The gender gap in media
Now that women’s movements in Argentina have been able to include the struggle for equal rights in the public agenda and to reduce the number of explicit machismo scenes in the media, situations that were recently commonplace now seem distant. Only yesterday, the classic summertime media coverage focused on showing the bodies of young women on the country’s beaches without their consent, and broadcasting “miss bottom” contests sponsored by fashion brands. The ratings of the most watched TV show (the local version of Dancing with the Stars) would increase abruptly when famous host and celebrity Marcelo Tinelli used scissors to cut up the skirts of female participants, so that the camera could freely capture up to the very last pixel of skin.
In 2015, when a female singer reported she had been beaten up and abused during her marriage at one of the most traditional TV shows, Mirtha Legrand, the hostess and greatest diva of the national show business, asked her: “But what did you do for him to beat you up?” In the same vein, an experienced host sparked off the debate when he asked a woman that had been harassed in public transportation: “But what were you wearing?”
Newspapers have also written their own patriarchal version of history. In 2014 the murder of Melina Romero made headlines in the media all over the country. She had suffered sexual abuse for several days after celebrating her birthday at a night club in the city of San Martín. Her body had been beaten, wrapped in plastic bags and then thrown into a creek. While the police was still looking for her body, the website of newspaper Clarín headlined: “A night club fan that dropped out of high school.”
What only yesterday was commonplace in the news stopped being an acceptable practice when women’s claims reached the streets and could no longer be sidestepped by the media. The thermometer of this revolution was the place where everything began: the National Women’s Meeting, which has been taking place once a year in different cities since 1986. The first meeting brought together 1,000 people. Since 2015, there has been an average of 60,000 women. As a result, participants have begun to demand that the media stop focusing their coverage of the event on the graffiti painted on the walls of public buildings and on the “impudence” of the naked torsos in front of the metropolitan cathedral, as there was also a crowd of women from all over the country debating in over 70 training venues.
The emergence of the feminist movement “Ni una menos” (Not one less) was also crucial. On June 3 2015, it gathered 300,000 people – mainly women – who marched together to the National Congress to protest against femicides and gender-based violence. Hundreds of thousands of women did the same simultaneously in 80 cities in the interior of the country. TV channels, newspapers and radio stations echoed previously unknown information: in 2015 a woman died every 30 hours in Argentina because of her gender (this figure increased in 2017 to one every 18 hours and it is on the rise). The “Ni una menos” demonstration takes place every year with similar turnover, and the movement has spread to other countries in Latin America, Europe and Asia.
The debate for the legalization of abortion in the Upper and Lower Houses of Congress also had a significant impact on the media. Over the two days during which legislators voted the bill submitted by the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, over 300,000 people – mostly young women – gathered in front of the Congress and stayed together for 15 hours. They spent the night in the streets in a context of expectation and communion while they waited for the Congress’s decision, which finally turned its back on the bill.
In step with what was happening in the streets, feminist claims became a compulsory topic of discussion at family meetings, office conversations and emerging cultural events. In most universities, companies, associations and unions – a field of strong patriarchal resistance –, women created gender committees to fight against the gender pay gap or establish protocols for filing complaints of sexual harassment or abuse. Groups of female actors, humorists, writers and journalists were organized.
Furthermore, an event in the show business industry took the feminist debate to the papers: Calu Rivero, a young TV actress, accused Juan Darthés, a famous soap opera actor, of sexually harassing her while shooting a daily TV show that had been extremely successful some years before. The industry not only dismissed her complaint, but also raised the bet when the production company Pol-ka (Grupo Clarín) hired the accused actor to star in a youth TV show, the most significant investment made by the company for local TV that year.
In the midst of a debate on who believed the actress and who supported the leading actor (also influenced by the news coming from Hollywood on actresses’ complaints against film producer Harvey Weinstein), an unprecedented event took place on TV in 2018. On Intrusos, the most watched celebrity show on open TV, five members of the feminist movement were interviewed live and extensively during a week. With the show surpassing its usual rating levels, it was the first time that popular TV hosted a debate on gender-based violence, the feminization of poverty, work and street harassment, and abortion. Luciana Peker, a journalist specialized in gender, said on Intrusos that “TV was an institution greatly influenced by machismo in Argentina, just like unions.” And she went even further. When asked about the Rivero-Darthés case, she affirmed that media authorities, most of them men, had protected the actor and had left the gender agenda aside out of fear of being accused. “Owners of TV channels and big production companies are afraid of the complaints other girls may file against them,” Peker stated.
In Argentina, women reached the pinnacle of political power – Cristina Fernández was elected President for two consecutive terms (2007–2015) and María Eugenia Vidal is the Governor of the country’s main electoral district (2015–2019). However, mass media is still a preserve of strong patriarchal imprint. As part of a survey conducted within the Media Ownership Monitor project (MOM Argentina), the ownership structure of 52 media belonging to 22 companies or groups was analyzed (including the most popular news shows). The study showed that there are no female majority shareholders or women with effective control over the companies that own the country’s main media.
A study conducted by Reporters Without Borders and Tiempo Argentino (2018/2019) found only 11 female shareholders in the industry. This means that, on average, there is less than one female shareholder per every two companies. All women invested in companies within the industry have a significantly smaller share than men, and in all cases, they are close relatives (their heiresses or wives).
Although almost none of the female owners has a say on the way TV channels, radio stations, newspapers or news portals work, it is worth mentioning a few exceptions: Viviana Zocco, wife of Daniel Hadad (founder of Grupo Infobae), is a board member in her husband’s companies and the Director of Grupo Vida, TKM being its most famous brand (media outlet targeting a millennial audience). TKM is relevant within its segment and has built a community of 17 million users by means of a printed magazine, a news portal and multimedia posts for social media. However, Zocco does not control the content published by Infobae, the country’s most visited portal, which has always rested in the hands of her husband.
Silvina Pierri, the eldest daughter of Alberto Pierri, founder of Grupo TeleCentro, also holds an executive position in her father’s company. Silvina has been a shareholder in the former Peronist legislator's business since the 1990s, when journalistic chronicles portrayed her as the promoter of radical artistic changes in current Radio Latina. Today she holds a hierarchical position within the holding, but the CEO is her male cousin, Sebastián Pierri.
The tendency repeats itself when analyzing the percentage of women holding positions at decision-making levels, which are held by men in 88.5% of cases. Out of the 52 media analyzed by MOM Argentina (including TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and news portals), only in six of them (11.5%) there are women holding CEO, content manager or editor-in-chief (or deputy editor) positions: América TV (Marta Buchanan is General Manager, and Liliana Parodi is Content Manager), Radio La Red (directed by Marcela Patané), Infobae (directed by Valeria Cavallo), Página12 (directed by Nora Veiras), Radio Dos (Araceli Colombo is Media Executive Officer) and C5N (Verónica Aragona is a member of the Content Management team).
The figures published on the report “Mujeres Periodistas en Argentina” (Female Journalists in Argentina, 2018) – conducted by the Argentinian Journalism Forum (FOPEA) – point in the same direction, with 71% of female press workers stating that they had a male boss. As for which media company they worked for, 76% of the board members were men and only 12% of the surveyed female journalists held positions at decision-making levels (as editors, managers or supervisors). The presence of female journalists in news production and broadcasting is marginal, with only 27% of the news on radio, TV and newspapers being produced by women. This percentage places the country below the world average of 37%, according to data provided by the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), which was carried out in 2015 by the World Association for Christian Communication with the support of UN Women and UNESCO. Said report points out that 15% of the articles published on local newspapers and portals are signed by women, and only 29% of the information is about women.
But the gender gap is not an intrinsic issue of the media industry, but of the international labor market. According to research studies developed by news portal Chequeado, out of the 25 companies that make up the Merval 25, one of the most popular stock indexes in the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange, only one company (Agrometal) has a female CEO and none of them has a woman as vice president. The latest available data from Argentina’s National Securities Commission (CNV) shows that only 4% of permanent board members are women (seven out of 176), and less than 10% are alternate members (14 out of 148).
The feminist adventure in the media
The emergence of the “green tide” (name used for the feminist revolution due to the green handkerchiefs women wear as part of their struggle for the legalization of abortion) has put all communication platforms against the ropes, as they reproduce the values of machismo. “Media in Argentina has begun to talk about feminism because all the journalists, editors and owners have feminist daughters that challenge them at dinner time,” Sonia Tessa highlighted. She is a journalist specialized in gender, Editor of Rosario12 – a local supplement of newspaper Página12 in the city of Rosario – and writer of female supplement Las 12, which pioneered the recognition of the feminist movement in the country (last year it celebrated its 1,000th edition).
“When we created the movement ‘Ni una menos’, we started a chat group with journalists from all over the country and we discovered there were women struggling to change the media agenda in places distant from the big cities, where working with a gender perspective is much more difficult,” Tessa pointed out. For her, the change will take place through training. “It is hard to propose gender strategies in the media with the precarious working conditions we face as journalists in Argentina. The added value of our work is being constantly degraded. Having said that, I believe the only way of promoting a real change is for companies to invest in training female and male journalists, editors and board members. I think it is the only way to get rid of the comradeship among men in the media, which excludes female journalists and is based on the fact that we cannot conduct important interviews or ask incisive questions. That is the standard in the media; so we are developing our own spaces,” Tessa explained.
Tessa also hosts the radio show Juana en el Arco with Virginia Giacossa (Radio Universidad) and Ningunas Locas with actress Andrea Fiorino, broadcasted by Santa Fe province’s public channel.
Similarly, many other female journalists have developed proposals that give women decision-making roles. In Rosario, two news portals with a feminist perspective have been recently founded: Sincerco.com.ar and Reveladas.com.ar. Both were developed to promote news neglected by traditional media outlets. In the province of Santa Fe, the interaction between 21 female local journalists, photographers, designers, advertisers and illustrators in a WhatsApp chat sparked the creation of a self-managed portal with multimedia content: Periódicas. “We are here to think, discuss and expose power from a feminist perspective. It is a political and collective response to a system that ignores us,” they explain in their statements. Like general-interest newspapers that contain sections replicated in different media, feminist news websites have outlined a set of specific sections: gender-based violence, bodies, rights.
The goal is not only to produce news, but to question them. The project “Mujeres que no fueron tapa” (Women that you don´t find on covers) include workshops aimed at questioning and challenging traditional media. It addresses the following questions: Why do the bodies of women shown on magazines always appear white, young, thin and homogeneous? Why do they only tell the rosy side of pregnancy and motherhood?
The proposal made by Plataforma MUA is also interesting. This social network designed for finding jobs brings together the services and profiles of professional women specialized in audiovisual production. The platform features the message: “Did you know that half of the people studying audiovisual media in Argentina are women, but there is only one woman in every four professionals within the industry?”
Journalist María Florencia Alcaraz is the Director of news portal Latfem.org, where she works with her friend and colleague Agustina Paz Frontera. She remembers the day they decided to found a media outlet aimed at becoming a feminist hub in Latin America: “After the current national administration took office, we lost our jobs, at InfoJus Noticias and Nacional Rock in my case, and at CN23 in Agustina’s case. We went to Plaza del Congreso together for the National Women’s Strike. It was raining and we were under our umbrellas in the middle of a huge concentration of women. We were living a historic moment, but had no space to talk about it. That is why we decided to create LatFem. We wanted to produce news and include viewpoints that represented us.”
LatFem has created its own community and is always attentive to their demands: it organizes training courses, artistic and cultural events, and spaces that strengthen virtual relations in the real world. Furthermore, it consolidated a multimedia project to attract foreign investments and find alternatives to traditional advertising. “I believe we are going through a tricky phase. On the one hand, feminism was able to introduce part of its vocabulary into mass media, as articles now mention human trafficking and write ‘femicide’ instead of ‘crime of passion’. They incorporated feminism’s most traditional agenda, the one related to violence. Mass media have become an ally in that area,” Alcaraz explained. She concluded: “The motto ‘Ni una menos’ is a two-sided coin. On the other side, we can read the motto ‘Vivas nos queremos’ (We want to remain alive). It is about the human networks we build to support and counsel women who undergo abortions, about the documents we take to Congress, about feminist economies and everything we do to be free. We want media in Argentina and Latin America to talk about these issues too.”