94.4% of El Comercio belongs to a company with a capital of USD 800, which in turn is owned by an Uruguayan company. Who is behind this shareholding scheme? Two media directors, Claudio Paolillo, president of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and editor of the weekly Búsqueda, and Gonzalo Marroquín, of the Guatemalan weekly Crónica, have produced a portrait of a businessman who hoards media outlets in Latin America and the possible reasons behind the sale of the oldest newspaper in the Ecuadorian capital.
The sale of the Quito newspaper El Comercio, which was made public by El Universo late last year, quoting a portal edited in Guayaquil by journalist Vito Muñoz, was made official by the government’s Corporate Control Office.
According to the information contained in this Office’s public database, in a certificate issued on January 12, 2015, 94.4% of the shares of El Comercio belong to the national company Telecomunicaciones Globales de Entretenimiento Televisivo Telglovisión S.A. RUC 1792480426001 which owns 15,487,040 of a total 16,400,000 of the nominal capital of the Company Grupo El Comercio C.A. The remaining 6% of the shares are distributed among 205 individuals and corporate bodies, including some members of the Mantilla family, employees and former employees of El Comercio, and Quito businessmen.
At the same time, the Telglovisión Company, which has US$800 of the nominal capital, is owned by an Uruguayan company called Blackster S.A. and by the company that owns Guayaquil TV station RTS. The representative of the Uruguayan company in Ecuador is Luis Esteban Gómez Amador, president of RTS. The president of Telglovisión S.A. is the Argentinean citizen Josefina Tejada Rodríguez. The company is registered at the address of a well-known law firm in Quito.
But, who is behind this complex shareholding scheme? A character named Ángel González and nicknamed “The Phantom”, a billionaire businessman who lives in Miami, whose portrait we have produced through the following interviews conducted by César Ricaurte in his program broadcasted by Rayuela Radio.
Gonzalo Marroquín: “The greatest distorting effect on our democracy is produced precisely by Ángel González’s TV”
What is said about Ángel González in Guatemala? We know that he owns an important amount of media outlets there and that virtually all the TV is in the hands of this businessman.
What is happening in Ecuador is very interesting and I believe it is a step further in the progress made by Ángel González in Latin America in regard to the media. Although this is, as far as I know, one of his first forays into the printed media, which despite not having the great impact that television has, is the greatest generator of opinion in our countries. Ángel González is Mexican. He began his professional life in Guatemala, where he managed to buy, in a rather obscure way, two TV stations during the 70s. He later bought the other two open broadcast TV stations that existed in Guatemala at the time, becoming the owner of the four existing frequencies.
What is interesting is that his growth has always been linked to his very good relations with the current governments. This has made it easy for him to be granted concessions and splendid advertising contracts. His growth began through the acquisition of these TV stations in Guatemala. González has businesses in Mexico, cinemas, partnerships of small TV stations. His commercial operations are based in Miami, where he lives.
González has become a very successful man buying media outlets, specifically TV and radio frequencies throughout Latin America. He already owns frequencies in Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. His presence can be felt in practically all of Latin America.
However, the dangerous part – this should be known in Ecuador where he is in control of the newspaper El Comercio – is that he always has very good relations with the current government. This is part of his expansion policy, part of his editorial policy so to speak. Therefore, in my view, he is harmful to a democracy.
In Ecuador, according to the official press, 13 media outlets are in the hands of Mr. González. Gonzalo you have followed Ángel González’s career, where does the nickname “phantom” originate?
His nickname, “the phantom” can be explained very easily. It is a nickname he was given during the 80’s and 90’s when he began to expand in Latin America. He often uses other companies and other people to buy media outlets. He hardly ever shows his face. The press never has access to him.
Is it true that presidential candidates in Guatemala have to ask Mr. González’s permission before running for office? Is that part of his power?
It is shameful and embarrassing for me as a Guatemalan to accept that the largest distorting factor of our democracy is precisely Ángel González’s TV. At this moment a procession of candidates has left for Miami to speak with Ángel, who negotiates the advertising contracts, which are very large at the time of elections. We are having elections at the end of the year, the call will be made in May. All the candidates negotiate with him to determine what percentage of the advertising on TV will go to them. It cannot be said that it is free because the law prohibits this, but he always finds a way to charge through political favors. TV, for example, is exempt from taxes, and this is not the case with other media outlets. He always obtains benefits through these political favors. He always bets on the winning horse and he will always have a good relationship with whoever wins. 80% of the advertising of the Guatemalan government appears on TV and in exchange for this the TV news programs are very friendly, to put it mildly. The president has 30 minutes for a weekly program on Ángel’s TV stations at no cost. No cost is a way of putting it, because we all know there are no free lunches in politics.
Have the media outlets you have directed clashed with Ángel González at any time?
I was the director of one of the TV stations bought by González and had a public confrontation with him in 1988. I was then the editor of Prensa Libre, one of the most important newspapers in Guatemala, and because of our accusations regarding TV advertisement there was a confrontation between the TV station and the newspaper.
Do you believe González is working with someone in the government to take control of El Comercio?
I would not be surprised. He has established partnerships with members of the press and the media in Ecuador. It could be a way of taking ownership of the newspaper and I suppose this would be done with official approval. I am well aware of the lack of press freedom in Ecuador and the repressive attitudes of President Correa. The same has happened in Venezuela, Argentina. I do not know any details of the negotiations, but González is one of the few people who could invest in Latin America the 48 million dollars that are being talked about. Not many businessmen would be willing to invest that kind of money in a business that, although not following a downward trend or about to disappear, has no longer been for the last 20 years as buoyant as it used to be.
The newspaper executives have promised that there will be no change in the editorial line. How real are these promises considering González’s previous behavior?
I would like him to make the promise and to make it publicly, so that the people of Ecuador could then judge. But the saddest thing that could happen in Ecuador would be that the newspaper fell into the hands of a foreigner who is only interested in money. González does not care about the national situation, about the freedom of press and of expression that belongs to everyone and not just journalists. It is quite concerning when media outlets fall into the hands of foreigners, their purposes are different than when the capitals are national, which we assume are interested in the country, in democracy. Nobody is going to go into a newspaper saying they will change the editorial line because the next day they will have neither subscribers nor readers. So saying they will not change the editorial line would be what any businessman would do, but we will have to see what really happens.
Claudio Paolillo: “The images of President Correa in a national chain tearing a newspaper were a very strong symbol worldwide”
What do you think of the announced sale of the newspaper El Comercio, which has practically been confirmed. One of the most emblematic newspapers of the continent sold to businessman Ángel González?
It actually concerns me. Mr. Ángel González is a billionaire who lives in Miami. He is a Mexican, born in Monterrey and has bought into the media of practically the whole of Latin America. He has radio and television networks. His modus operandi generates concern. For example, in Guatemala he owns the four open television stations that exist in that country. He has the absolute monopoly of open television and since he has had it, i.e. two decades, he has renewed it permanently according to what Guatemalan politicians need. Guatemalan presidential candidates go to Miami to ask for Mr. González’s support in all four TV stations in exchange for State advertising. And this is copied by other Guatemalan politicians. The deal is that there will be no interference with the government. In the countries where he operates Mr. González’s premise is not to interfere with the government whether it is right or left wing. Whether it is democratic or a dictatorship, it does not matter. That is how he operates in Guatemala. In Nicaragua he has been an ally of the Ortegas and he operates without interfering with President Ortega.
In the case of Nicaragua, it appears that Mr. González is the partner of Daniel Ortega’s sons in some TV stations?
That’s right, he is the sons’ partner and therefore any requests for freedom of expression are restricted by the government. This has been formally denounced before the IAPA and all existing media organizations such as the National Association of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The TV and radio stations owned by Mr. González in Argentina are currently in good standing with President Cristina Fernández and we can say that in Uruguay he owns 13 radio stations. And the first order given when he arrived to Uruguay was: we do not interfere with the government. So this incursion he is making in Ecuador is the first involving a printed media outlet. He always bought TV and radio stations before. He has never had any newspapers or weeklies. This is the first time he has bought a newspaper. And El Comercio is an historical newspaper, an important newspaper in Ecuador. I do not know why it has been sold but there must surely be some financial reason. And there is concern because of his background, since Mr. González has decided never to interfere with any government and place the media under his control maybe not in the government’s service, but in a position that is not even neutral, but ready to support the government and that is what worries us because to do journalism one must be really critical and a kind of counter-power. This is basically the opposite of what Mr. González proclaims.
This is the first foray Ángel González has made into the printed press and he has done it involving a big newspaper, which is also atypical because González usually takes over media outlets that are bankrupt and he turns them into very profitable businesses by not interfering with the government and offering programs distributed regionally. What does this incursion into the printed media mean for IAPA, which includes all of the continent’s newspapers?
Well, it is a novelty and it is hard to know what will be the involvement and the future of Mr. González in this matter. It is a mystery for IAPA because El Comercio is part of IAPA. That is, El Comercio was always a member of IAPA and to be a member of this Association you have to fulfill certain requirements, such as respecting freedom of expression and promoting it; i.e. not having any shady dealings with governments. So we have to wait and see how he behaves because if he has already made an incursion into the printed media he will not have the same policies as when it comes to radio and television. I honestly cannot answer this question until I see the results of the change, because there always is some change. And you will see it every day in Ecuador. If El Comercio had an editorial line that was critical of the government of Mr. Correa, we have to wait and see if it continues with this editorial line or if the line changes and the newspaper becomes a pro- ruling party media outlet, a friend to Mr. Correa. We have to see what position he takes up on the court. It all remains to be seen: as the bible says, by their fruits ye shall know them. We must pay attention to what El Comercio publishes from now on.
With the disappearance of the newspaper Hoy a few months ago and the sale of El Comercio to a foreign businessman who is apparently related to the government, isn’t it becoming clear that the media are not very viable in Ecuador anymore?
Well, you have a point there and it is the direct result of the policies applied by the government of President Correa to break up the media, because it is one of the most direct ways of applying censorship. That is, censorship can be applied according to the parameters and censors managed by the Supercom, which are based on the Communication Law, the worst when it comes to freedom of expression in Latin America. It can also be applied drowning the media financially and economically and that is what Mr. Correa has been doing since he decided that the media were enemies of his government. He is momentarily achieving his objectives in some cases. We still do not know why El Comercio was sold: if it was due to financial problems or business opportunities. I am not sure about the main reason why they decided to sell the newspaper. In any case, in Ecuador all policies involving the press, the media and free, independent and critical journalism have been policies that aim to silence dissenting voices, whether through direct censorship, Supercom or by way of indirect censorship involving the economic asphyxiation of the media. I believe the images of President Correa in a national chain tearing a newspaper were a very strong symbol worldwide. These are images that show his intention to break the critical press, remove the human right to speak freely and apply, as it should be in any democratic country, the guarantees provided by the art. 19 of the Universal Law of Human Rights. Unfortunately this is the way things are in Ecuador and we will always be there to fight for those who like you still put your integrity at risk in the course of your work.
I cannot help asking about the approval of the media law, the Radio and Television law in Uruguay and its differences with that of Ecuador. What do you think about the approval of this law and is it really completely different to the Ecuadorian law?
Well, it is a law which has generally sparked some controversy. There were some projects, some things that were wrong were changed. For example, Uruguay’s Supercom, which is called the Audiovisual Communication Council, is not managed by a person appointed directly by the president as is the case in Ecuador, it is run by a group of 5 members, of which only one is appointed by the president and the other 4 have to be endorsed by 2/3 of Congress, i.e. they must also be endorsed by the members of the opposition. But the Uruguayan law, which only applies to radio and television, only withdraws State permits, nothing else, and it does not interfere with internet or the press and it must request permission from the State to operate, although it also uses the public service frequency. It has 12 or 14 items expressly prohibiting the State’s intervention in regard to the content that radio and television stations decide to broadcast. That is lacking from the Ecuadorian law. Some things could somehow affect freedom of expression, but that will be discussed when the law is regulated over the course of this year. As I say this law is very different from the Ecuadorian law.