A War On TV: The BBC’s Battle Against Thatcher And Argentine Propaganda In The Falklands

A birthday party among coworkers ended with a toast. The journalist José Gómez Fuentes, presenter of 60 minutes, the newscast most directly associated in the collective memory with the propaganda of the dictatorship, and did not toast the birthday boy, Marcos Novo, whom everyone knew as “Beto”: he did so for the recovery of the Falkland Islands. The next day the landing of the Argentine troops would take place and Gómez Fuentes inaugurated, the day before, with his glass raised, the triumphalism that would mark his coverage on ATC, Argentine public television.

The dictatorship told its version of the war through its means. The press releases and the national channels added to the invaluable help of the only television channel that sent correspondents to the islands: ATC, with its newscast. 60 minutes to the head. The hierarchy granted to the image was not only intended for the Argentine audience. Not coincidentally, during the first days of the occupation of Puerto Argentino, a technical operator was sent to the islands to install an antenna that would transmit some of the ATC programming for the islanders. Thus was born LUT8 Channel 7 Islas Malvinas. Already on April 4, Gómez Fuentes was boasting on the air of the first bilingual edition of 60 minutes.

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The foreseeable similarities and the obvious differences between how ATC reacted and covered the war and how the BBC did it, the public media corporation that was going through its own battle prior to that of the Falklands: the one that fought against the government of Margaret Thatcher , which even threatened to close it and cut its budget.

The Falklands War fell within the framework of a tense relationship with official sources that is worked out with precision by the BBC historian Jean Seaton in her book Pinkoes and Traitors. The meaning and history of this title is already a first indication of the strained relationship between the BBC and the Iron Lady during their eleven years of rule. Pinkoes it is a pejorative way of referring to liberals. Traitors means “traitors”. The phrase is taken from a BBC humor show in which the host satirized Dennis Thatcher, Margaret’s husband, who used to refer to BBC workers as Trotskyists. The host of the program parodied him by inventing a letter from readers that Dennis had supposedly sent him telling him that he kept telling “the boss”, his wife, that he had to privatize that clubhouse. “pinkoes and traitors “.

The lack of freedom to report was evident on the Argentine side. The correspondent of 60 minutes and the magazine Seven days, Nicolás Kasanzew, since then associated with the victorious communication of the war, would repeat since then that he sent a lot of material from the front, but in Buenos Aires it was flagrantly published. However, BBC reporters – whom the British government did not prioritize when granting permits to go to the islands – also complained of inexplicable censorship at the beginning of the conflict: on the boat that had left for the islands with journalists, there were observers from the Ministry of Defense who did a first check, and then there was a second in London; journalists had to remove the cut allowed in the same ministry. “The censorship,” says Jean Setton, “was inconsistent and often ridiculous. A report that everyone was in good shape, except for a sailor who had a broken ankle, was censored. Reporters were forbidden to mention the sky, the sea. , other ships, where they were, the food, what exercises the troops were doing on board, not to mention how many troops there were or what troops they were with. ” This pressure became more pressing when journalists began to suspect that the censorship was causing serious confusion. “A report that said that only the climate would determine the next phase of the campaign had the word ‘climate’ deleted and the word ‘political’ inserted.” According to the historian, journalists and officials gradually established a more trusting relationship, which allowed them to be placed as a reliable source of information about the war. Still, the coverage featured few images and very few of the distressing ones. In fact, the renowned war photographer Don McCullin was repeatedly refused permission to go to the Falklands. They also did not want images of the battlefield to be broadcast.

In Malvinas to Blood and Fire, the book he wrote to tell what he lived during the 56 days on the islands, Kasanzew pointed out that the censorship was tightened a few days after the surrender and that they no longer made it easier for them to reach the front line. The material, he says, was inspected in Puerto Argentino, in Comodoro Rivadavia and in Buenos Aires, where parts were being erased.

The brutality of the Argentine dictatorship made the circumstances even more dramatic: years after the war, the precarious living conditions, the poor preparation of the young soldiers, the hunger they suffered and even the physical violence they suffered would come to light. in the hands of his superiors, all aspects that of course were never suggested in “the moment of truth”, as the slogan of 60 minutes.

The circuit of the material produced and recorded by the Argentine team, made up of Kasanzew, the cameraman Alfredo Lamela and his assistant Beto

Novo, he entered a circuit that left hours and hours of material inhalable.

The notes that remain from the first days are rather calm: complacent interviews with Mario Benjamín Menéndez, the governor of Malvinas appointed by the dictatorship, with hopeful soldiers, with worried and irritated Kelpers. In the study, meanwhile, the notes tracked the comings and goings of international organizations for a diplomatic solution and boasted of the political crisis that the recovery of the Malvinas had caused in the United Kingdom. An interesting compilation of what the Argentines could see during the Malvinas war by ATC is in the film 1982, by Lucas Gallo, premiered in 2020 at the Mar del Plata Film Festival.

Things changed their tune on May 1 at 4:42 a.m., when the British dropped 21,000 bombs on Puerto Argentino.

Despite the restrictions, the newscasts during the war had a foreseeable audience peak in Argentina, which in the case of 60 minutes it was more pronounced. According to the media of the time, in April the program averaged 25.5 rating points, while in May it reached 36.6 and in June it reached 32.2. On May 9, when the program broadcast, neither live nor direct, the English attack that had occurred eight days earlier, it reached 54 points.

In addition to the follow-up of Foreign Minister Nicanor Costa Méndez’s agenda to emphasize the diplomatic solution and the interviews with military officials from the islands, other notes sought nationalist color and optimism at any cost. Just as the coverage of the demonstrations in support was extensive and celebratory, in another note Hurlingham residents are asked if they agree to change the name of the train station. The most popular replacements at that time were “April 2” or “Malvinas Argentinas”.

The place given by the media to street surveys of no scientific rigor, a very common resource on television at that time, is also significant. The man in the car, the woman in the street, the young man, the old man: all were in favor of recovering the islands. Only the occasional person made a reservation: “as long as there is not a war …”, finished a lady with a few weeks left for the British military response on May 1.

The BBC also had to think about who it represented and where its audience stood, as Seaton details. The director general of the BBC at that time, Ian Thethowan, called a meeting of the Board of News and Current Affairs and told them that “balancing the public’s right to know with the military need to win” was not going to be easy, and that nevertheless they had to represent British opinion as much as possible.

A more curious difference between BBC and ATC coverage is in cultural idioms. From Gómez Fuentes down, no one stopped talking to “our soldiers.” Meanwhile, in the UK, as Seaton recounts, a discursive battle raged around a new news star, Newsnight, which managed to generate trust with the audiences as an independent source that broadcast the correspondents’ information that arrived via satellite. Its driver, Peter Snow, created a stir when he decided to speak of “the British” or “British troops” instead of “our boys” or “our troops”, as Thatcher, his government and, to some extent, also expected. the audience. The journalist was accused in public of practically a traitor. The troops, according to the BBC, were not from themBut the affair drew uproarious internal criticism. As Tom Mills reconstructs in his book The BBC: Myth of a Public Service, an executive reminded editors that the BBC was the Corporation British of Broadcasting, and that the unscrupulous attitude was causing “unnecessary irritation” in the audiences. The British tabloid press fiercely attacked the BBC for every show of lack of nationalist commitment.

Thatcher, strengthened by the conflict, was lethal with the BBC: for her, she had prioritized fairness over patriotism.

In Argentina they never stopped talking about “our soldiers”. Emotional coverage had its peak on the day 24 hours through Malvinas, a marathon headed by its ideologue, Cacho Fontana, and Pinky.

Even today, José Gómez Fuentes continues to be remembered for haughty phrases such as the one that called to come “to the little prince”, in reference to Andrés de Inglaterra.

After the effusiveness and lies, the day came when Galtieri acknowledged defeat on the national network and Gómez Fuentes, with a pin in the shape of the islands on the lapel of his beige suit, also did so in front of millions of spectators. After the newscast showed the heroic images of the soldiers returning and before another report on the succession of the president of the Junta after the defeat, the most listened to during the Malvinas War rehearsed an especially intense editorial, which closed an era for the country and also for the channel, which found it enormously difficult to detach itself from that coverage. True to the style he had cultivated for the past two months, he found the silver lining in an irresponsible war in which nearly 650 Argentine and 250 British soldiers died. “We all felt that we were a Nation, that there was something that identified us with each other, that there was a subtle bond that united an Argentine with another Argentine. And so we say, without any verbal game, that the war of the Malvinas we won it. ”

NS

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