Once again, on June 25, Argentineans had to watch President Cristina Kirchner address the country on national television. It was the 26th time Kirchner issued one of her mandatory broadcasts this year.
During her 40-minute speech in Santa Rosa, La Pampa, before an auditorium packed with energetic supporters (mainly from the populist youth movement La Cámpora), she announced public works and improvements at a couple of local hospitals.
General elections will take place in October, so it was no surprise to see the most prominent candidates of the ruling party sitting alongside her: Daniel Scioli and Carlos Zannini (running for president and vice president), and Julián Domínguez and Aníbal Fernández (candidates for governor of Buenos Aires). Kirchner requested a round of applause for them all, and the public obliged.
The opposition has rightly and harshly criticized Kirchner’s use of the national television network, insisting that she not only makes extensive use of it, but an inappropriate and even illegal one: political campaigning. This time was no exception.
Political Attacks without Shame
Kirchner went on to discredit opposition candidates Mauricio Macri and Horario Rodríguez Larreta from the conservative Republican Proposal (PRO) party, claiming “you cannot govern a country with lies and balloons” (balloons being the campaign symbol of PRO candidates). She also criticized Martín Lousteau, Buenos Aires mayoral candidate with the progressive ECO party.
“Our compatriots know what happened in 2008 with resolution 125 [when Lousteau was economy minister] and how we almost sank because of a miscalculation,” she asserted.
“It doesn’t matter, we are not going to offend anyone, but we like people who admit their mistakes, because we admit our mistakes, and we expect them to do the same,” she added. Hers was a clear reference to former Minister Lousteau, who left the position in the middle of a serious conflict with the powerful farming industry.
Kirchner the Innovator
University professor Gastón Cingolani has studied the use of presidential televised addresses in his paper “Mediatization of the presidential figure: spaces, strategies, and transitions.” He presents an analysis of how presidents before and after Kirchner utilized this tool, taking into consideration three main aspects: the quantity of broadcasts, the setting and camera angles, and the tone of the speakers.
He noticed a change when Cristina Kirchner took power. She has emitted the mandatory broadcasts more than any other president in the history of Argentina.
Furthermore, prior to Cristina Kirchner, the tone of presidents used to be a thoroughly planned and calm one. She broke this pattern, innovating with emphatic and sometimes exaggerated speeches.
Instead of choosing typical formal settings such as the Pink House and the Olivos presidential residence, she uses clubs, private residences, and theaters to broadcast her speeches.
Finally, and most importantly, Cingolani claims the most striking difference from previous presidents is the varied camera angles: instead of the typical close-up to the face of the president.
Néstor Kirchner, Cristina’s late husband and former president, used the televised addresses in a completely different fashion. In fact, he used them only twice: in 2003, to ask for the resignation of Supreme Court judges, and in 2006, after the disappearance of a key witness in a trial over dictatorship-era crimes. On the whole, he spoke for a quarter of an hour.
In a marked contrast, she has used the national television network 123 times and spoke for more than 80 hours.
According to measuring by Cadenómetro, in 2014 Nicolás Maduro made use of the national television network 163 times and he spoke for over 174 hours.
But the true Latin-American king of televised addresses is Rafael Correa, according to NGO Fundamedios: from 2007 to 2013, the Ecuadorian president used the national television network 2,181 times, including 55 uninterrupted days on the air.
Gerardo Milman, a representative for the opposition camp at the Federal Authority of Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA), introduced a preventive measure in May to try to limit President Kirchner’s abuse.
The official response came fast and clear. Martín Sabbatella, director of AFSCA, argued Kirchner was not guilty of any wrongdoing, “because in all the cases she uses it to give important information to the citizens. That is established in article 75 of the Audiovisual Communication Services Law.”
However, the legislation says the executive can only broadcast on national television “in exceptional situations, or in cases of institutional relevance.” Opposition parties claim Cristina Kirchner has completely disregarded this rule, and particularly so in 2015, just in time for the upcoming elections.