Sixth Lecture - Alejandro Miró Quesada

Alejandro Miró Quesada

Sixth Lecture - June 28, 2005

"Journalism and Good Governance in Latin America and The Caribbean"

Speaker: Alejandro Miró Quesada, President of the Inter-American Press Association

Thank you Secretary General. The following tale occurred at a meeting of the NPI in Geneva, towards the beginning of the sixties. A young yuppie, new President of NBC, stood up in silence before the most select audience and directors of all the newspapers on the planet, he raised his arm and pointing insolently to the audience, he pointed from side to side of the room. Then, while still pointing at the journalists, he broke the silence and said, “...because all of you are going to disappear.” This is what he said. My father, director of El Comercio at that time, recalls the indignation and the surprise of the majority of those presents. One of the panelists, director of Le Monde, who chaired these séances said that everyone comes with its own space: radio informs, television shows and the press explains.

Almost half a century has transpired and written press, principally as a means of reference, evidently has not disappeared. Neither do I believe it is going to disappear in any foreseeable future. It is the written text which gives strength to the message, which is better than any other means. It also provides guidance to the citizens and authorities; all of this in the pursuit of good governance, all of this shared with other means of communication.

Nobody can deny this; written press is a sector that requires constant attention to continue in the struggle. In this perseverant challenge to maintain its presence, many paradigms have to be reviewed. For example, the price of cover, the cover charge, talking prices, by way of subscriptions, or in the case of newspapers which are free, they disappear.

There was a meeting of the Washington Post recently and I was hearing about the technique they were using for the sale of their newspapers here. They have been very successful with it. We have to face up to reality. New generations presume that informing themselves is a practice that is satisfied or that it should be satisfied free neither can we cease considering that the television has been improving more and more its information programs.

It has even gone into the field of analysis and investigation. Traditional sectors of written press. However, it becomes banal to convene massive or attract massive audiences. But even though written press has been able to maintain firmly the thrust of television with all its magic, I think that electronic papers are the ones that are going to affect the future.

Further to their globalization, they all have the lasting characteristics of written press. In 2004, the Web picture increased in 32% as for one and it is foreseeable in any event that in the continued progress in the Internet in it, if it has not already done this, the predominance of information, immediate information. However, is there a better way to becoming informed than when one is comfortably installed in a sofa with a newspaper on hand, or is there a better way to read substantial articles to educate oneself or to entertain oneself, which isn’t written on a newspaper. Specifically, on the Internet, the reader goes to the news, and the written press, the news comes to the reader. We can therefore conclude that each one of us has a different way of satisfying the wish to be informed. Of course, what is negative is that every new media invented affects the written press gradually; the positive is that the written press continues finding its own spaces.

However, in the written press we have a lot of presence which is even more critical and that introduced by radio, television or the Internet, and that is the loss of credibility. As for the pure research center, credibility of newspapers in the United States has dropped 13 percentage points since 1998 and 2004 and in Latin America this figure could even be higher. What worries us most about this is that the loss of credibility in the press is a problem which would derive in many cases from the press itself. This means the situation, the solution will have to come from inside. The serious written press, that which has as its mission to guide and inform and not promote scandal or gossip has for example in popular newspapers, informal papers, that is, an element which demolishes its credibility.

The bad practices of these informal newspapers affect all society, which tends unwittingly to include all the press when they judge it. I am not trying to say that there shouldn’t be a popular press, which covers the market looking for this sort of product but if and when it doesn’t move away from journalistic values. That is why we have established the formal press and the popular press, one which complies with ethical standards and one which does not. During the presentation by Arthur Schulzberg, a publisher of the New York Times, some weeks back in Seoul, he said that what most affected him of Jason Blair, ex- journalist of the New York Times, was when he asked the affected family why they didn’t denounce this to the newspaper when they read the information manufactured by Blair, he answered that he understood that that was the way the press informed.

And if this is what we think about the New York Times what can we think about the remainder. And in this whole complex framework, how do we see the circulation of newspapers throughout the world? The survey of the World Association of Newspapers I, submitted in May last in Seoul, indicates that in 2004, the sale of newspapers in the world increased in 2.1%. However, the global value has to be analyzed in detail. The increase in these figures is generated more than anything else by markets in expansion. For example, China, which grew 26.5% in the last five years, or India, which during 2004 increased 14% or Mongolia, which did it in 31%. In the United States during last year, the sale of newspapers, morning papers, was maintained as for one practically stable: -0, 09%. It maintained a 0,25% increase in the last five years. In Latin America, where data should be assumed only as referential because in few countries there are verification systems in place, the loss of newspapers during 2004, but as of the trend, was an increase.

There were no figures for the Caribbean. To conclude, some stories provided by the WNA: in Equatorial Guinea, there are no traditional presses, printing presses. The newspapers are photocopied; in India, newspapers are published in 18 different languages; some are even trilingual. In Mozambique, papers only have four pages including publicity. Why? They are distributed by fax. In the field of publicity, newspaper publicity, WNA showed stimulating figures: an increase of 2.3% in 2004, the greatest in the last five years; and in the United States a 3.93% increase. We have then as a conclusion in this part of my presentation, that the young yuppie presiding NBC was wrong. Newspapers might have seen their spaces limited, they are facing more and more competition as time goes by, but we can assure you that we will continue defending ourselves like lions to maintain our presence. For this, newspapers continue here, and they are here to stay at least for a good period of time to come.

Full Speech