During the year 2021, faced with a pandemic context, we participated in the first Public Hearings of the Public Defender’s Office in virtual mode, through a videoconference platform and, at the beginning of this year, the reports resulting from the process were published.
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Communication during the pandemic
The Public Hearings of the Public Defender’s Office have been held every year since 2013, with the exception of the 2019-2020 period, fulfilling the mandate of the Audiovisual Communication Services Law to evaluate the functioning of the body through citizen participation.
The theme that governed the conversations of the last Hearing was “The media and information in the pandemic”. The meetings that were held were of the utmost importance since it was an issue that has affected not only the country but also the world in a transversal way. Approaching communication from a rights and gender approach implies conceiving all citizens as subjects of law and commits the State to guarantee their participation and incidence in political decisions. This becomes urgent in a context in which information is a fundamental human right for survival, which is why this Hearing allowed the Public Defender’s Office to internalize the needs and claims of the different actors in society regarding this issue. and all those who touch us as communicational citizens.
The thematic axes that were debated were: right to communication and Law 26,522 of Audiovisual Communication Services; access to audiovisual communication services in coverage of the pandemic; information and disinformation in the audiovisual media about the Covid-19 pandemic; specific considerations in the audiovisual coverage of the pandemic on historically marginalized sectors; State and public communication policies linked to the operation of audiovisual communication services in a pandemic; situation of the workers of the press, regulation and organization of work; proposals, suggestions and requests addressed to the Public Defender’s Office in relation to audiovisual media in a pandemic.
Organized by regions, the first virtual audience was that of the Central Region, which includes the provinces of Córdoba, Santa Fé and Entre Ríos, divided into two days due to the large call. Through the participation of Mayca Balaguer, coordinator of the areas of Legal Affairs and Gender and Sexual Diversity, we participated in this Public Hearing contributing from a human rights and gender perspective.
In reference to the aspects that we consider positive and negative in the media coverage of the pandemic, we highlight that the media served and had a fundamental role as a channel for transmitting information related to Covid-19 and health measures. However, we express our concern about some cases of fake news, disinformation and even bad examples.
Likewise, regarding media and symbolic gender violence, we state that during the pandemic we observed that in many cases the media reinforced gender stereotypes, fundamentally through a strong stigmatization of fat bodies, motivated by changes in habits in diet and sedentary lifestyle caused by isolation. Far from promoting healthy habits in a way that respects body diversity, we noticed that many media outlets fell into fat-phobic and stereotyping discourses.
Regarding the role of the State, we highlight the need to develop visibility strategies for alternative, self-managed, community media from different parts of the country, which are dedicated to reporting from the territories. We believe that the contribution of these media is key to recovering the voices and perspectives of non-hegemonic sectors from a perspective that respects human rights, especially those that are made up of women and dissidents, people with disabilities, racialized, fat, etc. At this point, a more equitable distribution of the official guideline may be a key factor in sustaining these media, which, due to the socioeconomic consequences derived from social isolation, may cease to exist, fueling the monopolization of information in the hands of hegemonic media.
The importance of citizen participation in communication policies
The Public Defender’s Office’s main objective is to promote and guarantee the rights of audiences in pursuit of democratic communication throughout the country. To achieve this, it holds public hearings that seek to actively participate and involve citizens in decision-making so that these are made in a transparent manner and, ultimately, a more informed and participatory society is generated that has access to its right to communication.
In these public hearings, they function as a mechanism for the State to carry out an updated diagnosis on the operation of the audiovisual media, recovering different points of view, opinions, experiences and studies provided by citizens. This makes it possible to inform, design and implement public policies aimed at the recognition and exercise of the rights of the audience.
For this reason, we celebrate this space for citizen participation in which we participate, since it is essential to guarantee equal access to information and to expand the diversity of voices in the government decision-making process. This promotes the construction of informed, inclusive, more democratic, fair and equitable public policies that incorporate a rights approach.
Cecilia Bustos Moreschi, email@example.com