SANTIAGO – Since the demonstrations in Chile started, protesters have taken aim at Chilean media. They blame the television channels and newspapers for biased reporting. One of the biggest newspapers in the country is reportedly suffering from an internal crisis due to these allegations.
The slogan “not about 30 pesos, but about 30 years” marks the protests in Chile, affirming that Chileans are fed up with an entire system of abuse and exploitation. All major institutions – from government bodies to pharmacies, major supermarkets, and pension offices – have been attacked as they are considered part of the corrupt system.
One of the other institutions in Chile that has become a target of protesters is the media in Chile. From television channels like TVN, Mega, and CHV to newspapers like El Mercurio and La Tercera: all have been called out for biased reporting, focusing on violence and portraying an image of a normalized society while marches continue. The accusations have led to official complaints and violent attacks but also internal struggles in the case of La Tercera.
La Tercera Coverage
La Tercera became a trusted news source for many during the protests thanks to a fact-checking series, in which they discussed and checked viral news. Social media during a crisis can generate the most absurd or damaging allegations, so a team of the Chilean newspaper dedicated themselves to rigorous checking—a beacon of truth for many Chileans in confusing times. But in the offices of La Tercera, journalists were less satisfied with the course of the newspaper.
According to an investigation led by Interferencia, journalists even accuse their directors of censorship. On Oct. 25, over one million Chileans took part in a historic march in the center of Santiago. A complete team of La Tercera reporters was present during the protests to take the opinion of those marching, but the journalists saw nothing of their coverage back in the articles about the march. Journalists state that directors work with texts that are written before marches actually take place.
Fake News About Metro Fires
But what really caused a crisis at the offices of the newspaper was the publication of an article about alleged suspects related to the metro fires. When the Chilean protests started, dozens of metro stations were set on fire. On Oct. 28, La Tercera published a story that, according to police, there was evidence that Venezuelan and Cuban citizens had participated in the arson attacks on metro stations.
The involvement of Venezuelans and Cubans in the Chilean protests is a popular far-right wing theory. Nevertheless, the theory can more broadly provoke xenophobia in Chilean society—a society that includes thousands of migrants from the two countries.
The story, not accredited to a specific author but to the La Tercera team, went viral and caused outrage among protesters, migrants, and opposition sectors, who blamed the newspaper for politicizing the protests. Journalists told Interferencia that earlier another version of the article existed, but that the original was amended after the director of La Tercera had a meeting at the presidential palace, and was in fact nearly a copy of a police communiqué—“according to police sources,” said the article.
The public investigator of the Santiago-region denied the story and La Tercera was forced to withdraw the article, stating “We recognize that we failed – as a journalistic team … The report is real, it exists, but we should not publish its content without first checking it. We apologize.”
One of the unions within Copesa, the publishing group that includes La Tercera, denounced the newspaper for lack of professional ethics, causing more than 50 journalists, reporters, and editors to sign a letter against the complaint, in which they take distance from the accusation.
Como editor de Mundo de @latercera rechazo con todas sus letras el comunicado emitido el lunes por nuestro sindicato respecto a supuesta censura al interior del diario. En todos los años que llevo acá nunca nadie me ha censurado ni tampoco yo lo he hecho. Así de claro. pic.twitter.com/tLCAinMeP3
— Alejandro Tapia (@atapia2013) November 7, 2019
Protests and Accusations Against Chilean Media
Not only La Tercera suffered under allegations of partiality. On Nov. 11, a video went viral of how television stations TVN had edited a segment of a woman lighting a fire at an office of the Banco Estado. Viewers pointed out that the flames had unusually bright colors and they accused the channel of montage. TVN later explained the video was no montage, but admitted the colors of the flames had been enhanced with digital editing.
no te puedo creer que tvn pasó esto en el noticiario central, nadie se dio cuenta que el video es falso?, no siquiera quien editaba la nota y que de seguro no es ningún amateur?, esta weá fue premeditada loco, que rabia… pic.twitter.com/vPaYGkaqUG
— víztorodio (@viztorhugo) November 11, 2019
The cases with La Tercera and TVN only back the allegations of protesters that national media in Chile are just directly transmitting government information or even altering actual news events. In the first weeks of the protests, these suspicions caused hundreds of protesters to head to the studios of Mega and TVN to protest their coverage of the crisis.
On Nov. 6, the National Council for Television announced that between the Oct. 18 and Nov. 4, they had received 323 complaints about the partiality of the television networks, with Mega and Canal 13 receiving the most complaints.
In another attack on national media, the office of El Mercurio in Valparaíso was set on fire in the first weekend of the protests in Chile. El Mercurio has often been accused of being partial towards the government, also because of its past. Before the coup d’état in 1973, El Mercurio received funding from the American CIA to start a campaign against socialist president Salvador Allende, and during the dictatorship the newspaper served as government channel for Augusto Pinochet. The slogan “El Mercurio miente” (El Mercurio lies) became famous during those years and the newspaper never seemed to have lost that reputation.
URGENTE URGENTE: TURBA INGRESA AL DIARIO EL MERCURIO DE VALPARAÍSO pic.twitter.com/7wtqbMKmEc
— Radio Valparaíso (@RadioValparaiso) October 20, 2019
Sponsors Draw Back
That Chile is indeed a polarized society became clear last week when a sponsor of television channels CNN Chile and CHV withdrew over the coverage of the protests. The company Agrosuper came to its decision, according to a statement, because of the “deplorable attitude of CNN and CHV in the moments in which Chile needed serious, objective and free of political bias” reporting.
In a sudden show of support, Chileans called to boycott products from Agrosuper. The reality of Chilean media during the crisis: you can never satisfy everyone.
NOTE: In an earlier version of this article, it was stated that CHV had digitally edited the segment about the fire at Banco Estado. This should have been TVN and has been rectified.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.