“Blim and Chill”: Telenovelas and Class Ideologies in the Online Streaming Wars
Juan Llamas-Rodriguez / University of California, Santa Barbara


Netflix crying over losing telenovelas to Televisa’s Blim.

In February 2016, Mexican broadcasting giant Televisa announced its streaming service Blim, the company’s attempt to compete in the country’s online streaming ecosystem. The new platform created another competitor to existing services such as HBO Go, ClaroVideo, and Netflix Mexico. It also meant that, starting on October 1st, Netflix would lose the licenses to Televisa’s catalog, which had been key to the platform’s control of 39% of the Mexican video-on-demand (VOD) market share. While Blim would capitalize on Televisa’s decades-old slate of programming, the loss could prove significant for Netflix’s success in the second largest VOD market in Latin America. The U.S.-based streaming platform did not let the event go unnoticed.

In the lead up to the removal of Televisa’s series from its service, Netflix ran online video spots mocking the new venture. In one, a young man cries in front of the television because his favorite series has been removed from Netflix. A friend comes in to comfort him and asks what series is gone. Is it Orange is the New Black? Breaking Bad? Narcos? The sobbing man finally admits that it is Rebelde (2004–2006), the popular Mexican teen telenovela that launched the careers of its six protagonists and their music group RBD. (( Josh Kun, “We Are a Band, and We Play One on TV,” New York Times (July 9, 2006), http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/09/arts/music/09kun.html )) The friend’s reaction betrays the expected response from the audience: who cares if Rebelde is gone when the aforementioned series are still there? By mocking a fictional consumer who relied on Netflix to watch his teen telenovela, the U.S. company disavows this type of user and preemptively mocks their departure from the service.

Netflix’s promotional spot mocking the new streaming platform Blim.

Noteworthy in this advertisement is the inclusion of Breaking Bad along with Netflix’s original series, implicitly attaching the AMC show to the streaming platform’s own brand. While U.S. broadcast networks have succeeded in maintaining their brand markers on the shows they license to Netflix, this is not the case in Latin America. Moreover, when announcing that a new show is streaming on the platform, the Netflix social media team superimposes its logo or the iconic “N” to a screengrab from the show. With this two-step approach, evidence of a show’s original network disappears in favor of a homogeneous Netflix brand effort. A series on Netflix can readily become known as a Netflix series.


Netflix Latin America re-branding The Vampire Diaries in its social media promotion.

At the same time, the video spot does the work of demarcating a “quality” differential between Netflix’s and Blim’s streaming library. The female friend lists only shows that have come to be considered part of the contemporary “Quality TV” cannon as representative of the selection that Netflix’s library will retain. The male consumer’s complaint, in contrast, emphasizes the type of undesirable content that Netflix (purportedly) does not mind losing: telenovelas, a television genre often derided as feminine and in poor taste. As Michael Newman and Elana Levine have argued, the cultural legitimation of television continuously depends on the establishment of taste hierarchies that distinguish good from bad in terms of class and gender. ((Michael Z. Newman and Elana Levine, Legitimating Television: Media Convergence and Cultural Status. New York: Routledge, 2011. )) This tendency remains in the arena of online streaming. Given the ways Netflix re-brands its catalog for Latin America, the rhetorical move pursued by the American streaming platform in these video spots transfers the discourse of “quality” from television shows to streaming platforms.

A second promotional spot emphasizes this point. It features a montage of close-ups of women from Televisa’s telenovelas as they cry profusely and in an exaggerated manner. Over these shots appear the phrases Es difícil decir adiós. Muchos las extrañarán. Otros no tanto. [It is hard to say goodbye. Many will miss them. Others, not so much.] This second spot reinforces the gendered distinction that the first one gestures at. In the first, casting a man as the undesired, telenovela consumer and a woman as the preferred, quality-TV connoisseur contributes to shaming the former for watching content meant for women and teenagers. In the second video, the wailing, disheveled women from Televisa’s shows contrast with the composed female lead of the Spanish series Velvet (2014– ) seen in the final shots. The spot ends with a cut to the male lead in Velvet smiling at his love interest when the words Otros no tanto [Others, not so much.] appear. The last shot returns the gaze to the male character as the decider of which women to miss and which to forget.


Replicating “quality platform” rhetoric in anti-Blim news coverage.

In their coverage of these anti-Blim spots, online news outlets used an accompanying image of Kevin Spacey and Eugenio Derbez as a metonymy of the Netflix-Blim distinction. On the left side, Kevin Spacey is dressed as his character Frank Underwood from House of Cards, rolling up the sleeves of this dress shirt and staring seriously into the camera. Eugenio Derbez, in contrast, is dressed as his character Ludovico from La Familia P.luche, sporting the character’s iconic plush, oversized electric blue coat and a tacky tie. The image succinctly repeats the “Quality Platform” rhetoric of the Netflix spots, setting up the American streaming platform as serious and professional against the ridiculous and crass Mexican platform.

The picture taps into a popular meme that first arose in February 2016 when Televisa announced it was developing Blim. Throughout social media, users created and shared images that juxtaposed a screen grab from a show or film from Netflix with one from a Televisa telenovela. It was not long before the meme acquired classist tones. Pictures signifying Televisa were often those of the lower-class characters in its series. The Netflix-Blim meme became shorthand for high-production value aesthetics worthy of praise versus low-quality stills worthy of mockery. Further, poor people become the punchline for an elitist online content turf war. The popular resignification of Televisa’s programming as an undesirable, low class aesthetic is in some ways unsurprising. The broadcasting empire has long profited from conservative programming that perpetuates the nation’s class distinctions, devalues rural and working class ethics, and sets up social mobility as attainable only through heterosexual marriage. (( Ana M. Lopez, “Our Welcomed Guests: Telenovelas in Latin America,” in To Be Continued: Soap Operas Around the World, edited by Robert C. Allen, 256-275. New York: Routledge, 1995. )) These memes then perpetuate the ideologies of class endemic to Televisa’s programming by extending its hierarchization transnationally to the distinction between Netflix and Televisa programming.


Poor people become the punchline in the turf war between competing streaming services.

What remained unremarked in mainstream reactions to the release of Blim was the fact that, with the licensing lapse, Netflix lost access to a popular type of programming, Telemundo’s super series like El Señor de los Cielos (2013– ). Super series are reformatted telenovelas broken up into multiple 70-episode seasons instead of a single run of 120 episodes. They have succeeded in increasing Telemundo’s domestic market share in the United States, especially with younger and male audiences, and they attract the digital-savvy audiences that Netflix tries to court in countries like Mexico. (( Juan Piñón, María de los Ángeles Flores, and Tanya Cornejo, “The Hispanic Television Industry in a Crossroad,” in Obitel 2015: Gender Relations in Television Fiction, edited by Maria Immacolata Vassallo de Lopes and Guillermo Orozco Gómez, 405-436. Porto Alegre: Sulina, 2015. )) Telemundo has also mobilized the Quality TV rhetoric as a marketing strategy to differentiate these series from traditional telenovelas by emphasizing their higher production budgets, on-location shooting, and action sequences. Netflix’s strategy of mocking telenovelas and the people who watch them did little to obfuscate how important a section of this television genre is for the streaming service’s market dominance in the Mexican VOD market.

It was not long before Televisa struck back with its own promotional spot mocking Netflix. Featuring two actors with an uncanny resemblance to those in Netflix’s ad, the male consumer in the Blim promo celebrates that he can watch Rebelde once more while his friend mourns losing El Señor de los Cielos from Netflix, only to be reassured that it is available on Blim as well. The last laugh may be short lived since a new agreement between Telemundo and Netflix would give the latter licensing rights to the U.S. network’s new seasons, including upcoming ones for El Señor de los Cielos. Still, Netflix’s initial reaction to the release of Blim remains a pointed reminder of the class markers latent in issues of genre and platform branding at a transnational scale. The video spots speak both to Netflix’s ongoing struggles to secure content when seeking new markets and to its increasing efforts to build a “Quality Platform” brand. That the opponent in this instance was Televisa reminds us that the entire affair is a race towards monopoly. As one critic noted, it would be great “to see Latin American services giving Netflix a run for their money in their home markets… just not Televisa.” In the end, this streaming war between Netflix and Blim comes down to two media giants slamming each other yet devaluing their users in the process.

Image Credits:
1. Netflix Crying
2. Vampire Diaries
3. Punchline

Nuestra Belleza Latina and Why Pageants Are Still a Thing Among Latino Audiences
Manuel G. Aviles-Santiago / Arizona State University

Viewer participation with televised beauty pageants

Viewers engage with a televised beauty pageant

Beauty pageants have been commonly described as an old-fashioned cliché and are parodied, in films like Miss Congeniality (2000), and ridiculed as a favorite subject on YouTube. Who can forget the viral moment of Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2007 struggling to answer the final question with the iconic phrase “like such as”? [ ((To see the viral moment of Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2007 trying to answer the question, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww.))] However, these types of competitions are immensely popular in Latin America. [ ((When I use the term Latin America, I include the Spanish Caribbean.))] With a population struggling to reach—or maintain—middle class status, pageants became a possibility for social mobility. The success stories of countries with the highest number of international beauty queens, such as Venezuela and Puerto Rico, have propelled pageants to a prominent level within their national media landscape. [ ((Venezuela has a total of six Miss Universe winners (from ’78, ’81, ’86, ’96, ’08, ’09, & ’13); Puerto Rico has five (’70, ’85, ’93, ’01, & ’06); Colombia has two (’58 & ’14); and Mexico has two (’91 & ’10).))] This passion is not only on a national level, but also a transnational phenomenon. The flow of immigration between Latin America and the US has made beauty pageants an intrinsic component of the symbolic capital of the US Latino mediascape.

During the 90s, Univision network produced their own beauty pageant, known as Nuestra Belleza Internacional (Our International Beauty), [ ((Nuestra Belleza Internacional lasted four years, 1994-1997.))] that gathered girls from all over the Americas and Spain to compete for a regional crown. But after four years, Univision canceled the production, which limited pageant fans to only re-transmissions of national pageants like Miss Venezuela. [ ((Nuestra Belleza Mexico is the event that selects the representative of Mexico for Miss Universe and other secondary pageants.))] However, things changed in 2002 when NBC outbid CBS on the rights to transmit the Miss Universe (MU) pageant, and Telemundo was purchased by NBC. This transaction gave Telemundo the rights of airing the Spanish-telecast of MU and by default, a lot of production opportunities for the Spanish network. For example, the day of the pageant, Telemundo dedicates most of its original programing to news and gossip related to MU, including a one-hour pre-show devoted to one-on-one interviews with delegates from the Latin American region. [ ((Camino a la Corona (En Route to the Crown).))] These events positioned Telemundo as a once-a-year pageant force. [ ((In 2015, Telemundo’s telecast was the #1 Spanish-language program among adults 18-49. More information on these numbers is available on: http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2015/01/26/telemundos-broadcast-of-miss-universe-reaches-over-4-7-million-total-viewers/355721/))]

After the NBC-Telemundo merger, MU experienced a Latinization that transcended the Latino boom of the 90s. The pageant has been hosted by Latino celebrities [ ((Daisy Fuentes (2003 & 2004); Carlos Ponce (2006); Mario López (2007); and Natalie Morales (2010, 2011, & 2015).))] and included Latino stars, not only among their menu of celebrity judges but also as musical guests. During the last 15 years, the pageant was celebrated in five Latin American countries [ ((The pageant has been celebrated in Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, Panama, and twice in Puerto Rico.))] and two Latino cultural hubs in the US: Los Angeles and Miami. Strikingly, during the last two decades, 10 out of 20 MU winners have been from Latin America. These trends have turned MU into a celebration of Latinidad.

Telemundo MU

Since 2002, Telemundo has been broadcasting Miss Universe while creating many production opportunities for the Spanish network and more exposure to the pageant.

The yearly ratings success of MU on Telemundo prompted Univision to once again enter the pageant circuits in 2007 with the creation of Nuestra Belleza Latina (NBL). NBL did not follow the traditional formula of its Telemundo competitor, Miss Universe. The format of the show changed the face of pageantry by incorporating elements from other reality shows like America’s Next Top Model, Big Brother, and American Idol. Twelve girls, chosen through a series of auditions in cities around the US [ ((Latino cultural hubs like Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Miami are some of the cities in which the auditions take place. In contrast to Miss Universe, the women selected to be in the pageant do not carry a sash with the name of their country of origin. In the show, they are refered to by their name, their nationality or nationalities, and the city where they auditioned. For example, “Name-Last-name, the Dominican from New York.”))] and Puerto Rico, live together in a Miami mansion competing in weekly beauty, fitness, and talent challenges. Critiqued by a panel of experts, they face weekly eliminations based on a popular vote through calls, texts, and social media. It has proven to be a successful formula based on the ratings of the show’s ninth season; Univision is rated first among Spanish networks and fourth among the other commercial networks in the Sunday night slot without the help of telenovelas. [ ((More information on these numbers: http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2015/03/03/univision-networks-nuestra-belleza-latina-is-delivering-double-digit-year-over-year-audience-growth-in-adults-18-49/370629/))]

As a weekend program, NBL fills the void left by the weekday telenovelas by continuing the melodrama through a series of narrative tropes that include:

1. The Story of the Immigrant. A favorite storyline is how the roots and routes of the immigrant experience, together with the show, become a transformative element in the lives of the competitors.

2. The Cuban Exiles. Since the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution (1953-59), Cuba has not competed in any major beauty pageant. However, Cuban women who migrated to the US have found in NBL a stage on which to compete and represent the island while bringing into perspective the narrative of the American Dream and US-Cuba relations.

3. The Wife. In contrast with traditional beauty pageants like MU, NBL allows married women to compete. This change in the conventional rules of pageants prompts dramatic instances in the show. The idea of a married woman abandoning her home in pursuit of her dreams is always a matter discussed, not only during the audition process but also during the live telecast.

4. The Mother. In addition to married women, NBL allows mothers to participate on the show. The notion of transnational motherhood is relevant in US Latino communities [ ((Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette, and Ernistine Avila. “”I’m Here but I’m There”: The Meanings Of Latina Transnational Motherhood.” Gender & Society 11.5 (1997): 548-71. Print.))] where many immigrant women have moved while their children remain in their countries of origin. The tragic aspect of the abandonment of the child in order to become a provider is something that the show will tackle throughout the season.

5. The Purity of Language. Univision, out of the rest of the Spanish TV networks, protects the use of “unaccented, generic, and universal” Spanish, also known as Walter Cronkite Spanish. [ ((Dávila, Arlene M. Latinos, Inc: The Marketing and Making of a People. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012.))] This poses a particular problem to those competitors who were born in the US with English as their first language. Also, it becomes a challenge to the contestants from the Spanish Caribbean whose accents are characterized by a rapid pace and the dropping of ‘s’ sounds.

The Mother trope

Nuestra Belleza Latina changed the traditional beauty pageant formula by incorporating elements from other reality shows, but also by allowing married women and actual mothers to compete.

Beyond these narrative tropes, which operate every season of NBL, the transmediatic platforms for production, distribution, and consumption of NBL play a major role in the success of the show. According to Spangler, Facebook activity around Latino programming was significantly higher than other social networks combined, and NBL is a true testament of that. [ ((Spangler, Todd. “Facebook Users More Tuned to Broadcast Than Cable Shows.” Variety. 23 July 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.))] The ninth season finale of NBL in 2015 had 12 times more activity on Facebook during the on-air window than all other social networks combined, according to Trendrr. [ ((More information on this issue: http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/facebook-users-more-tuned-to-broadcast-than-cable-shows-1200566879/))] In terms of ratings, the finale surpassed the premiere of Games of Thrones (HBO) and the MTV Video Music Awards (MTV).

In conclusion, the success of NBL revolves around three main elements: the flow of beauty pageant passion from Latin America, the performance of narrative tropes that appeal to the Latino population in the US, and the transmediatic configuration of the show. However, one of the most important elements of the show’s success is the positioning of Univision as a brand and the NBL winners as an embodiment of that brand. NBL winners obtain a two-year contract with the network, which allows audiences to see the continued artistic evolution of these women after the competition. With the contract, the winner joins the network as a presenter, news anchor, model, or even as a telenovela actress. In that regard, the winner of NBL becomes part of the Univision family and, therefore, an intrinsic part of the US Latino imagined community.

Image Credits:

1. Image courtesy of the author
2. Since 2002, Telemundo has been broadcasting Miss Universe while creating many production opportunities for the Spanish network and more exposure to the pageant. (Copyright © Miss Universe L.P., LLLP) (author’s personal collection)
3. Nuestra Belleza Latina changed the traditional beauty pageant formula by incorporating elements from other reality shows, but also by allowing married women and actual mothers to compete. (Copyright ©2015 Univision Communications Inc.) (author’s personal collection)

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La semiótica de la televisión en América Latina: problemáticas y perspectivas metodológicas

(for English, click here)

por: Alfredo Cid Jurado / Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Mexico City

Marta Susana y Cristina en El Show de Cristina

Marta Susana y Cristina en “El Show de Cristina”

La semiótica aplicada al estudio de la televisión representa cada vez más un recurso a disposición de los analistas del medio en América Latina. Un recuento veloz nos muestra su incremento como consecuencia directa de la evolución del medio a partir de los estudios que provienen fundamentalmente de la Europa mediterránea (España, Italia y Francia). Desde sus inicios, la televisión en América Latina ha desarrollado una intensa producción televisiva que ha permitido madurar algunos géneros como las telenovelas (soap opera), algún tipo de comedia situacional, los talk shows, los programas musicales, por citar los más importantes. Dicha producción viene aparejada con su explicación teórica y con los instrumentos metodológicos para analizarla.

En la década de los 80´s aparecen diversos trabajos semioticos que muestran la preocupación por describir la independencia que la televisión empieza a mostrar con respecto al cine y a los otros medios de comunicación que le habían servido de base; la prensa y la radio. Inicia así a trazar su propio camino como sistema semiótico. Hasta ese momento, el lenguaje utilizado reproduce una herencia directa de la radio (los géneros en los programas, los formatos en la programación, el empleo de la musicalización), la radio (la presentación de la información inmediata) y del cine (el lenguaje audiovisual y los recursos propiamente cinematográficos en la producción).

Contemporáneamente a la maduración que adquiere en cuanto lenguaje se empieza a observar un distanciamiento paulatino de las estructuras creadas hasta ese momento, es entonces posible hablar de paleotelevisión, que de acuerdo con Umberto Eco se trata de una televisión de formatos definidos, géneros más o menos estables que tiende a definir un lenguaje televisivo para dar las noticias, para producir una ficción, etc. Con el surgimiento de la neotelevisión el lenguaje se transforma, surgen los géneros híbridos, los formatos adquieren mayor dinamismo y flexibilidad.

Por otro lado será la televisión que preste recursos al cine. A partir de estos cambios surgen una serie de conceptos que la semiótica puede ofrecer como instrumentos de análisis, rebasando la dicotomía cuantitativo/cualitativo. La amplia difusión metodológica del denominado pacto comunicativo permite extender al estudio de audiencias las posibilidades de seccionar un programa y analizarlo desde su proceso de ideación, su puesta en escena para prever la recepción por parte del espectador televisivo. El pacto será el resultado de la neotelevisión ya que cada emisión puede saber cuál es el espectador modelo que espera y al cual le encomienda tareas específicas; que van de la aceptación de la verosimilitud, el contrato de confianza y la aplicación de la competencia adecuada para comprender al programa.

Al enumerar una serie de factores que han determinado el desarrollo de la semiótica televisiva como herramienta para la comprensión del lenguaje televisivo, tenemos por un lado, la creciente demanda por parte de las televisoras para acceder a instrumentos críticos que permitan conocer el comportamiento de la programación en relación con su público, y al mismo tiempo, capaces de complementar los tradicionales estudios de audiencia. Aunado al anterior, se encuentra la búsqueda continua para fijar criterios, más o menos compartidos, con los cuales determinar la calidad de un programa televisivo en fase de preparación, producción y puesta al aire.

Don Francisco de Sábado Gigante

Don Francisco de “Sábado Gigante”

El ejercicio valorativo de la producción televisiva forma parte del trabajo pedagógico de las universidades que preparan expertos capaces de realizar las tareas de evaluación como parte de una tarea profesional.

Un recuento veloz sobre la contribución de los estudios semióticos aplicados a la televisión nos permite comprender también, además de su campo de acción, el tipo de análisis requerido que deriva de problemáticas específicas. La mayoría de ellas tiene que ver directamente con la lucha por las audiencias; la televisión generalista en contraposición a la temática, la televisión abierta versus la televisión por cable, etc.

Hemos elegido tres casos que nos permiten apreciar la aplicación de los instrumentos semióticos y los resultados que ofrecen; tenemos la serialidad, el humor, y la creación de identidad, cada uno de ellos muestra diversos grados de complejidad.

La serialidad es un problema ampliamente tratado en la década de los 80’s y aún vigente cuando se enfrenta a la necesidad de una solución para un programa con alto índice de audiencia y que merece, por diversos criterios, permanecer al aire. Se trata, en términos operativos, del estudio de la serialización, que se presenta de manera distinta para cada género. La solución de las “temporadas” no aplica para la estructura narrativa que asume por ejemplo la telenovela, la cual pasa de un número finito de capítulos a un número mayor. Precisamente, el caso de la telenovela requiere, para esta situación, del conocimiento de su estructura, de sus componentes figurativos en una primera instancia, lo que incluye a los personajes y sus roles, que deben corresponder a la historia narrada capaz de enfrentar el problema de las tramas. Los modos con los cuales cada personaje contará su historia deben obedecer a las formas estructuradas del género pues cambios radicales romperán el pacto establecido entre la producción televisiva y su espectador.

Otro ejemplo importante del trabajo de la semiótica se observa en el estudio del mecanismo del humor. La diferencia entre el humor y la tragedia radica en el carácter determinado por la cultura de pertenencia del primero y la comprensión universal del segundo, según observaba Umberto Eco. Una semiótica del humor televisivo debe poner atención en su construcción a partir de los dos caminos disponibles: el humor visual y el humor lingüístico. La estructura básica de la construcción del humor reconoce algunos mecanismos generales que aplican para ambos aunque de ellos se deriven usos distintos como lo muestra el caso de “El chavo del 8”. De este modo el humor puede trascender el ámbito de los programas de entretenimiento para insertarse de manera activa en una contienda política (el caso de las recientes elecciones en México y Venezuela) o como instrumento eficaz en la publicad televisiva (como sucede en Argentina).

Los vecinos de El Chavo del 8

Los vecinos de “El Chavo del 8″

Por último, una tarea asignada a la semiótica en su capacidad de describir el carácter ideológico de la estructuración del significado presente en cada programa que es emitido por una red en español, consiste en observar la construcción de identidades que acomunan diversos aspectos como son la historia compartida; los hábitos musicales, culinarios, deportivos, etc. y que permiten integrar ideológicamente al mundo hispanohablante. Precisamente los talk show adquieren un valor unificante en casos como el de “Cristina”.

Hemos querido presentar solamente tres tipos de tareas que la semiótica de la televisión debe enfrentar como retos para responder a las demandas sobre el estudio profundo del rol social que juega la televisión en el mundo de habla hispana. Seguramente la visión tradicional de una semiótica estructural es trascendida por su capacidad de describir los procesos en fases distintas y ver como cada emisión televisiva es capaz de prever a su consumidor, pero al mismo tiempo reproduce la cultura que la genera y de qué manera participa en la conservación de su propia memoria colectiva.

1. Marta Susana y Cristina en “El Show de Cristina”
2. Don Francisco de “Sábado Gigante”
3. Los vecinos de “El Chavo del 8″

Alfredo Cid Jurado es profesor en el Tec de Monterrey, Campus Ciudad de México.

Favor de comentar.

by: Alfredo Cid Jurado / Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Mexico City

Semiotics, applied to the study of television, increasingly represents a resource for analysts of this medium in Latin America. A quick overview shows us that this increasing interest is a direct consequence of the medium’s evolution, starting with the studies that have primarily come out of the Mediterranean countries in Europe, i.e. Spain, Italy and France. Since the dawn of television in Latin America there has been some intense television production which has allowed some genres to mature, such as soap operas, some types of situational comedies, talk shows, and music programs, to mention the most important ones. In order to analyze it, one must recognize how this production is inextricably tied to its theoretical explanation and methodological instruments.

During the 80s, diverse semiotic studies showed a preoccupation for describing the independence that television has begun to show with respect to cinema and other mediums of communication that have served as its major influences. This is how TV began to carve out its own path as a semiotic system. Until now, the language used in studying television has reproduced a direct inheritance from radio, in terms of the genres of its programs, the programming formats, the use of music, etc. Radio has been influential in terms of its presentation of immediate information; and cinema has played a part considering the audio-visual language and the distinct cinematographic resources used during production.

In conjunction with the maturity that television studies have acquired in terms of their language, one begins to observe a noticeable distance from the narrative structures created until now. Today, one may speak of a paleo-television that, according to Umberto Eco, deals with television in distinct formats. These are more or less established genres which tend to define a TV language for delivering the news, for creating fiction, etc. With the rise of the soap opera, the language is transformed and hybrid genres emerge. Moreover, formats become more dynamic and flexible.

On the other hand, television will even lend resources to cinema. Starting with those changes, a series of concepts surface, concepts that semiotics can offer as analytical instruments which can overcome the dichotomy between qualitative and quantitative analysis. The wide methodological diffusion of the so-called “communicative pact” can extend to audience studies the possibilities of dissecting a program and analyzing it from its original idea and its setting. This would allow one to predict its reception on the part of the TV viewer. The pact will be the result of neo-television, as each broadcast would address a foreseen model spectator from whom it would elicit certain kinds of engagement. This process is an agreement that goes along with the suspension of disbelief, a trust contract, and the application of adequate competence in order to understand the program.

By enumerating a series of factors that have determined the development of television semiotics as a tool to comprehend television language, we have, on one hand, the growing demand on the part of television networks to provide critical instruments that allow one to know the performance of the programming in relation to its audience, and, at the same time, ones that are capable of complimenting traditional audience studies. In addition to the aforementioned features, one finds the continual search for establishing criteria, more or less shared, with which to determine the quality of a TV program in its phases of preparation, production and when it is on the air.

The worthwhile exercise of TV production forms part of the pedagogical work of the universities that prepare expert producers who are capable of assessing their own work as part of their profession.

A quick glance over the contribution of applied semiotics to the television allows us to understand also the type of analysis required for specific problems. The majority of them have to do directly with the struggle to attract audiences, mass-audience (televisión generalista) versus niche audiences, broadcast television versus cable television, etc.

We have elected three cases that allow us to appreciate the application of semiotic instruments and the results they offer. These are seriality, humor, and identity creation. Each one of them shows diverse degrees of complexity.

Seriality is a problem that was widely dealt with in the 80s and is still alive today. This is especially important when one must confront the need for a solution for a program with a high audience index and one that deserves to stay on the air because of diverse criteria. In terms of operation, it (tv semiotics) deals with the study of serialization whereby each genre is presented in a distinct manner. The solution of the “seasons” does not apply to the narrative structure that assumes, for example, the soap opera which passes from a finite number of chapters to X number of episodes. Precisely, the case of the soap opera, requires, from the first instance, knowledge of its structure and its figurative components which include characters and their roles that should correspond to the narrative history. These roles should also be navigate complexities of plot. The manner by which each character tells his or her story should obey the structural forms of the genre because radical changes would break the established pact between the television production and its audience.

Another important example of semiotic investigation is observed in the study of the humor mechanism. The difference between humor and tragedy is found in the elements determined by the culture belonging to the first and the universal understanding of the second, as Eco observed. A Semiotic study of television humor should pay attention to its construction beginning with the available means: visual humor and linguistic humor. The basic structure of the construction of humor recognizes some general mechanisms that apply to both even though from them distinct uses are derived as in, for example, the case with El Chavo del 8. This way, humor can transcend the range of programs for entertainment in order to place itself in an active way in a program with political content (recall the recent elections in Mexico and Venezuela) or as an efficient instrument for television publicity, as is the case is in Argentina.

Finally, an assigned task for semiotics, in its capacity for describing the ideological character of the structuring of the present meaning in each program transmitted by a network in Spanish, consists in observing the construction of identities that gather diverse aspects, such as a shared history, the musical elements, cooking shows, sports, etc, and that is able to integrate the Spanish-speaking world in terms of ideology. Talk shows, in particular, acquired a unifying worth in cases such as that of Cristina.

We have wanted to present only three types of tasks that television semiotics should confront as a challenge to respond to the demands for a deeper study of the social role that television plays in the Spanish speaking world. Certainly, a traditional vision of structural semiotics is transcended by its capacity for describing the processes in distinct phases and: 1) seeing how each television broadcast is capable of predicting its consumer; 2) recognizing how each television broadcast also reproduces the very culture that generates such a consumer; and 3) questioning how each television broadcast participates in the conservation of its own culture’s collective memory.

Image Credits: (located in primary Spanish text)
1. Marta Susana and Cristina on El Show de Cristina
2. Don Francisco host of Sábado Gigante
3. The neighbors of El Chavo del 8

Author: Alfredo Cid Jurado is a professor at the Tec de Monterry, Mexico City.

Translator: Clark Murray is a professor at the Tec de Monterry, Mexico City.

Região, Raça, e Clase Social: Recepcão de TV na Salvador, Bahia

por: Joe Straubhaar / University of Texas at Austin

(for English, click here)

TV Globo

TV Globo

Os que estudam televisão no Brasil veem a TV Globo, que tem mais que 50 porcento dos telespectadores, como poderosa e hegemônica. Um dos aspetos mais problematicos disso é o tratamente de raça por TV Globo, mostrando poucas pessoas negras ou mixtas na tela num país onde mais que metade da população é negra ou mixta (Araujo 2000). Pesquisadores e ativistas tem criticado isso, mais a discussão de raça na televisão tem sido diminuido por uma ideologia nacional de que Brasil tem uma problema de imobilidade de clase, mais não de racismo. Porem, en entrevistas em Salvador (2004-2005), encontrei pessoas dizendo, “Não vejo tanto a Globo mais porque não vejo pessoas como eu na Globo.”

Um taxista de clase operaria e afrodescendente disse que estava assistindo mais SBT, en vez da Globo. (SBT, o segundo rede nacional, tem como publico alvo a clase media baixa e operaria desde que realizou que não pode concorrer com a Globo para a audiencia geral (Fadul 1993).) Perguntei ao taxista se ele queria dizer que a Globo não tem atores negros suficientes na tela e que SBT tem mais. Ele disse que isso faz parte, mas não parecia comfortable falando explicitamente de raça, bem com alguns outros entrevisatados quando perguntei o que eles queriam dizer com comentarios similares. Foi muito mais facil para eles falarem que as pessoas na TV Globo foram sempre ricos demais, não como as pessoas na realidade. E eles foram capazes de articular um senso de como Rio, onde a maior parte das novelas da Globo são situados, é um lugar bem diferente que Salvador; de que eles são baianos em vez de cariocas.

Paraiso tropical

“Paraiso tropical”

Tres niveis de identidade sairam das entrevistas. Primeiro, muitas pessoas abertamente articularam um senso de diferença de clase social com as pessoas que veem na televisão. Segundo, muitas falaram de um sense de distancia cultural, baseado em geografia cultural, que as pessoas na tela vivem num parte do paîs bem diferente com uma cultura muito diferente (La Pastina 2003). Terceiro, alguns poucos articularam a percepcão de que mais pessoas na tela são brancos do que em Salvador, onde a maioria são afro-brasileiros.

As pessoas que entrevistei tiveram difficudade em pensar suas proprias identidades entre raça e clase. Algo lhes interessem porque são negros ou porque são da clase operária ou pobre? Esta problema reflete a ideologia brasileira do seculo 20 que raça não é uma problema no Brasil de raça mixta, mas que clase é a problema verdadeira (Crook & Johnson 1999). Porém, movimentos contemporáneas de ativistas negras na cultura e política buscam criar mais consciência de raça como um aspeto importante de identidade no Brasil, particularmente na Bahia, onde um numero de bem conhecidos blocos de carnaval tem sido notavalmente afrocentrico nas suas temas, imagems, e discurso desde o começo da decada 1980 (Guerreiro 2000). Encontrei este movimento refletido nas minhas observações e entrevistas em 2005. Eu assisti Fama, um concurso regional e nacional de cantadores na Globo com um grupo de pessoas da Banda Femina Didá, um bloco afrocentrico para mulheres e adolescentes. A cantadora principal do grupo estava concorrendo com sete outros para uma das tres lugares representando o nordeste do Brasil. Somente tres das sete foram afrodescendente, enquanto a maior parte das pessoas na região provavelmente são. Um concorrente negro que as pessoas de Didá chamava de negão e dois brancos ganharam. A cantadora de Didá e uma outra mulher de raça mixta com muita carisma e um voz poderosa foram ambas eliminadas no concurso regional. Quando as outras regiões do Brasil tambem votaram, o fundador da Banda Femina Didá, um musico conhecido como Neguinho da Samba, ficou revoltado com a predominância de nove contadores brancos no total de doze. Ele olhou para mim e disse, “Olhe, professor, ao preconceito que ainda existe neste país,” e saiu da sala.

Uma variedade de forças economicas estructuram posições da audiéncia em termos de clase social, capital econômico, e cultural. Industrias culturais poderosos e muitos outros estruturas sociais reforça os sensos da audiencia em termos de geografia cultural, clase social, genero, ethnia, idade, e religião. A televisão nacional ainda parece poderosa, ainda no começo no seculo XXI, quando a coerénçia das nações parece declinando. O estado nação, onde fica poderoso, ainda tem muitas armas para moldar o discurso de televisão. No Brasil, até recentemente, o estado tem trabalhado duro para diminuir a emfase na raça como um foco de discurso ou atividade political. Por exemplo, o governo militar em 1978 prohibiu á TV Globo de passar a miniseria Roots, porque eles temia que ela ia promover um discurso mais confrontácional sobre raça dos Etados Unidos para o Brasil (minhas entrevistas em Brasília, 1978). Porém, ação individuo ou grupal, como á ação das ativistas musicais afrocentricas na Bahia, tambem constrói e cambia estas forças sobre o tempo, como a leitura crítica da televisão dada pelas ativistas acima reflete.

Vidas opostas

“Vidas opostas”

Em suma, nas minhas entrevistas parece que espaço e “lugar” foram pontos chaves ou niveis de identidade para orientar o consumo dos meios e identidade cultural dos entrevistados. Segundo foi clase social. Raça e etnia é um outro nivel fundamental de identidade, mas o discurso social brasileiro tende a enfatizar a clase social em vez de raça como uma referencia contemporanea de identidade, mesmo que os brasileiros falam abertamente sobre a mixtura de raças na formação histórica das identidades brasileiras. Descobri que os brasileiros também fala sobre região ou “lugar” numa maneira implicitamente informada pelas identidades raciais. Um senso de região se torna uma maneira para falar sobre a raça; pessoas na Salvador falaria das suas diferencias de outros partes e povos do Brasil por falar de ser Baiano em vez de ser prêto, mas eu frequentemente recebeu um sentido distinto eles foram falando de ser prêto, também, usando um vocabulário menos confrontacional.

As vezes é dificil para entrevistados verbalizar que forças formam suas escolhas e ideias. Então levo muito a seria os niveis de identidade que as pessoas articulam diretamente, mas eu acho que nos também temos que inferir outros de aspetos estruturais das suas vidas, tais como a combinação complexa de região, clase e raça no Brasil que me leva a pensar que as pessoas foram as vezes falando sobre raça utilizando a vocabulária de lugar ou região e clase.

Clique para ver a Bibliografia

1. TV Globo
2. “Paraiso tropical”
3. “Vidas opostas”

Por favor comente.

by: Joe Straubhaar / University of Texas at Austin

Most people who study television in Brazil see TV Globo, which has at least a 50 percent share of viewing, as powerful, even hegemonic. One of the most problematic aspects of this has been TV Globo’s treatment of race, showing very few Black or visibly mixed race characters on screen in a country where well over half of the population is Black or mixed race (Araujo 2000). While academics and activists have criticized that, discussion of race on television in Brazil has been muted by a widely accepted national ideology that while Brazil has a problem of class immobility, but not racism. However, in interviews in Salvador, in the largely Afro-Brazilian northeast of Brazil (in 2004-2005), I found that a number of people were saying, “I don’t watch TV Globo so much anymore because I don’t see people like me on Globo.”

A working-class Afro-Brazilian taxi driver said he was increasingly watching SBT, instead of TV Globo. (SBT, the No. 2 national network, has explicitly targeted lower-middle-class and working-class viewers since its management realized it could not compete with Globo for the general audience (Fadul 1993).) I asked the taxi driver if he meant that Globo did not have enough black people on screen and that SBT had more. He said that was part of it, but he seemed uncomfortable talking explicitly about race, as were several others when I asked them what they meant by similar comments. They had a much easier time talking about how the people on TV Globo were always too rich, not like the people they knew. And they were able to articulate a sense of how Rio, where most of TV Globo’s telenovelas and other programming is set, was a very different place than Salvador; that they were Baianos (people from Bahia) as opposed to Cariocas (people from Rio).

Three layers of identity emerged in the interviews. First, many people openly articulated a sense of class difference with the people they saw on television. Second, they are openly aware of cultural distance, based in cultural geography, that those people on screen live in a very different part of the country with a substantially different culture (La Pastina 2003). Third, a few articulated the point that more people on screen were white than in Salvador, where most people are Afro-Brazilian.

People I interviewed had a hard time sorting out their own identities between race and class. Does something interest them because they are black or because they are working class or poor? This reflects 20th-century Brazilian ideology that race is not a problem in mixed-race Brazil, but class is a real problem (Crook & Johnson 1999). However, contemporary Black cultural and political activist movements seek more awareness of race as a layer of identity in Brazil, particularly in Salvador, Bahia, where a number of well known Carnival music groups have been notably Afrocentric in their themes, imagery, and discourse since the early 1980s (Guerreiro 2000). I found this movement reflected in my observation and interviewing in 2005. I watched a TV Globo national singing contest, FAMA (“Fame”), with a group of people at the Banda Femina Didá, an Afro-centric samba group for women. The group’s lead singer was competing with seven others for one of three spots representing northeast Brazil. Only three contestants were Afro-descendent, although most people in the region probably are. One black contestant, whom the Didá people called a negão (handsome black man), and two white people won. The Didá singer and another apparently mixed-race woman who had a lot of charisma and a great voice were both eliminated in the regional contest. As the other regions of Brazil also voted, the founder of Banda Femina Didá, a musician widely known as Neguinho da Samba, became disgusted with the predominance of nine white singers in the winners circle of twelve. He looked at me and said, disgustedly, “Look, Professor, at the bias that is still there in this country,” then walked out of the room.

A variety of economic forces structure people’s positions in terms of class, economic, and cultural capital. Powerful cultural industries and many other social structures reinforce senses of cultural geography, class, gender, ethnicity, age, and religion. National television still seems to be powerful, even at the beginning of the 21st century, when the seeming coherence of nations is breaking down in many ways. The nation-state, where it is strong, still has many tools and levers to shape television discourse. In Brazil, until very recently, the state has worked hard to de-emphasize race as a focus of discourse or political activity. For example, the military government in 1978 prohibited TV Globo from showing the mini-series Roots, because they were afraid it would bring a more confrontational discourse about race from the United States into Brazil (my interviews in Brasília, 1978). However, individual and group agency and action, such as the action of Afro-centric musical activists in Bahia, also construct and change these forces over time, as the reading of television given by the activists above reflects.

Overall, it seemed from my interviews that space and place were key anchoring points for media consumption, and cultural identity. Next was class, the second major layer for Brazilians. Race and ethnicity is clearly another fundamental layer of identity, but Brazilian social discourse tends to emphasize class over race as a contemporary marker of identity, even though Brazilians talk freely about race mixing in the historical formation of Brazilian identities. I found that Brazilians also seem to talk about place in a way that is implicitly informed by racial identities. A sense of place becomes a way to talk about race; informants in Salvador would discuss their differences from other parts and peoples of Brazil by talking about being Baiano (Bahian) rather than being black, but I often got the distinct feeling that they were talking about being black, too, using a less charged vocabulary.

It is sometimes hard for interviewees to verbalize what forces shape their choices. So I take very seriously the levels of identity that people articulate, but I think we also have to infer others from structural aspects of their lives, such as the complex combination of place, class and race in Brazil that leads me to think that people were sometimes talking about race using a vocabulary of place and class.

Araujo, J. Z. (2000). A negação do Brasil: o negro na telenovela brasileira. Sao Paulo, SP, Editora SENAC São Paulo.

Crook, L., & Johnson, R. (Eds.). (1999). Black Brazil: Culture, identity, and social mobilization. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Fadul, A. (1993). The radio and television environment in Brazil. Unpublished manuscript, University of São Paulo (Brazil), School of Communication and Arts.

Guerreiro, G. (2000). A trama dos tambores [The web of the drums: The afro-pop music of Salvador] (R. J. Straubhaar, Trans.). São Paulo, Brazil: Editora 34.

La Pastina, A. C. (2003). Viewing Brazil: Local Audiences and the Interpretation of the Nation. media in transition 3, MIT, Cambridge, MA.

Image Credits: (located in primary Spanish text)
1. TV Globo logo
2. Paraiso tropical
3. Vidas opostas

Author: Joe Straubhaar is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

La info-estructura de los 22 portales o sitios ciudadanos de los países

por: Octavio Islas and Arturo Caro / Tecnológico de Monterrey, State of Mexico

(for English, click here)



El desarrollo de la economía del conocimiento — en la cual Internet observa un papel central–, ha impuesto profundos cambios en el orden económico mundial. De acuerdo con Neil Postman -quien con Marshall McLuhan son reconocidos como los fundadores de la Media Ecology, Ecología Mediática o “Escuela de Toronto”–, el impacto de toda nueva tecnología no es aditivo sino “ecológico”.[i] Efectivamente, el impacto de Internet en las sociedades contemporáneas es profundo, complejo[ii] e irreversible. De acuerdo con Thomas Friedman, autor del libro La Tierra es plana. Breve historia del mundo globalizado del siglo XXI (2006: 164): “Jamás en la historia del planeta tanta gente ha tenido la posibilidad de buscar por sí misma tanta información acerca de tantos temas o acerca de tanta gente”. Además de la abundante información que hoy es posible consultar a través de Internet, la velocidad en el procesamiento de la información ha registrado notables incrementos. Se estima que a finales de la presente década las computadoras podrían llegar a alcanzar velocidades petaflops, es decir, capacidades para realizar mil billones de operaciones matemáticas por segundo.

El número de usuarios de Internet aumenta cada año. A comienzos de enero de 2007, la World Internet Stats estimaba 1,091,730,861 usuarios de Internet — el 16.8% de la población mundial. La primera tabla, elaborada con base en información de la World Internet Stats, comprende información relativa a la concentración geográfica de los usuarios de Internet en el mundo.

Tabla 1. Usuarios de Internet en el mundo, 2006.
Tabla 1
Fuente: Internet World Stats. Última actualización: 31 diciembre 2006.

El tránsito hacia la sociedad de la información y el conocimiento representa un profundo cambio ecológico en las sociedades, y tomará tiempo. De acuerdo con Alfons Cornella (2002: 2):

“Cambiar hacia la sociedad del conocimiento llevará su tiempo, y para conseguirlo es preciso entender mejor por qué ahora el conocimiento es la clave del crecimiento y la riqueza. Y es preciso que la gente adquiera como valor personal la renovación intelectual; que esto no sea patrimonio de un colectivo, la intelligentsia de la sociedad del conocimiento, sino que sea un valor extendido a todos los niveles de la sociedad”.[iii]

De la tensión creativa entre la cultura de un país -que también comprende su percepción positiva o negativa de lo nuevo, su voluntad o reticencia a innovar, y la disposición más o menos abierta de su estructura política dependerá, según Cornella, (2002:13): “que su sociedad pueda modernizarse mediante el avance tecnológico o, al contrario, se estanque”. Declarar voluntad de cambio para transitar a la sociedad de la información y el conocimiento no es suficiente. La cultura de información es factor clave en la transformación de la economía de la información en sociedad de la información y el conocimiento. De acuerdo con Alfons Cornella (2002:34-35): “un país puede disponer de una potente economía de la información sin que llegue a constituirse en una sociedad de la información (…) y al revés, una sociedad puede estar constituida por ciudadanos y organizaciones informacionalmente cultas sin que ello conlleve automáticamente el surgimiento de una economía de la información”.

El tránsito hacia la sociedad de la información y el conocimiento depende fundamentalmente de dos variables que guardan estrecha relación entre sí: infraestructura e info-estructura. La infraestructura comprende “una red suficientemente dimensionada (es decir, con suficiente ancho de banda), de fácil acceso, barata, abierta a ciudadanos y organizaciones” (Cornella. 2002: 37). La info-estructura “deriva de la idea de que la riqueza de un país con infraestructura no se genera como simple consecuencia de tenerla, sino de usarla, de explotarla. La info-estructura consiste en todo aquello que permite sacar rendimiento de la infraestructura.

El adecuado desarrollo de la info-estructura de un país supone radicales reformas en no pocas instituciones. Algunas de las reformas que propone Cornella son (2002:38): un sistema educativo que tenga por objetivo esencial enseñar a aprender; un sistema ciencia-tecnología que aproveche la capacidad creativa de los ciudadanos y la transforme en nuevos productos y servicios competitivos en mercados mundiales; un sistema legal capaz de responder a los retos que impone la velocidad de desarrollo de las tecnologías; una base de contenidos que haga posible que las actividades de ciudadanos en la era de la información sean más fáciles; un entorno fiscal que facilite el surgimiento y desarrollo del sector información local; una administración que sea ejemplo en el uso eficiente y eficaz de las tecnologías de información.

Análisis de la info-estructura que presentan los 22 portales gubernamentales de los países ubicados en la plataforma continental de América (2006)

El imaginario de las sociedades informacionales –que de acuerdo con Alfons Cornella (2002), sólo es posible concebir con ciudadanos que efectivamente dispongan de una profunda cultura de información-. Aún cuando no pocos gobernantes ya reconocen que del adecuado desarrollo del capital intelectual dependerá la “nueva riqueza de las naciones”, en pocos países hoy es posible advertir que el comportamiento del Estado efectivamente se ajusta al desempeño deseable de todo actor inteligente.[iv] Para no pocos gobiernos la expresividad del Estado digital representa asunto accesorio y secundario. La calidad de la expresividad desplegada en el ciberespacio por el Estado revela cuan honesto es su interés por acceder a la sociedad de la información. La formidable capacidad de las avanzadas tecnologías para transferir información no basta para asegurar que los usuarios recibirán la información que efectivamente necesitan. De acuerdo con Alfons Cornella (2002: 41-42):

“un país puede entrar en la economía de la información mediante un esfuerzo de inversión importante en la creación, adquisición e implementación de sistemas y tecnologías de información, pero eso no es garantía de que, como consecuencia, la sociedad se transforme en una sociedad de la información. Para llegar a ella tiene un papel importante lo que se ha venido a denominar cultura de la información”.

La burocracia acostumbra ignorar las auténticas necesidades de información de la ciudadanía, anteponiendo sus visiones, relatos e intereses. No pocos sitios web y/o portales gubernamentales se apartan del genuino propósito de contribuir al desarrollo de una cultura efectiva informacional en la ciudadanía. Pocos desarrolladores de sistemas de información gubernamental en línea reparan en la importancia de ubicar el desarrollo del sistema en el reconocimiento de necesidades de información cambiantes en el usuario.

En el Proyecto Internet[v] — Cátedra de Comunicaciones Estratégicas y Cibercultura del Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Estado de México, desde 2003 hemos venido realizando estudios comparativos de los contenidos y usabilidad[vi] de sitios web y portales de instituciones gubernamentales en América. En el verano de 2006 decidimos centrar nuestra atención en los “portales ciudadanos”, sitios web desarrollados por instituciones de gobierno que advierten la necesidad de concentrar toda aquella información que facilite al ciudadano el acceso a los principales servicios proporcionados por el Estado, simplificando significativamente los trámites.

El estudio de 2006 fue coordinado por Arturo Caro Islas, egresado de la licenciatura en ciencias de la comunicación en la Universidad de Occidente, en Los Mochis, Sinaloa. La captura y procesamiento de la información fue responsabilidad de Janeth Everastico Bautista (Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero); Carolina Apodaca Prieto (Universidad de Occidente); Blanca Talamantes (Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez); Josué Enrique Bañuelos Peña (Universidad de Occidente) y Luis Zaragoza (Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente).

En el estudio de 2006 — realizado de junio a agosto del año pasadazo-, decidimos centrar nuestra atención en la información contenida en los principales portales ciudadanos o sitios web que asumen tales funciones informativas, de los gobiernos de veintidós países de nuestra plataforma continental: Canadá, Estados Unidos, México, Belice, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panamá, Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Perú, Surinam, Uruguay, Venezuela.

Nuestra matriz de usabilidad fue el resultado de integrar los contenidos específicos de cada uno de los portales y sitios web gubernamentales, derivando un total de 50 unidades de contenido. Desde la perspectiva del emisor web, hasta el momento de integrar la información — julio de 2006–, nuestra matriz representaría la estructura de información más completa, pues aglutinaría la suma de unidades de contenido consideradas en todos los portales gubernamentales analizados Las 50 unidades de contenido fueron agrupadas en cuatro ejes temáticos: información que se ofrece en el portal; servicios de información; accesibilidad; seguridad y transparencia. Se añadió un quinto campo para estudiar la eficiencia en respuesta por parte de los webmasters.

Tabla 2

1 Información que ofrece el portal

Este eje temático comprendió las primeras 26 unidades de contenido: idiomas, nombre del presidente o jefe de gobierno, estructura del Estado, información del gobierno, agenda gubernamental, directorio del gobierno, perfil de los funcionarios públicos, programas y acciones del gobierno/ programas sociales, leyes, regulaciones, decretos, gaceta oficial, discursos del presidente o jefe de gobierno, relaciones exteriores, embajadas y consulados, gobierno local, educación, salud, vivienda, economía y negocios, medio ambiente, agricultura, cultura, ciencia y tecnología, deporte, turismo, trabajo, estadísticas, efemérides.

Tabla 3

2 Servicios de información

Este eje temático comprendió las unidades de contenido 27 a 35 de nuestra matriz: trámites, formas y servicios en línea, licitaciones, asistencia legal y jurídica, preguntas frecuentes, glosario de términos, chat y foros, URL, recursos multimedia.

Tabla 4

3 Accesibilidad

Este eje temático comprendió las unidades de contenido 36 a 48 de nuestra matriz: página principal, inicio, portada; mensaje de bienvenida del presidente o jefe de gobierno; visita virtual; públicos -secciones para niños, jóvenes, personas de la tercera edad, discapacitados-; sitios relacionados y sitios de interés; medios de comunicación; buscador; mapa del sitio; sistemas de ayuda; nombre del webmaster; correo; dirección; teléfono/fax.

Tabla 5

4 Seguridad y transparencia

Este eje temático comprendió las unidades de contenido 49 y 50 de nuestra matriz.

Tabla 6

5 Resultados generales

Estos son los resultados que arrojó nuestro estudio. Los portales gubernamentales de Canadá y Chile recibieron una alta calificación (88 y 84, respectivamente). Los portales gubernamentales de siete países recibieron una calificación no aprobatoria: Honduras, Guyana, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Surinam, Belice, Paraguay.

Tabla 7


Los resultados que arrojó nuestro estudio ofrecen una útil radiografía del estado que presenta la marcha de las sociedades informacionales en América, pues permiten identificar el tipo de prioridades informativas en las cuales han reparado los responsables del desarrollo de sitios y portales ciudadanos.

Los resultados del presente estudio fueron remitidos a cada uno de los administradores de los portales analizados.

Una de las mejores explicaciones sobre el impacto del cambio tecnológico en la economía política de las sociedades — tema medular en la ecología de medios–, corrió a cargo del propio Postman, entonces decano de la Universidad de Nueva York, quien el 27 de marzo de 1998 dictó una de las conferencias magistrales del “Congreso Internacional sobre Nuevas Tecnologías y Persona Humana: Comunicando la fe en el Nuevo Milenio, o NewTech´98”, en Denver, Colorado, Estados Unidos. El título de la conferencia fue: “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change” (Cinco cosas que necesitamos conocer aceca del cambio tecnológico). Las cinco tesis son: 1. La cultura siempre paga el precio de la tecnología; 2. Siempre hay ganadores y perdedores en el cambio tecnológico; 3. Toda la tecnología tiene una filosofía; 4. El cambio tecnológico no es aditivo; es ecológico; 5. Los medios de comunicación tienden a convertirse en míticos. Véase: Postman, N. “Five things we need to know about technological change”. Fecha de consulta: 12 de enero de 2007.
La complejidad, nos advierte Marcelo Manucci (2004: 28) “es una palabra problema no una palabra solución (…) La complejidad como un estado que se encuentra en el orden y el caos, concebidos éstos como situaciones extremas, situación que los científicos (matemáticos, en particular), denominan fenómenos al límite del caos. Otra definición general se fundamenta en las teorías de la autoorganización, y la define como una tendencia constante y espontánea de un sistema en la que sus elementos interactúan entre sí y con el entorno, dando lugar a patrones de comportamiento global”, sentido en el cual, precisamente, destacamos la complejidad de Internet.
El texto original consigna las itálicas.
David Osborne y Ted Gaebler figuran entre los primeros analistas digitales que anticiparon que las avanzadas tecnologías de información y comunicaciones asumirían un rol fundamental en la positiva reingeniería del Estado. Al Gore -quien admite ser reconocido como primer ciberestadista-, perfiló las bases del nuevo contrato social sobre el cual bien podría reposar el desarrollo de las sociedades informacionales, en un discurso que dictó el 12 de octubre de 1998, conocido como la “Declaración de la Independencia Digital”. La mayor parte de los programas de e-gobierno en el mundo recuperan las tesis expuestas por Gore en el citado discurso. Fecha de consulta: 7 de noviembre de 2006. Richard Rosecrance fue uno de los primeros analistas que reparó en el advenimiento del “Estado virtual” y las condiciones en las cuales se desarrolla la “nueva gobernanza”.
El Proyecto Internet del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de México (ITESM CEM), fue creado en 1995 por iniciativa de académicos, investigadores y estudiantes de la licenciatura en ciencias de la comunicación del ITESM CEM. Entre 1996 y 2000, el Proyecto Internet del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de México, desarrolló algunos de los principales sitios web del gobierno de México, destacando: Presidencia de la República (1996), PEMEX (1996 y 1998), Cámara de Diputados (1997-2000), Senado de la República (1998).
La palabra usuabilidad, procede del término usability (inglés). Usabilidad nos permite referir el conjunto de técnicas y elementos de medición susceptibles de ser empleados para evaluar la facilidad, rapidez y amigabilidad de determinados productos o servicios. En cuanto a aplicaciones informáticas, de hardware o software, el modelo conceptual de usabilidad responde a necesidades de evaluación de prototipos de diseño centrados en las necesidades del usuario — considerando entre el extenso conjunto posible de prototipos de diseño, páginas web o sistemas de información en línea. Un elemento íntimamente asociado con la usabilidad es la utilidad. En inglés, utilidad + usabilidad se conoce como usefulness.

Castells, M. (1996). The rise of the network society. USA: Blackwell Publishers.

Cornella, A. (2002). Infornomía!com. La gestión inteligente de la información en las organizaciones. España: Deusto.

Osborne, D., y Gaebler, T. (1992). Reinventing government. How the entrepreneurial spirit is transforming the public sector. USA: Addison Wesley.

Rosecrance, R. (1999). The rise of the virtual state. Wealth and power in the coming century. USA: Basic Books.

Imágen cortesía de los autores.

Octavio Islas es director de la Asociación Latinoamericana de Investigadores de la Comunicación (ALAIC), coordinador de los consejos editoriales de la revista web Razón y palabra, y la Revista Mexicana de Comunicación. Miembro del Sistema Nacional de Investigadores (SNI).

Arturo Caro Islas es investigador asociado de la Cátedra de Comunicaciones Estratégicas y Cibercultura del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de México, y director de organización de la VIII Convención Anual de la Media Ecology Association.

Favor de comentar.

by: Octavio Islas and Arturo Caro / Tecnológico de Monterrey, State of Mexico


Development of the knowledge economy — in which the Internet plays a main role — has imposed deep changes in the economic order of the world. According to Neil Postman — who along with Marshall McLuhan are acknowledged as the founders of Media Ecology, Ecology of the Media or “Toronto School”–, the impact of every new technology is not additive but “ecologic.”[i] Indeed, the impact of the Internet in contemporary societies is deep, complex,[ii] and irreversible. According to Thomas Friedman, author of the book The Earth is Flat. A Brief History of the Twentieth First Century (2006: 164): “Never in the history of the planet has many people had this possibility to look up information by themselves about so many subjects, themes or even about so many people.” Aside from the abundant information that is possible to consult on the Internet today, processing speeds of information has noticed important improves. It’s estimated that by the end of the present decade computers will be able to reach petaflops speeds, meaning, they will have capacity to do about a thousand billion mathematical operations every second.

The number of Internet users increases every year. At the beginning of January 2007, World Internet Stats estimated 1,091,730,86 Internet users — 16.8% of the world’s population. The first chart, elaborated based on information of World Internet Stats, comprehends information related to Internet users in the world depending population in geographical regions.

Chart 1. Internet users in the world, 2006.
Chart 1
Source: Internet World Stats. Last updated: December 31, 2006.

The transition to the knowledge and information society, represents a deep ecological chance in societies, and will take time. According to Alfons Cornella (2002: 2):

“To change towards an information society will take its time, and to accomplish that it’s necessary to better understand why now knowledge is the key to growth and wealth. It is also necessary that people acquire as a personal value, intellectual renovation; this shall not be collective heritage, the intelligentsia of knowledge society, but a value extended to all levels of society.”[iii]

From the creative tension amongst a country’s culture — that also comprehends its positive or negative perception of the modern, its choice or not to innovate, and the availability more or less open of its political structure will depend, according to Cornella (2002:13): “that its society can modernize through technological advances or, be stuck.” To declare a will of change to the society of information and knowledge is not enough. An Information Culture is the key player in transforming the economy of information in the society of information and knowledge. According to Alfons Cornella (2002:34-35): “a country can have a powerful information economy without it becoming an information society (…) and backwards, a society can be constituted by citizens and informally cultured organizations without this meaning the born of an information economy.”

Transitioning towards a knowledge and information society fundamentally depends on two variables that keep a close relation in between: infrastructure and infostructure. Infrastructure comprehends “a sufficiently dimensioned network (broadband), of easy access, inexpensive, open to citizenship and organizations” (Cornella 2002: 37). Infostructure “derives from the idea that a country’s infrastructure richness is not generated just as a consequence of having it, but to use it, to exploit it. Infostructure consists in all that allows getting the best utility off infrastructure.”

The adequate development of infostructure in a country supposes radical changes in many institutions. Some of the changes proposed by Cornella (2002:38) are: an educative system that has as an essential objective to teach how to learn; a science-technology system that takes advantage of the creative capacity of the citizenship and transforms it in new products and competitive services in global markets; a legal system capable of responding to the challenges imposed by the velocity to which technologies develop; a content base to ease the activities of citizens in the information era; a fiscal environment that softens the coming and development of a local information sector; an administration that can set an example in the efficient use of information technologies.

Analysis of the Info-Structure presented in the 22 web gateways or citizen targeted government websites of countries located in the continental platform of America (2006)

The imaginary of informational societies — that according to Alfons Cornella (2002), it’s just possible to conceive with citizens that effectively have a deep information culture available. Even when not many governors acknowledge that the “new wealth of nations” will depend on the adequate development of intellectual capital, today is possible to notice in a few countries that the State’s behavior effectively adjusts to the desirable outcome of every intelligent actor.[iv] For many governments the expression of the digital State represents an accessory and a secondary issue. The quality of the expression displayed in cyberspace by the State reveals how honest their interest is to access the information society. The wonderful capacity of advanced technologies to transfer information is not enough to assure that users will get the information the actually need.

Bureaucracy is used to ignore the actual informational needs of the citizenship, therefore putting upfront their own visions and interests. Not few websites and/or governmental web gateways distance themselves from the genuine purpose of contributing to the development of an effective informational culture in citizenship. Very few developers of online governmental information systems take into account the importance of incorporating into the development of such systems the recognition of how the needs of information in users changes.

The Internet Project[v] — Cátedra de Comunicaciones Estratégicas y Cibercultura of Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Estado de Mexico, has been conducting since 2003 comparative studies of contents and usability[vi] of websites and web gateways of governmental institutes in the American continent. In the summer of 2006 we decided to center our attention on “citizen targeted government websites,” websites developed by government institutes that foresee the need to concentrate all information that eases citizen access to every main service provided by the State, certainly simplifying some actions that had to be done in person at government offices before.

The 2006 study and research were coordinated by Arturo Caro Islas, a Communications graduate from Universidad de Occidente, in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico. The processing of information was done by Janeth Everastico Bautista (Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero); Carolina Apodaca Prieto (Universidad de Occidente); Blanca Talamantes (Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez); Josué Enrique Bañuelos Peña (Universidad de Occidente) y Luis Zaragoza (Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente).

In the 2006 study — done from June to August of said year–, we centered our attention in websites with the aforementioned characteristics and from the following countries: Canada, the United States, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Our usability matrix was the result of integrating the specific contents of each and every website and web governmental getaways, deriving in a total 50 units of content. From the perspective of a web emissary, to the moment of integrating the information — July of 2006–, our matrix would represent the structure of the most complete information, because it would conjoin the sum of content units considered in every website analyzed. Those 50 units of content were grouped in 4-themed axis: information offered at the web getaway; information services; accessibility; security and transparency. A fifth one was added for efficiency in contacting the webmasters or those responsible of such websites.

Chart 2

1 Information offered at the web gateway

This theme axis includes the first 26 units of content: languages, president or head of State info, state structure, government information, governmental agenda, government directory, profile of public functionaries, government / social programs, laws and regulations, official gazette / magazine, presidential or head of State speeches, exterior relations and embassies, local government, education, health, housing, business and economy, natural environment, agriculture, culture, science and technology, sports, tourism, jobs, statistics, holidays.

Chart 3

2 Information services

This theme axis includes the units of content located from 27 to 35 in our matrix: applications, forms and online services, service-prior-asking, legal assistance, frequently asked questions, glossary, chat and discussion rooms, URL, multimedia.

Chart 4

3 Accessibility

In this theme axis, the units of content studied were the ones located from number 36 to 48 in our matrix: homepage, welcome message by president or head of state, virtual tour, information targeted to specific audiences (kids, youth, adults, handicapped), links, media, search engine, map, help, webmaster name, e-mail, address, tel./fax.

Chart 5

4 Security and Transparency

This chart includes the units located in the spots 49 and 50 of our matrix.

Chart 6

5 General results

These are the results obtained from our study. The web gateways of Canada and Chile received high ratings (88 and 84, respectively). The web governmental gateways of seven countries received a disapproval rating: Honduras, Guyana, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Surinam, Belize and Paraguay.

Chart 7


The results obtained from our study offer a useful overview of the current status in the development of information societies in America, therefore to allow identifying the kind of information priorities of the webmasters and responsible of said web governmental getaways and websites. The results of this study and research were sent to each and every one of the administrators of the analyzed websites.

One of the best explanations about the impact of technological change in political economies in societies — a core theme in media ecology–, comes from Postman himself, then dean of NYU, who in march 27, 1998, was a keynote speaker at NewTech’98, in Denver, Colorado, United States. The title of his keynote was: “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change”. The five theses are: 1. Culture always pays the price for technology; 2. There are always winners and losers in technological change; 3. Every technology has a philosophy; 4. Technological change is not addictive, it’s ecological; 5. Media outlets end up becoming mythical. Source: Postman, N. “Five things we need to know about technological change”. Website consulted on January 12, 2007.
Complexity, as signaled by Marcelo Manucci (2004: 28) “is a problem word not a solution word (…) Complexity as a state found in order and chaos, conceived as extreme situations, situation that scientists (mathematicians, in particular), denominate phenomena at the limits of chaos. Another general definition is based in theories of self-organization, and is defined as a constant and spontaneous tendency of a system in which its elements interact amongst themselves and with the environment, giving place to patterns of global behavior.” This is the sense in which, precisely, we see the complexity of the Internet. [Editor’s note: translations from English to Spanish were provided by the authors, and subsequently edited for clarity during the production process – jl.]
Emphasis based on the original.
David Osborne and Ted Gaebler were amongst the first digital analysts that foresaw how advanced communication and information Technologies World assume a fundamental role in the positive re-engineering of the State. Al Gore –who admits to be acknowledged as the first cyber-statistic-, profiled the basis of a new social contract over which could reside the development of informational societies, in a speech he gave on October 12, 1998, known as the “Declaration of Digital Independence”. The majority of the e-government programs in the world recover the thesis exposed by Gore in said speech. Website consulted on November 7, 2006. Richard Rosecrance was one of the first analysts who saw the coming of a “virtual State” and the conditions on which such governance would develop.
Proyecto Internet (Internet Project) of Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de Mexico (ITESM CEM), was created on 1995 by an initiative of academics, investigators and students of the Communications major of ITESM CEM. Between 1996 and 2000, the Internet Project of Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de Mexico, developed some of the most important websites of the Mexican government, like: Presidency (1996), [The National Petrolium Industry in Mexico] PEMEX (1996 and 1998), Congress (1997-2000), and Senate (1998).
Usability allows us to determine the group of techniques and elements to size up or study and evaluate the easiness, quickness and the level of user-friendly factors on determined products or services. Talking about hardware or software in the computer world, the model concept for usability answers the evaluation needs of design prototypes centered on the needs of users — considering the vast number of design prototypes, websites or online information services. An intimately related element to usability is utility. Utility plus usability is also known as usefulness.

Click here to go to the Sources

Image Credits:
Images provided by authors.

Co-Author: Octavio Islas is Director of the Cátedra de Comunicaciones Estratégicas y Cibercultura del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de Mexico. Also director of ALAIC (Latin-American Association of Communication Investigators), coordinates the editorial boards of Razón y palabra web magazine, and Revista Mexicana de Comunicación. Member of the National System of Investigators (SNI).

Co-Author: Arturo Caro Islas is an associate investigator and researcher of the Cátedra de Comunicaciones Estratégicas y Cibercultura del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de Mexico. Head of coordination of the 8th Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association.

El Inicio de la Investigación Científica de la Comunicación Social en América Latina

por: José Luis Ortiz Garza / Universidad Panamericana

(for English, click here)

Preparing Poll

Preparing poll

La Oficina de Asuntos Inter-Americanos

El 16 de agosto de 1940 el Presidente Roosevelt creó lo que más tarde se conocería como Office of Inter-American Affairs [OIAA])” y nombró Director a Nelson Rockefeller. Un año antes de que la OIAA iniciara formalmente sus operaciones, Rockefeller decidió obtener información confiable de América Latina sobre propaganda del Eje, actitudes hacia los Estados Unidos, y hábitos de consumo de comunicación. De inmediato contactó con el Dr. George Gallup y firmaron un contrato por 250 mil dólares mediante el cual Hadley Cantril, socio de Gallup y Director de la “Oficina de Princeton para Investigación de Opinión Pública”, se responsabilizaría del proyecto. Otros reconocidos científicos como Leonard Doob (de la Universidad de Yale), y Lloyd A. Free (Editor de la revista Public Opinion Quarterly) fueron incorporados a la compañía “American Social Surveys, Inc.[i].

Para evitar sospechas se constituyó la “Oficina de Información para las Exportaciones” de la “American Association of Advertising Agencies”, y se nombraron a sus “observadores” en América Latina. Tras una intensa capacitación en diversas metodologías y técnicas para el análisis de la comunicación, estos pioneros en comunicología partieron a sus destinos hacia principios de febrero de 1941[ii].

Lloyd A. Free: el pionero

Mientras los “observadores” preparaban maletas o se establecían, Lloyd A. Free, realizó en Brasil la primera encuesta de América Latina que pudiera “ser reputada como completa y confiable”. Free trabajó incansablemente de febrero a mayo de 1941: tomó una muestra de 2,342 personas, y contrató, capacitó, y supervisó a los encuestadores. Su reporte final describió los hábitos brasileños de consumo de medios de comunicación y sus opiniones sobre la colaboración con Estados Unidos[iii].

Radio survey

Radio survey

No obstante que Lloyd A. Free fue el pionero en la investigación científica de la comunicación social en Latinoamérica, muchos de los “observadores” merecen esa misma distinción. Fueron: George H. Landes, publicista de la J. Walter Thompson, establecido en Argentina, responsable también de Paraguay y Uruguay; el ex-ejecutivo de la “Standard Oil Co.” Harald Corson, destinado a México; Jack Fahy cofundador y editor de la revista The Hemisphere, destinado a Colombia y a Centroamérica Charles Lee ejecutivo en Brasil y Cuba de la “IT&T Corp”, encargado de Perú y Bolivia; Eugene Warner, quien dejó su trabajo como Editor de la Sección Dominical del Washington Times Herald, para irse a Chile; Roy Nash, autor del libro The Conquest of Brazil, destinado a este país [posible colaborador de Free en la protoencuesta], y George Massey, asignado a Cuba[iv].

Los comunicólogos de la OIAA desarrollaron múltiples funciones: recortes de las principales noticias y editoriales; uso de los materiales de la OIAA; informes de todos los medios, detallando audiencia, circulación, ingresos, posturas editoriales, etc. Conviene destacar las encuestas de opinión, que buscaron explorar las actitudes hacia los Estados Unidos y los beligerantes, reacciones a algunas batallas, expectativas sobre la posguerra, etc. La primera, realizada en junio de 1941, midió las actitudes y sentimientos suscitados por el ataque de Alemania a Rusia. Además de recabar los resultados locales, Hadley Cantril preparó el primer reporte panamericano de los sentimientos sobre un tema específico[v].

Los observadores sirvieron también como espías y usaron sus reportes para presionar a los medios Pro-Eje. En México, Corson contribuyó a un boicot de anunciantes aliados contra los periódicos Excélsior, y Últimas Noticias[vi], contra la revista Hoy y contra la radiodifusora XEW, precursora del imperio multimedia “Televisa”, acusada de permitir que los nazis la utilizaran para enviar mensajes en clave[vii].

Radio coverage report

Radio coverage report

Las oficinas de los observadores fueron cerradas el 3 de marzo de 1942, y muchos de ellos continuaron sus trabajos dentro de las Embajadas de los Estados Unidos[viii].

Para información biográfica de estos pioneros, véase: Everett M. Rogers, A History of Communication Study: A Biographical Approach (New York: The Free Press, 1997), p. 220, 267-271, 381; Christopher Simpson, Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare 1945-1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 26, 87, 130-131 and Brett Gary, “Communication Research, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Mobilization for the War on Words, 1938-1944,” Journal of Communication 46:3 (Summer 1996): 124-147, 125.
Donald W. Rowland, “History of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs”, Washington, U. S. Government Printing Office, 1947, pp 1-7, y 245-247.
National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland, (NARA), Record Group (RG) 229 Box 135, 2. Surveys 9, “Lloyd Free’s Report (February-May 1941)”
NARA RG 229, Box 137, 2. de Cantril to Spaeth, Marzo 19, 1941. Massey, debido al Embajador Estadounidense George Messersmith, renunció en diciembre de 1941 y fue reemplazado John Corbin. Cfr. NARA, RG 229, Box 139, de McClintock a Corson, Febrero 3 de 1942. Una nueva lista producida pocos meses después contenía algunos cambios en Brasil, Chile, Bolivia y Ecuador: cfr. NARA, RG 229, Box 137,2: “Names and Addresses of Observers”.
Véase NARA, RG 229, Box 138, #13”, de Corson a Cantril, Julio 2 de 1941; NARA RG 229, Box 139, #21, “Reactions in Latin America”, de Cantril a Spaeth, et. al, agosto 12 de 1941.
Cfr. NAW, RG 59, 812.911/307, de Daniels a Secretario de Estado”, Abril 10, 1941; NAW, RG 59, 812.917/46, de Robbins a Duggan, Septiembre 22, 1941.
NARA, RG 229, Box 139, de Miller a Corson, octubre 17, 1941.
NARA, RG 229, Box 139, de Robbins a Rockefeller et al. Marzo 9, 1942, y Donald Rowland, op. cit., p. 252. Corson se incorporó a la Embajada Americana: Ibid, de McGurk a Secretario de Estado, circa Febrero 1942.

Haga clic para ver la Bibliografía

Las fotografías y el mapa de cobertura radiofónica están tomadas de: National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 229, OIAA Files.

José Luis Ortiz Garza es Profesor y Director de Investigación de la Escuela de Comunicación en la Universidad Panamericana. Autor de tres libros sobre historia de los medios de comunicación en México.

Favor de comentar.

by: José Luis Ortiz Garza / Universidad Panamericana

The Office of Inter-American Affairs

In the summer of 1940, the American Government created what later on would be known as the “Office of Inter-American Affairs” [OIAA], and named Nelson A. Rockefeller as Coordinator. Around a year before the OIAA formally started, Rockefeller decided to obtain reliable information about the Axis propaganda, attitudes towards the USA, and communication habits in Latin America. He contacted George Gallup and signed a $250,000 contract under which Hadley Cantril, an associate of Gallup’s would be in charge of the project. Other well known communication scholars such as Leonard Doob, and Lloyd A. Free were hired by the “American Social Surveys, Inc.”[i]

In order to avoid suspicions, the operation was covered up by a contract with the “American Association of Advertising Agencies” through the “Research Division” of its “Export Information Bureau” that would have “observers” in Latin America. After being trained by the aforementioned scholars in communication methods and techniques, they set off in early 1941.[ii]

Lloyd A. Free: The Pioneer

It was Lloyd A. Free who performed in Brazil the first national survey in Latin America which could “make any claim of completeness and reliability.” Free worked tirelessly from February to May 1941: he construed a representative sample of 2,342 people, and hired, trained, transported and super-vised the interviewers. His final report described the Brazilians mass media consumption habits, and their opinions regarding the cooperation with the USA.[iii]

Notwithstanding the credit that Lloyd A. Free deserves as the trailblazer in scientific mass com-munications research in Latin America, most of the OIAA´s representatives get also that same distinction in their respective countries. They were: George Landes, an advertising executive assigned to Argentina, also in charge of Paraguay; Harald Corson, a former executive of Standard Oil Co., sent to Mexico; Jack Fahy, editor of the magazine The Hemisphere, sent to Colombia and Central America; Charles Todd Lee, who worked in Brazil and Cuba for the IT&T, sent to Peru, also in charge of Bolivia; Eugene Warner, former Sunday Editor of the Washington Times Herald assigned to Chile; Roy Nash, author of the book The Conquest of Brazil, in charge of this country [who probably worked in Free´s pioneering survey], and George Massey, posted to Cuba.[iv]

The observers performed functions such as a clipping service on local news, editorial opinion, and uses of OIAA´s materials; surveys on newspapers and radio stations, covering audience or circulation, editorial policies, etc. A special mention should be given to the public opinion surveys that explored the attitudes towards the USA and the belligerents, reactions to war battles, expectations about world in the post-war age, etc. The first one, made in June 1941, gauged the sentiments on the attack of Russia by Germany. Besides gathering the results for every country, Cantril prepared a Pan-American report, the first broad picture of the Latin American feelings about a single public issue.[v]

Some of the observer´s tasks were tied to espionage and served to exert pressure on pro-Axis media vehicles. In Mexico the reports of Corson led to an advertiser’s boycott to the important newspapers Excélsior and Ultimas Noticias,[vi] to Hoy, the most influential magazine, and to the radio station “XEW,” bedrock of the current multimedia empire Televisa, accused of helping the Nazis.[vii]

The offices of the observers were dismantled on March 3, 1942, and many of them continued their investigations on communication within the American Embassies.[viii]

For biographical references of the communication scholars, see: Everett M. Rogers, A History of Communication Study: A Biographical Approach (New York: The Free Press, 1997), p. 220, 267-271, 381; Christopher Simpson, Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare 1945-1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 26, 87, 130-131 and Brett Gary, “Communication Research, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Mobilization for the War on Words, 1938-1944,” Journal of Communication 46:3 (Summer 1996): 124-147, 125.
Its name was changed in 1941 and in March 1945, when it became “Office of Inter-American Affairs” (OIAA): Donald W. Rowland, History of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1947).
National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland, (NARA), Record Group (RG) 229, Box 135, 2. Surveys 9, “Lloyd Free’s Report (February-May 1941).”
NARA, RG 229, Box 137, 2., From Cantril to Spaeth, March 19, 1941. Massey, because of Ambassador George Messersmith´s complaints, resigned in December 1941 and his assistant John Corbin stood in for him. Cfr. NARA, RG 229, Box 139, from McClintock to Corson, February 3, 1942. A new list produced few months later indicated some changes in Brazil, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador: cfr. NARA, RG 229, Box 137,2: “Names and Addresses of Observers.”
Cfr. NARA, RG 229, Box 138, Folder “American Social Surveys Export Information Bureau # 13”, from Corson to Cantril, July 2, 1941; NARA, RG 229, Box 139, # 21, from Cantril to Spaeth et al, August 12, 1941.
Cfr. NAW, RG 59, 812.911/307, From Daniels to Secretary of State, April 10, 1941; NAW, RG 59, 812.917/46. From Robbins to Duggan, September 22, 1941.
NARA, RG 59, 812.74/428; From Corson to Miller, October 17, 1941.
NARA, RG 229, Box 139, from Robbins to Rockefeller et al. March 9, 1942, and Donald W. Rowland, op. cit., p. 242. Harald J. Corson was hired by the American Embassy in Mexico City: Ibid, from McGurk to Secretary of State, circa February 1942.

Gary, Brett, “Communication Research, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Mobilization for the War on Words, 1938-1944,” Journal of Communication 46:3 (Summer 1996): 124-147.

National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland, Record Group 229, “Records of the office of Inter-American Affairs [OIAA]”

Rogers, Everett M., A History of Communication Study: A Biographical Approach, New York: The Free Press, 1997.

Rowland, Donald W., History of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1947.

Simpson Christopher, Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare 1945-1960, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Image Credits: (located in primary Spanish text)
Images provided by author from the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 229, OIAA Files.

Author: José Luis Ortiz Garza is Professor and Research Director of the School of Communications at Universidad Panamericana, Mexico City, and author of the three books on media history in Mexico.