The combination of the pandemic, political instability, and protests has severely affected the media in Peru. Significant job losses throughout the country, and a record number of journalists killed by COVID-19, point to a difficult recovery.
Faced with one of the strictest lockdowns in South America, newspapers stopped printing and it was months before many of them returned to the streets. The fall in advertising has meant that some important papers, such as La República, have been slow to return to full printed daily editions.
The National Association of Journalists (ANP) reported more than 500 layoffs as of October 20201 and other estimates, based on tax records, suggest that number – including all related media positions – could reach 2,000. Many jobs are not expected to return after the pandemic. The El Comercio Group, the most dominant news operation in the country, led with 300 layoffs, including 100 journalists, followed by La República Group with 50 layoffs. Both groups and others have fired most of their correspondents in the interior regions. El Comercio Group also closed the free newspaper Publimetro and ended the print edition of El Bocón, a 26-year-old sports newspaper.
In addition, ANP recorded 135 journalists killed by COVID-19 in 2020,2 one of the largest numbers of journalist deaths in the world. Most of them (80%) lived outside the capital, Lima, demonstrating the precariousness of the working conditions of journalists, who often operate independently. Regional and local radio and TV stations reported losing income for advertising3 and cut programming time and staff, and temporarily or permanently closed some operations. Regional broadcasters did not benefit from government stimulus programmes, unlike the large media groups, but were able to get some relief by taking part in ‘Aprendo en Casa’ a state-run home-schooling initiative. Election advertising has also helped some publishers, but it provides temporary relief that might not be enough to save some media operating in remote areas.
There were also high numbers of attacks on the press. The most prominent ones were recorded during street protests in November following the removal of President Martín Vizcarra by Congress, and the subsequent swearing in of Manuel Merino, the head of Congress. More than 40 journalists reported physical attacks and detentions, mostly by police forces who are also considered responsible for the death of two protesters. After a week of protests, peace was restored after Merino’s resignation and the installation of an interim government led by Francisco Sagasti.
Young people are credited with the success of the demonstrations, even though they were not previously politically organised. Live video was shared on social platforms including, for one of the first times in a protest, on TikTok, where influencers with more than 1,000 followers were able to stream live. There were tutorials shared on social media on how to neutralise the effects of tear gas, and videos sharing the location of medical and nursing students offering first aid and law students offering legal help. Several traditional and digital media operations also joined the platform, and Peru now ranks fourth among the countries in this survey for TikTok usage – 26% of participants use it for any purpose and 7% specifically for finding, sharing, or consuming news.
As in many other countries, access to news via the digital media is consolidating. Among those surveyed, social media is the most popular way to access news (70%), higher than both TV (63%) and print (28%). Smartphones were the main way of accessing the news – with 80% weekly use. Digital versions of traditional newspapers, such as El Comercio and La República, are still leaders in online readership, but they are being challenged by digital offerings of radio stations – especially RPP News which also ranks higher in trust – and digital-native news outlets. Investigative sites IDL-Reporteros and the member-funded OjoPúblico appeared in the top 15 outlets ranking in trust and readership.
The decline in traditional broadcasting increases the risk of news deserts developing, especially in interior areas which relied heavily on local media for information about the Coronavirus and politics. Though digital outlets informally report large rises in audiences, relatively low internet penetration in Peru (68%) means access will not be shared universally.
Lourdes M. Cueva Chacón
San Diego State University
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Four out of ten respondents trust the news overall, slightly higher for sources people use themselves. State-run media – El Peruano (newspaper) and TV Perú News – rank highly for trust – even though the government itself is not often trusted. The need to access official information during the pandemic could explain this phenomenon.