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A tale of two cracks

“The first episode of this new season of Periodismo para Todos gave a prominent and friendly space to the brightest star of the ruling firmament: Buenos Aires Governor María Eugenia Vidal,” writes Marcelo J. García.
By Marcelo J. García
For The Herald

Lanata returns and gives a safe space to Mariu, as campaigning ahead of midterms officially starts

The country is officially on the campaign trail, starting this morning. Only now? True, political leaders seem to have been hunting for votes for quite some time. And they have. Starting today, however, you will notice a fundamental difference when you turn on and tune in your TV or radio: over 58,000 hours of airtime across 2,700 media outlets have been distributed on fairly equal terms among the 207 political parties competing in the primaries next month.

People’s attention spans for the avalanche of canned messaging that will be coming their way will be moderate. The bad news of these coming primaries is that very few of the top spots will be actually settled by the public — the main parties decided to pick their candidates behind closed doors instead.

The campaign also begins with the return to primetime broadcast television of the most-watched political show in the country. Jorge Lanata’s Periodismo Para Todos has exerted undisputed clout on the way Argentine politics has worked out since it was launched in 2012, only a few months after former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner won re-election by a landslide.

Lanata’s journalistic work was crucial in unearthing alleged rampant corruption in the Fernández de Kirchner administration, an agenda that — combined with economic weakness — dominated her second term in office and ultimately led to the ruling party’s defeat to Mauricio Macri’s Let’s Change (Cambiemos) centre-right alliance. Corruption haunts the former president and her supporters to this day, and it will continue to be a factor, fuelled both by the courts and the mainstream media, in this year’s vote.

Lanata’s show opened on Sunday night to an audience of almost two million people with a parody on the state of Argentine politics. It was called House of Grieta, which could conveniently be translated as “House of Crack” but the English version would in that case include a drug-addiction angle that was not intended in the original. Names aside, the political sitcom, featuring imitations of the country’s leading politicians, fuelled the notion that the country’s leadership does not seem to have moved much from where it stood in 2015: bitterly divided.

But is it? The parody depicts a house, which would symbolise the country, split between a bunch of cash-freak crooks on one side and a group of useless idiots on the other. It is only comedy, of course, but it is also an idea that might be growing among the voting masses: that the political system is plagued by corruption, combined with a certain inability to solve the country’s fundamental problems.

If there is something Lanata should be credited for, it is his capacity to either anticipate and/or fuel public moods. Now Lanata fluctuates between the auto-pilot of slamming “corrupted” Kirchnerites and the criticism of a new government yet to fulfill many of the expectations it created when it was unexpectedly catapulted into office. In his weekly column in the newspaper Clarín, Lanata recently complained that the two main issues that helped to elect Macri to the presidency — an ailing economy and rampant corruption — have not been fixed yet (meaning the economy is still struggling and virtually none of the suspected crooks have gone to jail). “(Under these circumstances), even if she were defeated, Cristina (Fernández de Kirchner) has already won,” he wrote.

Lanata’s disappointment has limits, though. The first episode of this new season of Periodismo para Todos gave a prominent and friendly space to the brightest star of the ruling firmament: Buenos Aires Governor María Eugenia Vidal. In the comedy, Vidal, a.k.a. “Mariu,” plays an easy-going, peace-loving hippie always sending good vibes. But it was not just fiction. The journalism in the rest of the programme focused on narco mafias in the province and had an entire segment devoted to the several threats Governor Vidal has received since taking office. It included an exclusive interview with her at the military base in the Greater Buenos Aires town of Morón where she lives.

The real crack

Laughing at the political grieta this country has been digging over the last few years is just fine. But comedy does not hide the fact that there is a widening real crack in the country, which is not up for campaign debate. A report published by UNICEF this week (http://cor.to/1ocI) said that one in two of Argentina’s 5.5 million teenagers lives in poverty. Only about half of them finish high school and half a million do not go to school at all.

Most of the information in the report comes from public Argentine government sources. But the UNICEF compilation presents a dramatic state of affairs. The political establishment has only dallied with serious issues like this and it seems to them much easier to play cat and dog instead. They can continue to pretend that their power “crack” is the one that matters most, but they know it is not true. The public knows that too.

@mjotagarcia

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