Don's diary: Conversations to counter media corruption

March 21, 2003

Miraflores, Lima. Peru is struggling with the legacy of ex-president Alberto Fujimori's authoritarian regime. Manipulation and corruption of the media were rampant. The country has unregulated broadcasting, no concept of public service, concentrated media ownership and no content criteria for the awarding of licences to run radio and television stations. It is a key moment because a reform law is before the Congress.

I am here, with others, to put broadcast regulation on the public agenda. Just the right week to arrive: two years ago, the country watched as the video-taped bribe sessions of Vladimiro Montesinos, ex-head of the SIN (the aptly-named spook agency), were broadcast. This week, his trial begins with kiss-and-tell by pillow-talker Jacqueline.

Three days of "conversations" have been organised by University of Lima professors Rosa Maria Alfaro and José Perla Anaya. They are passionate about media reform and have supported their case with impressive research.

The British Council is a key sponsor. My fellow conversationalists are Colombian TV regulator Fernando Calero, Chilean media analyst Valerio Fuenzalida and Oxford-based Argentinian lawyer Danilo Leonardi.

We meet a dozen congressmen. They listen, and ask: "Can TV's output really be of public interest in a mainly private system? Is independent regulation actually possible in Peru?" I lunch with congressman Javier Diez Conseco, a target for assassins. He gives me his report on the "economic crimes" of the Fujimori years.

We meet the key TV entrepreneurs (their first time in one room together). Some are sceptical about reform. Others think regulation will be abused by the state. But all agree that television lacks credibility and quality and needs serious finance. They are suspicious of international capital and worried about losing control, and talk about forming a lobby.

Meetings come and go - journalists, civil society groups and members of the public. At least the blether is regularly interrupted by delicious Peruvian cuisine and the obligatory vino de honor . We close at last. Our hosts believe we have made an impact.

José Perla invites me for breakfast at the Club Regatta overlooking the costa verde. We talk about our work and lives. For dinner, I join Walter Neira, editor of Lima-based communications journal Diálogos , which has published my work, in a stylish San Isidro restaurant. War talk infiltrates dinner conversation. Can I explain Tony Blair's thinking on Iraq? I try manfully.

I visit the crypt of Santo Domingo. Nothing like an ossuary to give you an appetite for life! Lima's city centre is stressful. Peru has gone from the insecurity of terrorism to rampant theft and robbery. Private homes are like fortresses and you have to keep your wits about you on the street.

In the evening, I take coffee with Rafael Roncagliolo, an old pal who runs a "good governance" organisation. He is working for a democratic multi-party pact. Then on to dinner with Moises Lemlij, psychoanalyst and anthropologist, and his wife Mimi. Dine on an old pier.

Pacific waves gleam in the moonlight. I have rarely met such charm coupled with profound courtesy as in Lima. I'll be back if I can.

Philip Schlesinger is professor and director of the Stirling Media Research Institute, University of Stirling.

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