Freedom of expression is not something that can be bought and sold


El Comercio has been throwing around the term ‘threat to freedom of expression’ with abandon in recent weeks. Every criticism of El Comercio, it seems, is a threat to freedom of expression. El Comercio seems to think that freedom of expression is something with a price. US$17.2 million, to be exact.

The media giant recently bought a majority share in one of its biggest competitors, EPENSA, giving it control over 77% of the Peruvian newspaper market. The media company says that EPENSA will have autonomy to act as an independent media group, but the other newspapers affiliated with El Comercio don’t seem to have this right, evidenced by the lack of reporting on what is a huge issue and big news. No other media outlet, apart from El Comercio, La República, and magazine Caretas, seems to have much to say about El Comercio’s gradual takeover of the Peruvian media.

Which could have something to do with the fact that El Comercio owns most of the other newspapers. The other newspapers affiliated with El Comercio are remaining for the most part silent on the entire issue. Their silence almost makes one think that they’ve not been given permission to report it. It could be that EPENSA will remain independent, like El Comercio promises will happen, but what’s more likely to happen is that it will become just another voice for El Comercio, just another country in its ever growing empire. The concern is that EPENSA will be yet another arm of El Comercio, meaning that El Comercio now effectively owns Peruvian print media.

El Comercio’s usual impartial and informative reporting style changes dramatically when reporting on itself. Instead of restricting comment to editorials, El Comercio reports this subject, an apparently very sore subject, in such a subjective manner that it becomes harder to trust the rest of the newspaper’s reporting.

La Republica is fiercely decrying El Comercio’s actions using the very same accusation that El Comercio is levelling at all its detractors and saying that they in fact are going against freedom of expression by monopolising the press. Thing is, La Republica tried to do the same thing. Had been trying, in fact, since the beginning of 2013. Their cries of ‘unfair’ sound less like a battle cry/call to justice and more like the sulks.

Caretas writes, “The controversy around concentration of the media does not have precedents in Latin America. The emphatic declarations of President Ollanta Humala against the concentration of the medias added ‘aji’ to the controversy.”

El Comercio, it seems, wants to become the voice of Peru. The only voice in Peru. And it’s getting dangerously close to having that wish granted.El Comercio’s quest to own the Peruvian print media is setting a dangerous precedent.