Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
from Green Left Weekly #230 5/8/96
MONTEVIDEO - It's easy to find the alternative media in Uruguay. Sidewalk kiosks in the capital display a wide variety of progressive magazines and newspapers which provide a refreshing alternative to the "infotainment'' produced by the capitalist media.
There are various reasons for this media democracy. Uruguay established compulsory primary schooling early this century (and school children still wear Victorian-style white pinafores, which were the fashion at that time). This helped create an educational tradition and a level of literacy which is high by Latin American standards.
The development of meat packing plants in the late 19th century helped generate a working class, and today around 90% of the country's people live in cities. This has created conditions for a strong progressive movement and the growth of the left-wing Frente Amplio (FA - Broad Front), which won up to a third of the national vote in the 1994 elections and now governs Montevideo.
The FA is both a political party and an electoral alliance of 18 parties. These range from the centre to the revolutionary left, and while each party identifies with the front, and forms sub-alliances within it, they maintain organisational independence and publish their own magazines and newspapers, as can be seen in the kiosks.
An old factory in New York Street has been converted into the home of the 16-page colour newspaper La Juventud (Youth).
The editor, Raul Sendic, explains how the paper, which has the slogan "Frente Amplio People's Daily'', tries to integrate social and political reporting with popular features such as weather, entertainment, TV guide and sports. Soccer is a national passion, and it is not uncommon for football news to compete with political events for the headlines on the front page.
Sendic insists that the paper's popular appeal does not compromise its style charter, which rules out sexist and racist articles, advertising and images.
The converted factory houses a printing press (bought second hand in Germany), darkrooms and layout and editorial rooms which also aim to service the broader left movement. Other left-wing papers and FA publicity materials are printed there as well.
La Juventud is sponsored by the March 26 Movement (M-26), a Marxist party which belongs to the FA. It also operates a series of minimal cost social services (five medical and dental clinics, child-care centres and a cultural house), farms (which supply its restaurants and child-care centres), giving substance to its philosophy that the left should provide practical examples of its organising ability among the poor and working class.
Sendic, like most of the journalists, is young. La Juventud began publication as a weekly in 1984, and went daily in 1992. Many of the journalists are not M-26 members but recent graduates with communications degrees. Sendic explains that this has helped to keep the paper broad, brisk and accessible.
Another party in the Frente Amplio left is the National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros (MLN-T). For their daily news, MLN-T leaders prefer to read and submit articles to the privately owned La Republica, with its more established journalists and circulation. While its owner was not a socialist, he did open the paper's pages to the left.
The MLN-T also publishes a lively 28-page weekly called Mate Amargo (Bitter Mate). Mate, Uruguay's national drink, is a bitter-tasting tea native to South America. It is drunk through a filtered straw and is offered around in social situations. Like its namesake, Mate Amargo is shared around, and prominent writers and left intellectuals regularly write guest columns for its pages.
The MLN-T also sponsors Tupac Amaru Editions, a publishing house named after the Inca chief who revolted against the Spanish conquistadors. Its catalogue lists themes such as socialism, politics, children's books, national literature and student study aids.
The Communist Party of Uruguay (CPU) was one of the most electorally successful parties within the FA and played an important role in its foundation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the leadership of the CPU left, with a large part of the party's resources and assets, to form a social democratic party.
The Communists, however, have assessed the mistakes of their past and have reconsolidated themselves into a still relevant political force. Their 20-page fortnightly, Carta Popular, (People's Bulletin) reflects the PCU's traditional orientation to the trade unions and socialist traditions, and also to the Frente Amplio.
Distribution, though, is still a problem. Sales, especially for a daily like La Juventud, are very slow in January, when many people flock to Uruguay's famous beaches for the summer break. The high unemployment created by the neo-liberal policies of the conservative national government means that may people can't afford to buy newspapers regularly.
While the kiosks do stock left-wing papers, their workers make a bigger commission from more expensive newspapers and journals, and so tend to promote them more. La Juventud, for example, which tries to keep its price down, is thus disadvantaged. In addition, only members of the kiosk workers' union can sell newspapers on the streets. This makes it impractical for the various left-wing organisations to mobilise supporters and volunteers to sell their publications.
La Pulga (The Flea) is a four-page tabloid distributed free by the Popular Participation Movement (MPP), to get around this distribution problem. The MPP is a sub-alliance within the FA and is made up of the MLN, the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist party, and independent leftists. Published twice a week, La Pulga organises a part of the left and contains biting commentary on the reactionary forces. Its logo is a grinning flea with very sharp teeth.
The radio waves are also a left domain. Nonetheless, the government keeps tight control of the licences. During a tense political situation after a demonstrator was killed in 1994, it seized on the event as an excuse to close down the MLN's popular radio station, CX 44 Radio Panamericana.
Another leftist station, Radio 36 Centenary, which is linked to the M-26, is still functioning. Station director Jos Bern , explains that the station follows a similar editorial policy to La Juventud in trying to make it the people's radio forum with an appealing popular format. The task is made difficult by the boycott which big advertisers direct against them. Then again, says Bern , a lot of the "big-time'' ads would be rejected for their sexist, racist and anti-worker nature.
While votes are important indicators of the strength of the FA, and of the revolutionary left, so is the fact that just 3.1 million people can maintain so many alternative news sources which are diverse, accessible and out of the control of the media barons.
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