Dialogue With Díaz

Dialogue With Díaz

Oscar Díaz started working for the radio when he was 18 years old in order to pay for his studies at the University of Lima, Peru. At the age of 23 he got his own radio show where he interviewed politicians, academics and writers. This show would become the second most popular political program on the Peruvian airwaves. Mr. Díaz has won several awards in both Peru and in Latin America for his work as a journalist. During the dictatorship of Alberto Fuijimori between 1990 and 2000, Oscar Díaz’s journalistic activities earned him the ire of the regime. After the fall of Fuijimori, Mr. Díaz worked as spokesperson and as a political consultant for the new president, Alejandro Toledo. I talked with him via Skype about a number of subjects that should be of interest to graduate students at Newhouse.

Logo of Oscar Díaz company:

Please allow me to introduce myself

“I have been the radio host for a political program, I have been an interviewer for a television program and I have been an editor for several newspapers. Those things are already very different from one another. I have also been a producer for radio and television. Now I work as a political analyst for television and radio and I’m a consultant for political campaigns and public relations strategy. All these different jobs and positions are, for me, mere different versions of a communicator[1].  That doesn’t mean that a communicator has to have several versions; there are communicators who are excellent screenwriters, others are superb at writing books and there are communicators who are fantastic editors for newspapers. It’s a personal choice of each and every professional to see in which fields of communication he wants to work. When I’m analyzing the political landscape of Peru, I have a different mindset than when I’m giving media training to CEOs and when I’m giving consultation during a political campaign, I have yet another mindset. When I started my career on the radio, I would not have thought that “communication” would play such an important role on the radio. Nowadays there are CEOs, engineers from international companies, coming to me because they feel the need to communicate better.”

Social media in the Andean nations

“There is still a somewhat stark division between social media and, by lack of a better term, ‘serious journalism’ in Latin American countries in general and in Peru specifically. Radio, television and newspapers still count for most media consumption in Peru.That’s changing of course, especially with the younger generations in Lima (the capital of Peru). I can see this change happening in front of me with my own two kids, who hardly open a newspaper, but keep themselves informed about what’s happening in the world via their mobiles. I’m sure the balance will be tipping more and more towards social media in Peru the coming years.”

Nothing new under the sun

“When I was working as a newspaper editor, one of my jobs was writing headlines and leads. If one were to analyze tweets, and then especially news related tweets, you would see that they are very much comparable to headlines, to leads that people use in newspapers to call attention to articles. Some of my colleagues fear the digitalization of journalism and lament that the good old days of newspapers are over. I understand that new things can be frightening, but I don’t share their fear. Changes happen all the time in the world of communications. When television arrived in Latin America, people thought that film would be a thing of the past before long. And look at us now: we consume more hours of film than ever before due to streaming services like Netflix, who were an answer to the rigid programming hours of television. I think ‘serious journalism’ will go the same way, it will not die. It will have to learn to co-exist with fast news. That said, I don’t even think that the paper version of newspapers will die out. As long as we are willing to print words on papers, there will be people who want to read those papers. The same argument could be made about books. Last week, Fire and Fury (Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is a unauthorized biography about the Trump administration) was a trending topic on twitter in Peru.  A book written in English about an American president was trending topic in a Spanish speaking country. And then there are people who say that books are dead.”

With great reach, come great responsibilities

“The one thing that is fundamentally different between traditional media and digital/social media are limitations of scope and reach. Traditional media always have had some limitations; the scope of their reach was defined by geographical, technical and cultural limitations. Internet offers infinite possibilities to spread all sorts of content you can imagine. That can be scary. Let me illustrate this by an example. In the last century, Orson Welles, pretended that there was a real alien invasion going on in his radio show. People in New York fell for it, so much so that the NYPD ordered Welles to stop broadcasting and forced him to announce that the whole thing was part of his show. Imagine that someone would do the exact same thing tomorrow, but this time on the internet. Imagine that someone would succeed in making people tweet, post and vlog about an alien invasion that is supposedly taking place, all hell would break loose.”

Who censors the censor?

“During my 35-year-long career in media and journalism, I have always been a strong believer in the fundamental and undeniable right of freedom of speech. No matter how blunt, scathing or hurtful opinions can be, people have the right to express them. I have always favored those who were censored over the censors, no matter how opposed I am to at least half the opinions I encounter on a daily basis. Denying people the right to have an opinion is censorship and censorship is one of the things that separates an open, democratic society from a dictatorship. I do understand that it can be hard to live with opinions that are very different from yours, but nobody ever claimed that democracy was an easy Sunday picnic in the park.  There is, however, a difference between stating an opinion or trying to disseminate false and pernicious messages as news stories. If there were to be a censor, the only morally justifiable option would be the general public. In this day and age, it would be next to impossible to define what is ‘fake news’ and what is ‘serious news’. The New York Times is a bastion of investigating journalism for person A, but a failing and untruthful newspaper for person B. Who are we to believe? No, rather than fighting holy wars about good or bad journalism, we should make sure that we know who the person is behind every article, blog, tweet or post. Name and rank. Who wrote, when did he write it and where did he write it. Behind a mask people can go to great lengths. People will think twice about divulging ‘fake news’, if the world would know who they are and where they are.”

A profession for everyone

“There is something interesting about our profession. Lawyers, doctors, teachers and police offers all need a license to do their work. They have to study for years to get that license, there are moral codes they will have to respect if they want to keep that license because their license can be revoked or suspended when they don’t. With journalism, it’s a bit different. You can create a blog and start writing articles and if enough people read those, you very well could call yourself a journalist. You don’t need a license or an official diploma for that. As long as enough people think you’re a journalist, you can consider yourself as one and maybe you are one at that. Journalism has always been a very welcoming profession. A good friend of mine studied economy and even went on to do his MBA in the United States. He also knew how to write well about economic developments so he started writing columns for the newspaper I was working for. Later on, he even interviewed people about economic affairs. He called me one day to say that he considered himself to be a journalist first and an economist second. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.”


[1] Communicator, from comunicador, used in Spanish speaking countries as “someone who  works as a professional communicator”

Pim Leeuwenkamp

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