In a country like Peru, the communication media plays a crucial role in reflecting the values and behavior of the people. Just following the rise and fall of publications can tell much about the body politic and the national leaders. For information on my own experience working as a journalist in Peru, check out my reporting and Confessions of a Stringer . Also see the Freedom Forum's Press, Power and Politics: Peru 2000 by Corinne Schmidt.
Caretas newsmagazine: This weekly has traditionally practiced the best journalism in the country. The owner, Enrique Zileri, is a hybrid of flamboyant legend and U.S.-educated, hard-nosed journalist that has flourished in Peru despite picking fights with military governments and a Nisei strongman. As any journalist who has shared his table and conversation knows -- and almost any correspondent worth his salt makes a courtesy call to Enrique -- he is generous host and great for a quote to put a story in context.
I wrote an article for him, about a U.S. agronomist who developed new breeds of rice for the Peruvian jungle. It was one of my goals to finish out my tenure as a Peru-based journalist. I never got paid for it, but I was never turned away when I needed a photograph to go with a story that I filed to a newspaper or magazine.
Back in the mid-1980s, Caretas imitated Time by naming a Man of the Year in the year-end issue of the magazine. At the time, it looked as if President Alan Garcia would have a lock on the honor for his whole term -- if not longer -- because of Garcia's obsession with dominating the political scene. I suggested to Enrique that he should shift the emphasis away from the big news-maker to the innovative personalities that abound in Peru, the pioneers and trend setters. He accepted my idea and has since sought out interesting innovators and achievers to recognize each year.
La República daily newspaper: Rather sensationalist for U. S. tastes but still does some good work. I worked with this paper when they were just starting up in 1983 and turned the newspaper business on its ears by selling more than 100,000 copies a day.
When La República started up in 1982, Peruvian journalism was still living in the aftermath of six years of military micromanagement of all the major media. Journalists had acquired the mental habits of parametraje (self-censorship). I came on board in 1983 and was teamed with journalist-cum-gadfly Mirko Lauer to write a political column. We took a reporter's copy of a news event and turned it into a feature-like story, providing background, color and context. Copy that simply repeated the quotes of state ministers coming out of the presidential palace were turned into a good read. We soon discovered that reporters did not want to see their copy reworked. Instead, they went to the trouble of beefing up the quality of their own text so that it would not get routed for reworking by the Lauer-Smith duo. I don't mean to imply that this revolutionize Peruvian journalism because it would have happened anyways, but it is enlightening about how a news room works. By the way, Mirko now writes a good column for La República and is often heard on NPR because of his flawless English and deep baritone voice.
Columbia Journalism Review's Dispatches from a Forgotten Front Peru Commando-style Journalism focuses on the investigative unit at La República. The article was written by Robin Kirk, a journalist with lots of experience in Peru.
El Comercio sees itself as the "Grey Lady" of Peruvian journalism. As the primary medium for print advertising and want-ads, good journalism has usually taken a second place. Even when it was run by a military government in the late 1970s, its darkest era, it was still the most widely read newspaper in the country. As the saving grace of the publications, it has played a key role on environmental issues, which have always receives little attention in Peru.
These three publications were recently commended for their stand in defense of freedom during the Fujimori regime.
Peru 21 is a young daily tabloid that's trying to introduce a more intelligent tone to news coverage and analysis.
One of the most telling remarks I heard about Peruvian television was that for the TV station owners the perfect setup would be a transmission tower with a VCR attached at the bottom. That way they could easily broadcast the canned programs and commercials without the need of dealing with the messy work of producing news and other local content programs.
See my remarks about Peruvian football to understand some of the integrating impact of television.
News coverage tends to revolve around magazine-format programs, modeled after 60 Minutes. The oldest on is Panorama , which appears on Sunday evenings. Another take on the format relies on strong personalities, like Cesar Hildebrandt.
Radio was the first alternative media, just as the Internet is now in a broader sense. Back in the 1970s and 80s, radio provided an inexpensive way of reaching the dispossessed, whether they be shantytown residents or peasants in the fields. The Catholic Church was especially important in providing radio news to rural Peru about national events. Transistor radios became standard issue for Andean peasants. They could listen to their programs broadcast in Quechua or Ayamara at 5 in the morning as they walked out to the fields. See Don Moore's Radio in Peru for a fascinating introduction to this shortwave activity. Also see the rest of Patepluma for other information.
The other explosion occurred in the 1980s when Radioprogramas del Peru began broadcasting events live, usually with a reporter panting into a cell phone. This shift was a revolution in news coverage. PROs: immediate awareness of events. CONs: breathless accounts of bombings, shootings and other events without any perspective of how events fit into the context of Peruvian affairs. What I hated most was when a reporter sticking a microphone in the face of the berieved widow of a labor leader, for instance, and asking "How do you feel?"
The news agencies and correspondents play a key role in keeping tabs on events in Peru. I worked as a reporter and correspondent for 12 years in Peru. Several of the colleagues that I met then are still working there. Check out the Foreign Press Association of Peru (APEP). It has useful links, a directory of working foreign journalists in Peru and samples of members' stories. I was an APEP member for eight years and served on their board for five years. It is a unique and valuable institution. Check out my homage to the organization.
APEP also strives to keep the government in power honest in its attempts to control international news coverage. The police and the military often distrusts outsiders probing into their conduct, especially during the times when guerrilla activity was hot. I never felt any direct pressure from governments. I know that President Fernando Belaunde did not like some of my coverage, but he never did anything to affect my stories, aside from giving me some stern lectures. His successor, Alan Garcia, did try to charm me -- and others in the foreign press corps -- but did not step over the line when times got tough for him. Other reporters did get visits from the plain clothes police -- the PIP. On the street, there were always brushes with riot police and anti-terrorism units, but that was standard fair that most reporters accept.