Allende's Influence on the Media Environment

At the outset of Allende’s rise to power, the Chilean media environment was anything but stable. Allende could count on five daily newspapers to support him. The Chilean government owned La Nation, which supported whomever was in power (Buckman, 1996). The Communist party owned and operated El Siglo and Ultime Hora was owned by Allende’s Socialist party. In addition, two sensationalistic tabloids, Clain and Puro Chile supported the Allende regime. Each of these media outlets was extremely leftist in their presentation of the news and served primarily to communicate the official voice of the government and to engender support for the government from the citizenry.

Chile also boasted several media outlets that doggedly opposed the governmental status quo. Among the daily newspapers, El Mercurio and La Sugunda consistently challenged the interpretation of news events from the papers supporting the Allende regime. In addition, several sensationalistic tabloids, most notably PEC and Sepa resorted to personal attacks against Allende himself, portraying the president as a drunkard and a womanizer (Buckman, 1996).

Allende’s first action against the freedom of the Chilean press took place one week after he was placed in office. Establishing a commission to study press violations that that seemed destined to result in the expropriation of El Mercurio, Allende put political pressure on the paper’s chairman, Augustín Edward. One day after the official announcement, Edward resigned and disappeared into self-imposed exile (Brett, 1998). Four months later, Allende explained that the threat of expropriation had been a misunderstanding.

However, this event was merely the beginning of the persecution of El Mercurio by Allende. In early 1971, government tax inspectors raided the paper’s offices, looking for proof to their claims that the paper owed several thousand dollars in back taxes (Brett, 1998). Later that same year, the government police raided the paper’s offices looking for illegal arms. Although these charges were also eventually dropped, Allende continued to use various branches of his government to harass the paper’s personnel.

Frustrated by his inability to silence his most prominent opposition, Allende next attacked the newspaper industry as a whole. In order to gain economic control over the press, Allende’s government sought to nationalize the newspaper industry (Sobel, 1981). During this period in Chile’s media history, only one company produced newsprint for all the outlets in Chile: the Paper and Carton Manufacturing Company owned by Arturo Alessandri (Sobel, 1981). Alessandri, Allende’s former political opponent, blocked Allende’s attempt to control the country’s paper supply. This action caused Allende to respond by raising the prices of raw paper supplies while freezing the prices of finished paper goods, an obvious attempt to bankrupt the company (Sobel, 1981).

However, Alessandri held out, losing more than $30 million in the process. By the time the government was ready to acquire the company legally, those in opposition to Allende had rallied to form the Freedom Fund to keep the supply of paper free from government control (Sobel, 1981).

With his ambitions of industry control now defunct, Allende resumed his legal persecution of the press outlets that opposed him. Often following the appearance of a particularly scathing criticism of the government in print, the government would file a lawsuit against the offending paper and jail the owners or editors (Buckman, 1996). At times, the government would resort to prior restraint censorship, blocking articles it found "offensive."

However, all of Allende’s efforts to legally control the press ultimately failed. Particularly unsuccessful were the financial tactics imposed by Allende’s courts, partially due to external funding from the U.S. According to the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, the CIA disbursed more than $12 million on press intervention between 1963 and 1973 (Covert Action in Chile, 1975).




Allende's Influence on the Media Environment

Pinochet's Influence on the Media Environment

The Chilean Press Under Civilian Democracy

Reference List

©2000 Richard Stevens, All Rights Reserved.
Check out Rick's Other Work.