Media group El Comercio to control 78% of Peru’s newspaper market

Following the purchase of 54% of the shares of the printing and marketing branch of Empresa Periodística Nacional S.A. ( Epensa in Spanish), publishing company El Comercio has become the largest media owner in the country. Will the move have an impact on journalism and freedom of expression in Peru?

According to El Comercio, the group’s more traditional newspaper group founded in 1839, the shares were purchased for $17.2 million and the agreement stipulates that Grupo Agois Bachero (Epensa’s original owners) will retain control over the editorial line of Epensa’s four dailies (Ojo, Correo, El Bocón and Aja).

The negotiations came amid family tensions between the former owners of Epensa and an attempt by Grupo La República to acquire the shares of Epensa, Velaverde magazine reported.

Prior to the deal, La República reported, Grupo El Comercio (which includes the daily El Comercio, Perú21, Trome, Depor and several magazines) dominated 49.3% of national newspaper sales and was already the most powerful media company the country. Grupo El Comercio was followed by Epensa with 28.56% and La República with 16.39%. By acquiring the 54% stake in Epensa, El Comercio Group will now control 77.86% of the newspaper market.

According to La República, the deal will lead to "a very high concentration in the sale and marketing of newspapers, which would be contrary to the country’s constitutional order and that seriously affects the print media market in the country."

For journalist Gustavo Gorriti, director of the investigative publication IDL-Reporteros, “a dominant and virtually monopolistic position on the market inevitably affects the diversity of information and the plurality of views that enrich and strengthen democracy."

"If the dominant group distinguished itself for practicing a journalism of excellence, the negative weight of the monopoly could be mitigated from within," Gorriti said. "However, I’m sorry to say that neither of the two groups that have merged together, Epensa or El Comercio, is the Spanish equivalent of the New York Times. Both groups produce flat and biased journalism; some prominent characters in both groups were also linked to the Fujimori -Montesinos dictatorship."

Journalist and analyst Fernando Rospigliosi, with e360, also said that the deal represents a problem that could impact democracy and freedom of the press by limiting the pluralism of information.

However, for analyst José Alejandro Godoy, who was quoted in Diario 16, the transaction "is a subjective topic." Godoy said the agreement is not a crime. The law prohibits monopolization but there isn’t specific legislation on media concentration.

What’s more ironic, journalist Juan Luis Nugent says: "The only good thing about this move is that it’s going to be very difficult to continue hearing that falacy about the self-regulation of the media. You can’t be so shameless, can you?"

"I do not think freedom of expression will be affected but media concentration is a problem," said journalist and blogger Marco Sifuentes. "The media end up mediating just one sector, which hegemonic corporations do represent. Other sectors are left without an outlet through which they can reach the general public. That will finally alienate those people who are not represented by the mass media, which will be seen as distant. Thus, traditional journalism will accentuate its disconnection from the people."

"In Peru we saw in the last elections the cost it represents for a fair electoral process to have media outlets taking sides," said political scientist Eduardo Dargent. "For Grupo El Comercio this problem was pretty clear, especially in the second round (of voting). The cost for objectivity and pluralism grows when there’s a greater concentration of ownership in the media."

El Comercio and its recent political coverage

During the second round of voting during the 2011 presidential elections, El Comercio took a clear position in support of candidate Keiko Fujimori.

El Comercio’s coverage was so biased that even famed writer and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa canceled his collaborations with the newspaper.

During the campaign, journalists from Grupo El Comercio’s Channel N were fired for allegedly not aligning with the company’s support for Fujimori.

In magazine Caretas, journalist Gustavo Gorriti denounced that El Comercio’s position had more to do with the presence of director Martha Meier in the newspaper, who was nominated to parliament in 2000 by Fujimori’s party.

After the elections, "Prensa Libre," one of the most watched and credible news programs in the country broadcasted by América Televisión (a TV channel where Grupo El Comercio is the majority shareholder), was canceled. "We believe that by cancelling Palacios’ program [the show’s TV host], América Televisión has retaliated against it for having maintained its editorial independence during the recent general elections," the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) said at that time.

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.

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