidents Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez continued weekly publication as a worker-controlled co-operative.
Grupo Clarín, the most important media organisation in Argentina — which already controlled its namesake newspaper Diario Clarín, one broadcast television station, the largest cable company in Argentina, several cable stations, including a 24-hour news channel, an AM radio station, several FM radio stations, and an internet service provider — further consolidated its dominant position by merging with Telecom, a telecommunications company. The merger amounts to more than half of the market for broadband internet connections, and created the first company allowed to offer ‘quadruple play’ (landline telephony, mobile telephony, cable, and online services). Other companies will have to wait until January 2019 to offer quadruple play, according to the administration’s proposed regulation, which has yet to be discussed by Congress.
Grupo Clarín’s dominant stance is also evident in the positions its news outlets occupy in the top brands ranking. It owns four out of the top ten in our offline ranking, including the first two, and four out of ten in the online ranking, including the second and third. However, for the first time, the top online outlet was Infobae, which is not a Grupo Clarín subsidiary. While there is one state-owned broadcast television station, several public cable and radio stations, and one state news agency, they have significantly lower audience levels than commercial outlets, and only one (TV Pública) appears among the top brands on the online list, and none of them are named on the radio, TV, and print ranking.
The politicisation of broadcasting, telecommunications, and communication regulation may be related to trust in the news media, which has been at comparatively low levels for some time. There have been instances of false information disseminated through the media, as documented by the country’s most prominent fact-checking organisation, Chequeado, which launched a new section called ‘Falso en las redes’ (Fake on social media) to debunk misinformation. However, Argentines have traditionally been quite sceptical about news stories and outlets.
Four out of ten respondents trust the news media, a lower proportion than in 22 of the other countries included in the report. However, just over half trust the news they use, and trust in news in search and social media are lower (37% and 29% respectively).
- Knight Center, 2017, ‘Paywall en América Latina: Reporte especial del Centro Knight sobre suscripción digital en diarios de la región’: https://knightcenter.utexas.edu/es/blog/00-19005-paywall-en-america-latina-reporte-especial-del-centro-knight-sobre-suscripcion-digital ↩
- CABASE (Cámara Argentina de Internet), 2017 Estado de Internet en Argentina y la Región: http://www.cabase.org.ar/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/CABASE-Internet-Index-II-Semestre-2017.pdf ↩