Ángel Pedro “Baby” Etchecopar, the longtime host on Radio 10, is a polarizing figure in Argentina.
He is infamous for the aggressive (oftentimes racist and sexist) opinions he expresses on his show. In September 2018, he was accused of breaking a federal law and engaging in discriminatory actions motivated by sex, for comments he made on air. The accusations and subsequent trial came as a result of Etchecopar’s frequent verbal attacks on the women belonging to the Evita social movement, which caused a group of protesters to take evidence and a written presentation to government prosecutors, and requested that the state sanction him for human rights violations.
Baby’s show, entitled “Ángel Del Mediodia” runs from 10AM– 2PM weekdays on Radio 10, is still currently on air, and has been for 20 years. The show discusses current political events, reflects on social trends, and holds interviews with prominent figures. The show is is characterized by Etchecopar’s distinct personality, and he frequently takes aim at particular social groups, presenting himself as a voice of reason in contrast to “political correctness culture.”
However, I don’t want to mince words here at all, this man is sexist and openly discriminatory.
This article does not question that. In fact, in the face of overwhelming evidence, Judge Susana Parada did not question that either. La Nación reported that over eight pages of written transcripts from his show served as evidence in court of the prosecutor’s claims of gender discrimination. Still don’t believe me? Here are some examples of things Etchecopar has said during his radio show.
1. “If your 12-year-old daughter comes out showing her t***, with tattoos, and blowing a kiss… she’s being provocative,” Etchecopar said of the Micaela case, where a young woman was sexually assaulted and then killed in Entre Ríos.
2. Continuing on the topic of the sexual assault of minors, Etchecopar said: “The problem is provocation, because it isn’t by chance that so many rapists have suddenly appeared. Before, no young girl came out showing her ass.”
3. He said of the #NiUnaMenos protests against gender violence: “The only problem with these fucking marches isn’t the battered woman, but that they don’t accept themselves and they don’t realize that they cannot go out and compete with other women.”
4. He said of the women of the Frente de Organizaciones en Lucha: “They are women who have nothing to do except bother the people who actually work.”
There are many many more of his comments that are so offensive we didn’t feel comfortable repeating them in this article, and not only directed toward women.
The accusations of discrimination are obvious, but Etchecopar’s sentence, however, is what has everyone talking, as prosecutors have agreed to an alternative sentence to resolve this particular case.
Beginning in March, and continuing over the course of five months, Etchecopar will host a weekly series of gender scholars and activists as guests on his show (to be selected by prosecutors), who must be allowed to speak at least for ten continuous minutes, uninterrupted. The sentence also includes a fine of AR $15,000 and a one-year probation period during which there is a zero-tolerance policy on discriminatory remarks against women. Prosecutors have cited this agreement came from a discussion with Etchecopar, wherein he showed remorse for his actions, a desire to apologize, and reverse his image as a discriminator.
This sentencing is an interesting development that comes on the heels of the #MiraComoNosPonemos, #NiUnaMenos and #MeToo movements, wherein men are being held accountable for gendered violence and abuse. Particularly because despite the high-profile accusations of varying degrees, we have yet to see high-profile repercussions, especially in legal cases.
It’s revelatory to call men out on their destructive behaviors, but then the question becomes, what do we do next? What happens to the man who’s made a harmful, gendered remark, and then been called out on his behavior? Maybe he apologizes, maybe he doesn’t? Maybe a case actually goes to trial, maybe it doesn’t? Maybe he loses his job, or future opportunities, or the respect of his peers, but also maybe he doesn’t? In a society that has worked so hard for so long to protect men and their privilege, it’s entirely possible (and actually very common) for brave women to come forward, expose their trauma, and for the men accused to never see real repercussions, or even a court case.
For example, Ari Paluch, another Argentine radio host, was fired from Radio Latina in 2017 as a result of sexual harassment allegations, but he returned to his show only ten months later, seemingly without repercussion. His return to radio was marked by admissions of reflection, going through hard times and looking to improve himself, but noticeably absent from his statements were an admission of guilt and an apology.
This is why cases like that of Etchecopar (where a trial has occurred and a sentence is enforced) are so important to consider. What does Etchecopar’s alternative sentencing mean for the future of men being held accountable? What does this punishment say about Etchecopar’s behaviors?
This question comes in what’s often been called a “post-truth” era, where the lines between fact and opinion are consistently being blurred, and even when someone is saying something true, it’s possible to evade and dissuade from telling the truth that you don’t want other people to see. For example, now that the verdict has come back in his case, we should be able to say, with confidence, that Etchecopar made comments that violate essential human rights, and he shouldn’t have made them.
However, some defend his actions, and say that he has a right to opinion and free speech, despite the court case. This poses an interesting question, because of the large number of his followers that still defend Etchecopar’s discriminatory comments. Does the alternative sentencing reinforce that his actions were wrong, by having his sentence be publicly carried out on his radio show, or does the fact that it is an alternative sentence, wherein Etchecopar is positioned opposite gender scholars on his show reinforce the idea that there are two sides to every issue? We’ll look at these two different viewpoints to this sentencing.
Very common in the socio-political lexicon nowadays is this idea that there are two sides to every issue. A good example of this is how most often in media, whenever there is a discussion on climate change, news networks will always present a scientist with a degree and research to present (or just Bill Nye), and then some cynic. However much peer-reviewed, science-based evidence is presented in favor of climate change being a real threat, the structure is always a debate, and there are always two sides presented.
This is how we come across panels and discussions in the media that represent issues as two sided that, in reality, are not two-sided (or rather shouldn’t be). For example, in the case of Baby Etchecopar, when it’s proven that his opinions are discriminatory, by a judge, in a court, and he is definitively on the wrong side of the law, is it possible that he still represents one side of an issue? His followers might say yes.
So, one way to look at this sentencing is that it presents not only to him, but to his followers, that Etchecopar is definitively on the wrong side of this issue. Having gender scholars explain the harm and causality of gender discrimination on his show is a way of publicizing his sentence in the exact same way that the crime was public, on his show. Because the creation of the two-sided structure is almost entirely on the part of followers. It’s hard to argue that there aren’t two sides, when there are two groups of people arguing an issue, for example feminism. In this “post-truth” era, it becomes increasingly important to emphasize fact, publicly.
Also, this alternative sentencing leans heavily on the idea of reform. What is the purpose of punishment for crime without the hope, or rather expectation, that the culprit understands their wrongdoing and changes future behavior? This sentence allows Etchecopar space to reflect on his actions in a very public and unavoidable way, but also relies on his willingness to do so. Prosecutors are extending space to Etchecopar and his followers to understand the effects of discrimination, which has the potential to be much more powerful than just jail time or a fine, as long as Etchecopar’s willingness to change is as genuine as he says.
On the other hand, another viewpoint of this sentencing is that Etchecopar’s only punishment ought to be to listen to the “other side” of the argument. The fact that his punishment is irregular, could mean to the public that he’s not as guilty of wrongdoing as people who commit other crimes. This reinforces the idea that his only wrongdoing is that he didn’t listen to the “other side” of the argument.
For example, when, on his show, Etchecopar is sat opposite a gender scholar, it constructs a binary that places him on one side and gender scholars on the other. In reality his wrongdoing was the harm he caused to the groups he talked about, not that his opinion is on “the wrong side.” As long as he continues to be allowed air time, he will continue to reinforce this binary by giving a voice to, and serving as a figurehead for, people with discriminatory beliefs.
So, what does this mean going forward in an era of post-truth? One thing we can say definitively is that the way people see truth is changing. As long as there is space in media for it, people will continue to be discriminatory, despite the results of court cases. As the way people see right and wrong changes, it is essential that sentencing changes as well, particularly in media-centric, polarized cases like that of Baby Etchecopar. It’s integral not only that he understand the wrongdoing, but that his followers do as well.
The prosecutors in Etchecopar’s case are wise to construct an alternative sentence, because with usual sentencing, such as jail time or a fine, it is entirely possible for Etchecopar (and his followers) to convince themselves that he was innocent all along, with no harm done on his part.
However, is a conversation with gender scholars playing into his hand? Will it only polarize and binarize an already contentious case? After the five months of weekly scholars, and year-long probation, will Etchecopar return to his ways? Maybe. The hope is that he listens, learns, understands who he’s hurt and why, and then changes his future behavior. Really, this is all we ask of men in Etchecopar’s position right now. Is it really that much to ask?