Cablegate: Elections in Chile: Media Impact On Public Opinion


DE RUEHSG #1188/01 3411659
R 071655Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Elections in Chile: Media Impact on Public Opinion

1. SUMMARY: Despite extensive and well-developed media in Chile,
there is little evidence that it has played a large role in shaping
public opinion in the national elections of 2009. While
even-handed coverage of the main presidential candidates is
indicative of a healthy and free press in democratic Chile, it also
suggests that the Chilean news media do not have a specific agenda
to influence votes. The rise of social media such as Facebook,
Flickr, YouTube, and Twitter as electoral media tools has been an
innovation in the 2009 contest. This is an important first for
Chile and reflects an assessment by the candidates and their teams
about the importance of the youth vote and the need to reach out to
first-time voters. Strict legal limits on political advertising do
result in an effort to gain press coverage by the staging of
"events" and personal appearances to draw publicity. Television
advertising is especially tightly controlled and exists only in
electoral spots called franjas electorales which are permitted in
highly structured time segments and formats beginning 30 days prior
to the election. Although journalists say that once the first
round of voting concludes and the candidates for the second round
are known, there will be a renewed media push to do more in-depth
reporting on the contenders, it appears unlikely that, with the
exception of the need to keep their faces before the public, media
coverage and opinion will significantly influence Chilean public
opinion and the outcome of the election. END SUMMARY.

2. The response of the Chilean electorate to press coverage and
press opinion is decidedly different from that of many other
countries. Despite an extensive and well-developed media spectrum
in Chile, the news media are not widely considered to play a large
role in shaping public opinion in the national elections. Most
experts believe that informed audiences, who are the primary
consumers of print, TV, and radio political reporting, are fixed in
their positions on the political spectrum and that media coverage
has not been and will not be a factor that changes voting patterns,
particularly among older, experienced voters.

3. Chile has a robust and professional fourth estate. Multiple
national and local media outlets have carried extensive coverage of
the presidential election campaign over the last year, with print
and electronic media playing a key role in providing information
about the candidates and their platforms. During the past year,
the three principal candidates -- Sebastian Pinera, Eduardo Frei,
and Marco-Enriquez-Ominami -- have appeared in news reports and
editorials thousands of times each. Even Communist Party candidate
Jorge Arrate, whose candidacy remains a distant fourth, has been
able to achieve reasonable and non-polemic coverage. Clearly,
while coverage totals have varied from month to month, no single
candidate has dominated the media notably, with the possible
exception of a slight edge for Pinera, which is understandable
given his position as consistent front-runner in the opinion polls.

4. The even-handed coverage of the main presidential candidates is
indicative of a healthy and free press and suggests that, with the
exception of op-eds and other punditry, the Chilean news media do
not have an aggressive agenda to influence votes. While most media
outlets, particularly newspapers, have an editorial position that
favors more conservative status-quo politics and candidates, the
young, media-savvy, left-of-center newcomer Enriquez-Ominami has
been able -- despite controversial positions on issues such as gay
marriage and drug use -- to gain significant positive coverage for
his candidacy, even in more conservative publications. Although
some experienced political observers see darker underlying patterns
in media coverage (for example, hyping the activities of one
candidate during the time of political polling to detract public
attention from another), no media blackout or unfair coverage of
any of the candidates is apparent to most fair-minded observers.

5. The ascent of social media such as Facebook, Flickr, YouTube,
and Twitter as electoral media tools has marked the 2009
Presidential contest. This is an important first for Chile and
reflects the candidates'assessment that the youth vote matters and
they to reach out to first-time voters. In a November article,
noted Chilean journalist and sociologist Arturo Arriagada offered
his analysis of the success of the presidential candidates in
exploiting the new media. According to Arriagada, among the four
social networks studied -- -- Pi????era leads with more than 66,000
followers on Facebook; 22,000 on Twitter; and 162 videos on
YouTube, although Enriquez-Ominami has the highest number of views
on YouTube. Enriquez Ominami is also the frontrunner in Twitter
postings, and the most photos on Flickr. Far behind in their use
of social media are Frei and Arrate, who have not been able to
attract audiences with their online presence. The November 16 TV
debate garnered unexpected interest among users of Twitter in
Chile. Immediately prior to the debate, the debate was among the
top 10 "trending topics" in the country and during the debate
itself, was one four most followed topics. The impact of the
social media on the final outcome remains to be studied but their
entrance into the political arena as a new tool of persuasion is
unlikely to diminish or disappear.

6. Although the perception among informed observers and political
scientists is that the media have little real impact on voting
patterns during the presidential elections, the candidates devote
large amounts of time to organizing public events and making
themselves available to the media for interviews and comment. This
openness and reach for media coverage may, in part, be due to the
unusually strict legal limits on political advertising. No
political advertising is permitted in the mass media until one
month prior to the election. Beginning 30 days prior, all licensed
broadcast television stations are required to air electoral spots
(franjas electorales, produced by the campaigns for their candidate
much in the manner of U.S. electoral advertising). Even the manner
of broadcast of the franjas is carefully controlled and balanced to
prevent any candidate from gaining an advantage and to reduce the
power of money on the purchase of television advertising. For
example, two 20-minute segments of franjas are aired daily at
specified times. One is dedicated to the presidential candidates,
who are each allotted five minutes of air time, and the other to
Congressional candidates. Political advertising on radio and in
print media, meanwhile, is less controlled and may be purchased
like any other advertising, and there are no spending limits once
the 30-day period commences. Still, the paucity of paid political
advertising in print and radio suggests that even media consultants
are dubious about the ability of advertising anywhere to sway
political positions in Chile. In fact, in a November 20 national
poll, nearly half (46 percent) claimed that not even electoral
franjas would not sway their decision for President.

7. COMMENT: In the final weeks before the first round of the
presidential election on December 13, Chilean media continue to
cover the candidates in their respective campaigns but the volume
of reporting has decreased and coverage has a decidedly "tired"
quality to it, perhaps a reflection of the campaigns themselves.
Privately, journalists say that, once the first round of voting
concludes and the two candidates for the second round are known,
there will be a renewed push to do more in-depth reporting on the
contenders. It appears unlikely that, with the exception of the
publicity factor, media coverage or opinion will be significantly
influential on the outcome of the election. Still, with gains from
political advertising so limited, both candidates will feel the
need to maintain highly visible public profiles to keep their faces
and programs before the electorate. In spite of the assessment
that the media is not hugely influential once the voter reaches the
voting booth, no candidate is willing to forego daily coverage, and
the more media exposure, the better. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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