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Comunicar Journal 35: Film Languages in the European Collective Memory (Vol. 18 - 2010)

Intercultural journalism: Peruvian and Bolivian representation in the Chilean daily press news


Rodrigo-Francisco Browne-Sartori

Ricardo-Alberto Baessolo-Stiven

Víctor-Manuel Silva-Echeto


This article examines the processes through which the massive press generates and represents the cultural discourses of two of the most polemic migrant groups coexisting nowadays in Chile: Peruvians and Bolivians. The representation that the communication media carries out regarding the studied cultures strongly influences the imaginaries of the Chilean audiences. That calls for special concern so as to propose the necessary spaces for intercultural exchange as much in the media as in the social institutions. These spaces will be the ones in which communication studies and intercultural journalism can unite, in order to offer meeting and communication alternatives between culturally different groups. The principal goal of this research study is to understand how, in the processes of social construction of reality through the communication media, are represented the Peruvian and Bolivian «discourses of difference» in Chile. The methodology employed to validate such proposal is the Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) applied to the news in «La Cuarta» and «Las Últimas Noticias» newspapers, belonging to the press groups with the greatest circulation of the country: the consortia Copesa y El Mercurio S.A.P. The results of the research allow us to conclude that these press media represent realities which tend to marginalise the «migrant other», through the reinforcement of identity imaginaries constructed upon the frontier relationships among the three national-states.


Social construction of reality, culture, identity and discourse of difference

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1. Introduction

Conflict situations and cultural clashes caused by migratory phenomena, social discrimination or border problems, for instance, appear in the media on a daily basis and are the target of the spectacularization they make of reality. This reality is revealed from a defined and established identity, in contrast to an otherness, which appears to be different, exotic, and supposedly weak. In relation to the aforementioned, and following Campoy and Pantoja (2003: 37), «the current situation has been given by non-homogeneous societies where the migratory phenomenon hasn’t been given enough time for the shaping of a defined public opinion about the issue of migration as well as creating a social consciousness about it»; for this reason, it is urgent that the fields of communication theories and their applications to journalism question themselves regarding the way the media carry out certain news construction processes and the way those processes can be analysed and studied. This is especially important if we are talking about the reinforcement and installation of discourses regarding minority groups and cultures, as in the case of Peruvian and Bolivian migrants in Chile and their exposure to the formal and traditional sensationalist press in Chile.

That is the reason why this article partially exposes some of the results from the research study «Intercultural Communication and Journalism: Critical Analysis of the Social Construction of Reality through the Mapuche, Peruvian and Bolivian Representation in the Nationwide Daily Press News (Copesa and El Mercurio) (2008)», conducted during 2008. Its general aim is to understand the processes of the construction of news and the representation they do regarding the discourses on the Mapuche, Peruvian and Bolivian peoples in the nationwide circulation daily press, taking into consideration the intercultural studies developed in the field of communication and their applications to journalism.

After analysing the news published during 2008 in «La Cuarta» and «Las Últimas Noticias» –sensationalistic newspapers that belong to the most powerful journalistic groups in Chile and that also have the greatest circulation– it can be asserted that, at least in relation to the discrimination against Peruvians and Bolivians through the media, there is an important amount of social representations already established and contextualised in the collective memory developed through almost two hundred years of construction of the nation-state. From a historic standpoint, these classifications can be found in the geographic distributions of what was known as the War of the Pacific, a battle that culminated in both annexation of southern areas of Peru to Chile and in the impossibility of Bolivians to access the sea.

The specific analysis of news related to Peruvians and Bolivians in the Chilean press tries to establish and consolidate the representation models that take a distance from intercultural interaction. In the area of communication media, these representation models have been theorised by Israel Garzón (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006) and Rodrigo Alsina (1997, 1999). In the field of education, mediation and communication studies, they have been developed by Martín Barbero (2003), Aguaded (2001), Vilches (2001), García Galindo (1994, 2005), and Sierra (2006), among others: «Our utopia of an understanding community is more than ever contradictory, since together with its capacity to eradicate those discriminations that tear us apart on a worldwide scale, what it does today is project more violence... » (Martín Barbero, 2003: 17).

As a result, it can be seen that the media create generalizations that are manifested and reduced to representations that «tend to approximate to a hegemonic interpretation or, at least, to an easily reached consensus» (Rodrigo Alsina, 2006: 39). The media are backed by the imaginary which in turn becomes an official voice that focuses on the interests of its respective nations acting according to that truth to protect a supposed common well-being. The problem is that these representations can easily mutate into stereotypes and prejudices against others. In Chile, there is a powerful stereotype marking the discriminatory treatment of Peruvians and Bolivians in the studied press regarding the increasing migratory phenomena from the countries in the Altiplano due to the latest global economic crisis.

2. Cultural communication and identity

According to Flusser (2008), the first meeting point among different cultures is intrinsic to human beings, as the current social science theories do not conceive of societies engrossed in and of themselves or in isolation. Quite the contrary, societies are understood according to other communities’ perceptions. This creates a relationship where communities can form their identities through «discourses of difference» (Silva, 2003: 52). The latter together with the idea that globalization has made cultural exchange easier, as posed by Laplantine and Nouss (1997), exist in a complicated context of new ethnic and national groupings, where communities open themselves to the problem of identity. «In this sense, despite being a challenge for the cultural identity, the process of globalization, facilitated by the rapid evolution of the new communication and information technologies sets the conditions for a renewed dialogue among cultures and civilizations» (García Galindo, 2005: 77-78).

Reflecting on the multiple and active nature of the notion of culture, Grimson (2001) concludes that the main element of culture is the human being and the activities men and women carry out to develop and preserve their culture’s identity. Based, over all, on the heterogeneous character of some cultures, Grimson holds that the definition of communication allows for validation of a proposal of inter-cultural encounter, where interactions prevail against a homogenizing and equalling generalization. Therefore, at the intersection of communication and culture it is important to resort to the notion of interaction spaces, highlighting what is intercultural as a viable demonstration of nonsymbolic exchanges as well as physical and material interaction.

Consequently, it is appropriate to criticise the misunderstanding of concepts derived from the encounter between culture and identity, since –if we consider a community as a human group with its own homogeneous culture and identity– there would not be space for interaction among cultures through communicative phenomena. This would mean that national societies would end up homogenizing themselves; aboriginal peoples, becoming westernized; and migrants, integrating themselves. In other words, the Black migrant should become as White as the host receiving that coloured visitor. Nevertheless, it is easy to deduce that this does not happen, as culture is in constant turmoil, interrelation and exchange.

Rodrigo Alsina (1999) has a unique view of identity; he understands the concept as a cultural construction generated by social relations and interactions. This implies that identity is not inherent to man, but rather that it is built by comparison and differentiation from others. This author presents two planes of identity: paradigmatic and pragmatic. Paradigmatic identity implies that people have a series of historically established and socially connoted models which are constantly renewed. The pragmatic plane of identity means that construction originates through interaction with others, acquiring its form from inter-subjective relations. In Rodrigo’s words (2001), to broaden and better understand this peculiarity it is vital to approach the problem from a constructivist standpoint.

3. The media’s construction as reality

Following Rodrigo’s ideas and the objectives of this research study, it is necessary to ponder the notions Berger and Luckmann expose in their book, «The Social Construction of Reality» (1972), primarily the applications and implications in the media of these notions and their influence on the mediatised spread of certain realities. The media build specific tools and instruments to say more in the smallest space possible. One of journalism’ favourite ways to accomplish this is through the use of stereotypes. «Stereotyping is an easy way to come to an agreement with the audience since, in most of the cases, stereotypes are perceptions greatly shared» (Rodrigo Alsina, 1989: 122). A pejorative stereotype such as the Peruvian and Bolivian «difference» in Chile is difficult to omit because it offers easy explanations to issues that are hard to assimilate, above all when it is about socio-cultural phenomena. It is because of this, Israel Garzón (2002) argues, that it is urgent to create mechanisms to guarantee a new kind of journalism from the globalised understanding of what is intercultural, assuming that the written press generally carries out several processes to generate a mediated, segmented and modified reality, depending on their interests.

In order to understand the way individuals build their realities, it is pertinent to begin with what Potter (1998) poses when saying that it is natural to create factual confirmations not just by chance, but because real life situations, and even fiction, are better perceived when they are believable and coherent. In social sciences, even in the sociology of scientific knowledge, the term constructionism is used with different and sometimes contradictory nuances. In the case of Berger and Luckmann, constructionism is reflected in the way experience adopts the shape of entities and solid and lasting structures in a social context.

The reality of daily life appears as reality par excellence –«supreme reality» as Berger and Luckmann call it– because it is natural to envelop oneself fully within it. It is a reality within reach of individuals, which allows itself to be manipulated and activities to be performed in it. In this supreme reality, one’s conscience is dominated by a pragmatic cause, i.e. «attention to my world is defined by what I do and think about it» (Berger & Luckmann, 1972: 40). It is important to analyse this point as these authors propose that the interest an individual has in a particular subject is determined by his or her physical closeness to it. What is interesting here is that the strategies used by the media when trying to directly influence individuals’ representations of reality through the subjects they are most interested in can be justified. Although the media herein studied are characterised by their mass effect because their target is more global than local, the way to reach the topics that are closer to the individuals’ daily lives is developed in the different standardised sections of the newspaper, so today is not surprising to find politics, current events, sports, editorials, etc. when one opens the newspaper. This example allows one to understand how the media build and guide reality, categorising it into topics that can better reach the individuals’ priorities according to the individuals’ interests and urgency.

Furthermore, daily life is presented as an orderly reality in the sense that the phenomena involved are arranged beforehand through imposed guidelines which are independent from each person’s interpretation. This order makes reality seem objective, mainly because of the language used which, on the one hand, names the objects, situations and phenomena to regulate all that is meaningful to the individuals and, on the other, allows for the formation of contact networks in which everybody moves.

The reality of daily life responds to an organisation that is based on the chronotope (Bajtin, 1989, 1993). Daily life focuses on the time-space relationship that consists of the present here and now, which is perceived as a reality of consciousness Vázquez Medel (1999, 2003), applying this time/space relationship presents the Teoría del Emplazamiento [Theory of Summons]: «To be summoned is to be called at a specific time and place to admit something as right. In Spanish, this chronotopical category (Bajtin) is created through the convergence of emplazar1 (from en– and plazo [in-; period]), ‘give someone a period of time to execute something’; and emplazar2 (from en– and plaza [in-place]), ‘to place something in a specific place’» (Vázquez Medel, 2003: 26).

In this coexistence among several «emplazamientos», understood as real worlds, it could be said that the media act as a world separate from the world of daily life because they have and require their own codes to be decoded. That is, when we open the newspaper, we enter into a different world and when we close it, we go back to the reality of daily life. Berger and Luckmann explain this phenomenon through theatre. When the curtains are opened to the audience, they see themselves «taken into another world with its own meaning and into an order with or without much to do with the order in daily life» (Berger and Luckmann, 1972: 43). Thus, it can be said that the media are endemic producers of limited areas of meaning, known for drawing attention away from a focus on daily life, which causes a break in the tension of consciousness.

4. Chile: a centralist country in terms of news construction

Having said that, the news related to the Peruvian and Bolivian conflicts in the analysed newspapers generally place these conflicts in geographic situations far from most of the Chilean people. This is mainly due to the news centralization that characterises the mass media and/or the media with greater circulation in the country, which causes most of the news to come from the capital city.

Chile’s commercial centralization leads the Peruvian and Bolivian population to concentrate almost entirely in Santiago, which makes it difficult for the citizens in the regions to identify with the problems inherited by intercultural coexistence and its interrelations. Further, in certain cities and places in Chile there are no Peruvian or Bolivian people, and thus there is no cultural exchange of this kind at all. Finally, the political centralization in Chile turns Santiago into the news headquarters, even when the news develop in other regions or abroad, since the official voices –loyal and constant friends of news treatment in the media– are in the capital of Chile.

In general terms, the news, commercial and political centralization in Chile causes the news regarding Peruvians and Bolivians to be detached from the direct perception of many people who read the studied newspapers. They in turn make their interpretations and assimilations about their ever-changing realities. What is interesting here is that, although social constructions about reality are subjective, they can be activated by the media which, beyond their implicit intention of creating social imaginaries, become the victims of centralization. This situation reinforces even more strongly the direct influence on the individuals who access them.

Rodrigo Alsina (1999), who understands the concept of reality as an inter-subjective social process of discourse analysis, identifies two contrasting models to study the media. Firstly, the media can be analysed according to their tendency to build an apparent or illusory reality where, as said by some theoreticians, the media manipulate and distort an objective reality or, as said by others, the media impose a social reality. The second model proposes a hyper-realization of social reality following the reference of the sociology applied to semiotics, sociosemiotics and ethnomedology, where reality is created and spread by the media. The author concludes that the process of construction of reality depends completely on the productive practice of a journalism that is legitimised to build these social realities. This is thanks to the process of institutionalization of the practices and roles in an inter-subjective game. According to Berger and Luckmann (1972), by participating in this game individuals recognise their daily lives. As a result, it is important to clarify that the history of these newspapers shows that they obey a duopoly of information, since only two big journalistic consortia share the whole population that consumes written news in Chile. Additionally, they are known for the centralization of their information, prioritising the events that occur in Santiago and leaving the rest of the region practically uncovered. Apart from that, both newspapers are influenced by economic groups, a situation which has a clear impact on their political tendencies, presenting rigid news guidelines in agreement with the interests of editorial lines committed to the neoliberal right wing.

Based on this, it can be shown that the media create a news system of tendencies. Therefore, the social constructions related to Bolivians and Peruvians, in this particular case, are submitted to a filter of private intentions, as will be seen in the methodological proposal. If there exist political and economic interests that are hierarchically more important than the creation of intercultural spaces, it is not surprising that the treatment of these pieces of news establishes an enormous difference between the Same Ones and the Others, giving life to intercultural discriminations and conflicts and diminishing the dialogue and interaction spaces among cultures through the press, as Casero Ripollés (2004) holds.

5. CDA: A methodological proposal

Teun van Dijk (1990; 1997; 1999; 2003), one of the main exponents of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), states that the media are the most important tools of expression used by the groups that control the greatest proportions of powers in Western society. For that reason, the discourses of the media, especially of the news, have discourse elements that strengthen and reproduce the supremacy of the elites in front of the less favoured social groups. That is, the media are the main producers of discourses about social inequality. Consequently, van Dijk has developed a line of work through CDA to analyse the way the press presents ethnic minorities and immigrants, particularly in and from Holland and Spain.

Regarding the above, and since this research study attempts to understand the way the media affect society by building social imaginaries that reinforce intercultural difference related to Peruvians and Bolivians, it is interesting to work according to the guidelines –although with some adaptations to the local reality– proposed by van Dijk about CDA and their consequences concerning the aims of the present study.

This article specifically presents the news referring to Peruvians and Bolivians in the sensationalistic newspapers «Las Últimas Noticias» and «La Cuarta», using as a starting point the analysis made during 2008. The news was studied from general to specific and from global to local issues, regarding formal and meaningful aspects, and were divided into four planes, presented on two planes (table 1):

5.1. Meaning/ text plane
5.1.1. Thematic plane: global meanings

This plane refers to the topics treated by the journalistic-informative discourse being analysed, indicating the interactions, social structure and orientations of the way the piece of news is issued. In practice, these global meanings cannot generally be easily recognised; they must be inferred from discourse itself or, as a last resort, they must be assigned to it. This provides a first approximation to the analysed piece of news and allows for the control of other general aspects. In the field of journalism, this abstraction plane consists of a set of conventional textual categories such as the cover, callings, the text of the piece of news, opinions, and comments. Journalists give this plane, the heading, the relevance of the text, i.e. they try to outline what is essential between the straplineand the heading. In consequence, this present study tries to look for the answers to several questions: what the text is about, which semantic macrostructures (topics) can be deduced from the text, how they are linked, which are the assumptions regarding the other-migrant’s discourse.

5.1.2. Local meanings plane

This plane refers to a study of the local meanings, for example and according to the first interests of this study, the literal meaning of words. Local meanings, unlike global meanings, are the result of the mental relationships developed by the people who issue the piece of news.

These will depend on specific mental models and, therefore, will influence the resulting opinions, attitudes and social constructions of the people who receive this information. Local meanings can be divided into two categories: implicit and explicit in nature.

• Meanings of an implicit or indirect nature consist of information that can be inferred from the words in the text, like implications, assumptions, allusions, ambiguities, hyperboles, etc. The text does not express them explicitly. This kind of local meaning is part of the audience’s mental model and it is not evident in the analysed text.

• Meanings of an explicit or direct nature consist of obvious information that is clearly found in the words of the text. In this case in particular, it is interesting to scan the lexical strategies used by journalists in the information given in the press or the news about the topics uncovered in the previous plane.

5.2. Formal/text-context plane
5.2.1. Subtle formal structures

They refer to the global and local forms or formats that can be characterised by their lower influence on the recipients’ conscious control of the news. The objective, in principle, is to observe the way formal ideological apparatuses of discourse that can issue crucial information operate, which build biased models depending on the dominating discourses and their sources, based on what Potter (1998) defends as economy of truth.

5.2.2. Contextual plane

They are mental representations in the long-term memory, where knowledge and opinions about experience are stored. It refers to their importance in relation to the local and global model contexts.

6. Results

«La Cuarta» and «Las Últimas Noticias» analysis

The first step in analysing the journalistic material that we wanted to study was the selection of all the pieces of news referring to Bolivians and Peruvians in «La Cuarta» and «Las Últimas Noticias» during 2008. In this publication we will present only two cases as examples of the methodological application of the matrix of CDA already presented. The selected pieces of news and their respective analyses are the following.

The most relevant conflicts between Bolivians and Chileans have their origin in the War of the Pacific, where Bolivia lost its sea territories to Chile. Although they have tried to recover them, they have not been successful. For that reason, the sea is an element of disagreement between the two countries.

7. General conclusion

Although the methodological application only allowed for the exposition of two examples of the news of the selected Chilean press, the results revealed that during June 2008, for instance, the total number of publications referring to the topic were 33: 19 in «La Cuarta», and 14 in «Las Últimas Noticias». These articles were primarily located in the sports and crime sections. The most recurring explicit local meanings were «cholitos» applied to the Peruvians; and «Paitocos» and «Bolis» [pejorative names], to the Bolivians. The implicit local meanings had to do with drugs, border conflicts, migration, soccer, pisco, suspiro limeño [a dessert], and ceviche [a dish made of raw fish in lemon marinade], among others.

In the case of soccer, the field is turned into a battle field where different intercultural conflicts are brought up. For example, there is a constant association between Peruvians and Chileans regarding culinary conflicts related to the claim of origin and the countries soccer capacities. This can be interpreted as the need to question the identity of the opponent or, at least, as the need to threaten to do so during the same sports event.

The crime section presents a different scenario. The difference lies in that the intercultural police-related events can promote State policies against intercultural interaction. These policies could end up in stronger control of Peruvian and Bolivian immigrants in order to avoid drug trafficking and illegal border crossing. The problem is that laws, the same as the way the studied news constructions work, tend to generalise, which, in practice, creates and reinforces stereotypes: burrero Peruvians, indigenous Bolis, or vice versa.

Finally, as Rodrigo Alsina (2001) and van Dijk (2003b, 2008) assert –and although the two examples previously exposed are the most paradigmatic of the sample– every methodological application to the news involved in this project revealed, to different degrees, the reinforcement and/or creation of new stereotypes regarding the discourses of the difference, no matter if they are Peruvian or Bolivian people, which corroborates with the hypothesis of our investigation.


FONDECYT project N° 1107062 «Intercultural Communication and Journalism: Critical Analysis of the Social Construction of Reality Based on the Mapuche, Peruvian, and Bolivian Representation in the Nationwide Daily Press (Copesa and El Mercurio), 2008». National Scientific and Technological Commission (CONICYT). Chilean Ministry of Education.


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