Coronavirus has placed fresh pressures on the news industry in Argentina, one of the biggest media markets in South America. Journalists have provided detailed coverage of the epidemic and lockdowns, but lower revenues left many major news companies dependent on state subsidies.
On the first day of the Coronavirus lockdown in Argentina, the country’s major daily newspapers did something unusual: they put aside partisanship and agreed to run the same front-page headline. On a blue background, the headline read: ‘We will stop this virus together. Let's make responsibility go viral.’ The next few months saw the story grow – in the following six months, six of the ten most popular stories from the websites of La Nación, Clarín, Infobae, and Página/12 were about the pandemic (Zunino and Arcangeletti Yacante 2020). But as deaths increased, and lockdown measures including school closures became increasingly unpopular, coverage became once again more polarised. Outlets generally reverted to type, mirroring their normal pro- or anti-government stances. Clarín, La Nación, and Infobae adopted a more negative tone and Página/12 maintained its alignment with the government. Cable news did the same: TN and La Nación + tended to oppose President Alberto Fernández and his policies, while TV channels C5N and IP generally supported him.
Polarised coverage might explain the relatively low levels of trust in news, which only 36% of respondents find credible, and the high levels of distrust in well-known brands. The Public Broadcasting System, which includes Televisión Pública and Radio Nacional, plays a minor role and does not serve as a trusted source. It is perceived as pro-government, regardless of which party is in power, a result perhaps of the lack of independent funding and oversight.
Despite COVID-19, news consumption in Argentina declined across television, online, social, and print. Lower print circulations led to newspapers either setting up, or tightening, paywalls. Perfil, which publishes print editions at weekends, told readers ‘every day it becomes more difficult for us to sustain structures that allow us to carry out critical, incisive journalism, [which is] by definition expensive’.1 The top-selling print newspapers, Clarín and La Nación, which had launched their paywalls in 2017, reached 300,000 digital subscribers each for the first time. Despite the economic crisis, 15% of respondents reported paying for online news, compared to 11% a year before. Subscriptions to entertainment platforms, such as Netflix and Disney+, also increased. Infobae, the top news brand in weekly usage, remains the only major online news outlet with no paywall or voluntary subscription model.
Loss in print revenue also led news outlets to expand their video strategies. La Nación revamped its cable channel, La Nación +, which had launched in 2016, hiring anchors and journalists and investing in new studios. Perfil, which had set up its own terrestrial television channel in 2018, Net TV, also hired new staff and refreshed its programming. Grupo Octubre, parent company of left-wing daily Página/12, launched another cable news channel, IP. These three new networks join TN (owned by Grupo Clarín), Crónica, C5N, Canal 26, and América 24, making a total of eight news networks in a country of 45 million people. Ratings are low: top-rated TN, which is also the most popular offline brand in this report, had an average daily viewership of less than 200,000. Infobae, rather than investing in its own TV infrastructure, put programmes on YouTube, including a documentary on the last days of Diego Maradona, which reached more than 3 million viewers.
Although the media industry in Argentina has been under economic hardship since the start of the recession in 2018, the pandemic has further complicated matters. The government launched a programme to subsidise salaries across the private sector (ATP, Emergency Assistance to Labor and Production), and several media companies benefited.
A variety of media players – big and small, national and regional – are taking part in Google News Showcase, a programme which gives them prominence in Google News listings and helps them monetise their content. Thirty-one companies are taking part, including Clarín, La Nación, Perfil, and Infobae, and also regional companies such as El Litoral from the Province of Santa Fe. The selected companies include pro- and anti-government media. Smaller media who were not included fear marginalisation, and though it has not been announced how much each player stands to earn from the programme, outlets which were included have publicly expressed their satisfaction with the arrangement.
Eugenia Mitchelstein and Pablo J. Boczkowski
Center for the Study of Media and Society, Argentina (MESO)
News consumption has been decreasing since 2017. In 2020, heightened interest in news at the beginning of the pandemic gave way to fatigue in the final months of the year. Smartphones lost ground as devices for news, while computers stopped their decline.
Pay for online news
Listen to podcast in the last month
Share news via social, messaging or email
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Trust in news in search
Trust in news on social media
Trust in ‘news overall’ and ‘in news I use’ increased to 36% and 47% respectively when compared to the previous year but remained far from their 2018 peak of 41% and 52%. In contrast, trust in news in social media has remained low but stable. High levels of political polarisation affect the media industry in Argentina, with many well-known brands attracting strong levels of distrust.