In 2016, President Mauricio Macri’s administration spent almost AR $ 2.5 billion on state advertising (aka “pauta oficial”) via various media groups. The Cabinet Office published the information last week on an open data portal, which was introduced by the Ministry of Modernization in a move towards greater transparency after Macri arrived to the Casa Rosada.

The pauta oficial is the amount of money the Government allocates to media outlets in exchange for publicizing its work and, according to the decree that regulates it, aims to guarantee access to public information for all citizens. (Yay transparency!) The problematic part comes when you delve a little further and realize that the law doesn’t determine how this money should be distributed, leaving the decision to the discretion of each administration.

As a result, a quick glance at the allocation of these funds among the media giants of Argentina during Macri’s first year in office reveals what could be seen as blatant partiality towards certain broadcasting groups, in particular Clarín.

The Clarín Group heads the table by far, having received AR $519 million from the Government last year. This was a huge increase from the AR $96 million that it received in 2015, the last year of the Kirchner administration. Telefe (AR $171.5 million) and the Indalo Group (AR $166 million) scoop up second and third place respectively, with feeble sums compared to Clarín’s jackpot.

Discrepancies in the distribution of funds has caused its fair share of controversy in the past, causing many to question whether the Government is jeopardizing the media’s freedom of expression through economic conditioning.

Macri’s team seems to be following in the footsteps of Cristina’s administration by giving a greater proportion of money to media outlets with which it seems to have ideological affinity – perhaps to the detriment of those with opposing views. The difference is that when Cristina used publications such as Página 12 – the brainchild of prolific journalist Jorge Lanata – for what some claimed was propaganda, those with more conservative leanings around the country were up in arms. This has led many to question whether similar outcry will take place given the amount of money the current administration is giving to one single media outlet.

Just Macri doing cute things like making a surprise visit to a call centre and answering calls, as told by Clarín
Just Macri doing cute things like making a surprise visit to a call centre and answering calls, as told by Clarín

According to a report released by La Nación last year, the Kirchner administration distributed over AR $6.5 billion in pauta oficial between 2009 and 2015, without taking into account the money distributed by State-run entities like the ANSES pension fund. The media companies that arguably benefited the most were the “Veintitrés” (23) Group, which received over AR$ 800 million during the time period mentioned above, Página 12 and the Indalo Group.

When taking office, the Macri administration claimed that it was committed to drastically reducing expenses with regards to the pauta oficial. Last March, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña insisted: “There won’t be any more journalists financed by the Government.” Moreover, Government sources told Clarín that they intended to distribute the money in a more democratic way, even though the law doesn’t specifically regulate it.

So has the Macri camp stuck to the plan? The Government kept part of its promise at least. The total amount of money being spent went from 6.5 billion to 2.5 billion in pauta oficial once Macri took office. Spending has in fact decreased but with such a large portion of that money going to one entity, Clarín, many are questioning just how “democratic” this process of allocation really is.