High level of media concentration threatens freedom of information in Peru, says report from Ojo Público and RSF

In Peru, there is a high level of media concentration that threatens freedom of information in the country, according to a report prepared by Peruvian digital investigative journalism site Ojo Público, in conjunction with the German chapter of the international organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF for its acronym in French).

The concentration of Peruvian media is not only high in terms of total revenues received by the most powerful media groups, but also in terms of ownership, audience in both print and digital, and circulation, the report found.

In this sense, the three media companies that together dominate 84 percent of the Peruvian market are: Grupo El Comercio, ATV and Latina. The first has more than 60 percent of estimated revenue from the media market.

The investigation carried out in Peru is part of the Monitoring the Ownership of Media (MOM) project, which was born as an initiative of RSF Germany, with financial support from the German government. It analyzes the structures of ownership and the legal environment of the media in several countries of the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia.

This was baded on the methodology of the Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF), financed by the European Union.

In Peru, between September and November of 2016, the team analyzed the 40 Peruvian media outlets with the largest audiences (print, digital, TV and radio).

The analysis concluded that 70 percent of annual advertising (print, television and digital, 80 percent of estimated newspaper circulation and 78 percent of newspaper readers in the national market are concentrated in Grupo El Comercio.

“The dangerously dominant market position of Grupo El Comercio surpasses everything we have seen worldwide so far and represents a major threat to media pluralism,” said Christian Mihr, executive director of RSF Alemania in a report press release.

Grupo El Comercio – whose main newspaper El Comercio, known as the dean of the Peruvian press, was founded in 1839 – owns two televisión channels, nine newspapers and 15 digital media sites. This group also has an unprecedented power in the media market, explained Óscar Castilla, executive director of Ojo Público, in a press conference for the project in Lima on Dec. 1.

One of the essential requirements for freedom of expression is plurality of information and of opinions available to the public.

For this reason, the control of the media in a monopolistic or oligopolistic way – and the use of unique sources of information to present a fragmented and a biased view of reality in the political, conomic or social sphere or any other sphere of importance for society – constitutes a serious obstacle to the diffusion of self-thought and puts citizen’s right to information at risk, Castilla said during the press conference.

In addition to confirming the predominance of Grupo El Comercio in the Peruvian market, Ojo Público also reported that the execution of the MOM Peru project revealed the lack of transparency of media groups and scarce regulation by the State.

As for broadcast television, the audience is also concentrated in three large groups: América (whose majority shareholder in Grupo El Comercio, Latina and ATV.

In the radio sector, the same situation of domination in the hands of a few appears to persist. The ten most important radio stations of the country belong to four groups: Corporación Universal, Panamericana de Radios, Grupo RPP and CRP. The last two have seven of the 10 radios in question, according to the study.

According to Ojo Público, unlike the findings of the MOM projects in other countries, in Peru, political parties are not behind the ownership of any private media at the national level. Of the ten media groups investigated, according to the report, six are in the hands of families.

“Although there is no direct political control over the media in Peru, there is a danger to media pluralism stemming from a regulatory vacuum,” Mihr said.

However, the analysis said, shareholders, board members and senior executives of these powerful media groups, especially El Comercio, Latina and ATV, have close ties to various businesses in Peru, which endangers the independent of the media.

Ojo Público explained that although the Political Constitution of Peru prohibits monopoly and hoarding of media outlets, there is little regulation that implements it. The terms of ownership are only defined for the television and radio sectors, it said.

“Ojo Público, base don MOM data, built a series of investigative articles on “Owners of the News in Peru,” Castilla told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

In this regard, Castilla said Ojo Público communicated with the jouranlistic director of El Comercio Fernando Berckemeyer and with the group’s managers. At the close of editing the articles of the aforementioned series, he added, the respondents preferred not to respond to specific questions related to their economic income, the identify of their 168 shareholders, their companies abroad, their participation in the Lima Stock Exchange and their advertisers.

In some cases, they claimed they did not respond to Ojo Público because they were dealing with confidenciality issues. Castila reported that El Comercio only provided figures on the circulation of some of their newspapers.

The other groups, ATV and Latina, as well as the rest of the media studied, did nto answer any questions, with the exception of newspaper La República, who accepted and interview with its director and executives, Castilla said.

In an editorial column published on Oct. 24, 2013, newspaper El Comercio made the first statement about the controversial association of its business group with group Epensa, which led to its dominance in the Peruvian media market.

Regarding the market dominance of Grupo El Comercio, it said that this is due to the fact that in recent years, the group has been able to develop innovative products (mentioning tabloids Trome, Perú21, Depor). The consumer has made them undisputed leaders of their respective segments, the paper said with regards to its editorial products.

“Grupo El Comercio has its current position only because of the work and grace of consumer choice, which can “concéntrate” or “deconcentrate” as it wishes, any day,” the editorial said.

Eleven years ago, the group El Comercio had only 10 percent of the print market and 50 percent of it before the association with Epensa, the editorial said regarding the criticism about its “hoarding” of national media and current leadership in the market.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.