Report by CISEP, FATICA and Fundación Promoción Humana
What is the role of local media in protecting the human rights of communities? What narratives are some media privileging? What strategies are companies and other related actors using to control the dissemination of information? El Centro de Igualdad, Solidaridad, Equidad y Participación (CISEP),la Federación Argentina de Trabajadores de la Industria del Cuero e Afines (FATICA) y la Fundación Promoción Humana realizaron un informe investigativo para identificar la influencia de actores del sector agroindustrial en los medios locales de comunicación de la provincia de Buenos Aires, El Salto.
Fundación Promoción Humana, a member of the ESCR-Net, develops programs linked to sustainable development and the promotion of social inclusion and the elimination of poverty; CISEP is an organization that promotes the defense of economic, social and cultural rights and the defense and promotion of social justice. Together with FATICA, in 2021 the organizations initiated a research project to document the impacts of agribusiness corporations on women’s access to work and the impacts on the environment and health of El Salto’s inhabitants. The agribusiness sector in El Salto has several tools to influence key sectors in the decision-making processes of society, such as academic interference and the construction of narratives to advance the objectives necessary to perpetuate its production model.
As part of this research, the organizations decided to produce a report to analyze and make visible how agribusiness corporations influence the local media to disseminate information that favors the corporations and, on the other hand, not to publish information on environmental degradation and labor rights claims. In addition, the report contributes to the analysis of the factors that have influenced the unemployment and displacement of rural workers in the area.
The organizations carried out a theoretical documentary review and a digital hemerographic review of three of the most relevant local media in the area: “Salto en Red”, “Salto Hoy” and “Salto en la Noticia”. The theoretical review was based on the document “Manifestations of corporate capture” developed by the ESCR-Net, which establishes corporate capture as the ways in which an economic elite transgresses human and environmental rights by unduly influencing policy makers and public institutions.
The research was carried out with respect to the financing that local media receive from agribusiness corporations and the type of media coverage that the media made with respect to events involving the industry in the area. The analysis of media coverage was carried out mainly by identifying sources used, key words and concepts in the articles. The organizations worked together with representatives of the workers, unions, and other actors in the area to establish which were the most relevant media in El Salto.
For the analysis, key concepts related to the issues addressed were selected in order to understand the treatment given to the negative impacts of agroindustrial production and the situation of rural women workers. The first two media had a digital archive and a word search engine; the latter, not having a search engine, required a manual review of the published articles.
Based on the research report, a series of findings can be identified, among which the following stand out:
- There is an asymmetry between the positive visibility given to agribusiness companies and the visibility given to community and worker claims.
- In articles related to issues raised by workers or the community, there is no follow-up of events, assemblies or complaints filed.
- There are no articles that present the perspective of rural workers, unions and their labor rights, even if the media has its own section to deal with union and trade union issues. There is also no mention of conflicts between unions and companies.
- In one of the media there is a news item about high levels of arsenic in the water in a neighboring town, but these problems are not addressed by mentioning the province of El Salto.
- There is no information on the linkage of agribusiness to the improper use of agrochemicals.
- There is no thorough journalistic and media inquiry into environmental rights, labor rights, licenses and technical evaluations.
- A poultry meatpacking company had advertising banners in the media, which reflects the commercial link between the media and the company, and indicates a possible media bias in terms of news coverage related to contamination in the area and workers’ rights.
In addition, this research reaffirms that the influence of corporations on the media is a problem that affects the daily life of communities, that the media can help disseminate a favorable image of companies, and that media independence is key to guaranteeing compliance with democratic principles. In this sense, the media have a key role to play in the protection of human rights and a commitment to rigorous and impartial investigation of issues affecting communities.
From the research conducted by the organizations, some lessons that can be learned for a future replication of this approach:
- This research is linked to a project with clear objectives and its contribution to the project can be clearly articulated. This ensures that the findings will be used.
- It is important to involve the communities that are affected by the problem to be addressed; in this case, the organizations involved unions and workers at different stages of the process.
- Oversight of the media is important to ensure its independence and impartiality. Identifying commercial and economic relationships between the media and private actors that may be violating the rights of communities is key.
- It is important to go beyond what the media publishes and identify which voices are being silenced and what information is missing. Communities have first-hand information of what is happening in their context.