How better journalism, media defend democracy from polarization and disinformation


“Just as El Salvador sees what’s to come when looking at Nicaragua, Nicaraguans saw it in Venezuela.” Journalism and independent media are in the front lines of defending democracy at a time of acute polarization and disinformation in Latin America, writes Silvia Higuera of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. 

The situation in El Salvador seems like a copy of the Nicaraguan reality, with one major difference – the “loss of the democratic and constitutional order” that in Nicaragua happened over a decade, in El Salvador took only two years, said César Fagoaga, general manager of Revista Factum. It transpired over distinct phases, he told a Knight Foundation webinar* “Journalism in Times of Polarization and Disinformation in Latin America” (above):

  • The first one was through a discourse of hate and the creation of enemies “to cover their own failings”…..
  • The second phase has to do with systematic blocking of information. In El Salvador, he said, no interview can take place which has not been approved by the presidency.
  • The third phase is the use of State institutions to attack media and journalists….. All this took a turn for the worse when, on May 1, the National Assembly annulled the Supreme Court of Justice to install new judges, many of them allied with the Executive. “This broke the constitutional order”…..
  • Following this break, comes the final stage, which involves “gagging and quashing the media and journalists,” he said. He believes we’re seeing the first signs, given that the authorities have started talking about the need to regulate the media, right after “journalistic investigations revealed the corruption of the [Nayib] Bukele administration.”

Credit: CIMA

Social media platforms are having profound impacts on the practice of journalism, which now involves a complex interplay of technologies, journalistic routines, and media economies, analysts Noah Amir Arjomand and Ali Ghazinejad observe. Yet, these impacts are neither static nor uniform across news organizations. The ever-changing economic realities, political contexts, and digital infrastructures that journalists navigate all shape how they use social media as newsgathering tools, they write in Twitter as a Newsgathering Tool: Challenges and Possibilities for Independent Media, a new report from the Center for International Media Assistance. The differences between the experiences at Mexico City’s Noticias.Mx and Venezuela’s Informaciones.Ve illustrate how the impact of social media on journalism practice can vary greatly in different contexts. RTWT

The most serious problem in Honduras is the co-opting of the justice system by the Executive, which in the last instance is used as a “weapon against journalists,” said Jennifer Ávila, co-founder of the digital outlet Contracorriente, [a recent recipient of the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2021 award]. Just as El Salvador sees what’s to come when looking at Nicaragua, Nicaraguans saw it in Venezuela, said Cindy Regidor of Confidencial. But Nicaragua’s journalists will not give up, she told the Knight Foundation seminar.

*The webinar “Journalism in Times of Polarization and Disinformation in Latin America,” also featured the panels “Disinformation: How Journalism has Reacted to Waves of Disinformation” and “Polarization: Challenges for journalists who become targets in polarized societies.” Video recordings of the webinar are available in Spanish and Portuguese.

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