Although a holiday, Good Friday wasn’t a slow news day in El Doce. Producers were busy getting details of the apparent rape and murder a young girl whose slightly burned remains were found near a power plant a day after she disappeared.
The story of 11-year-old Rocio Barletta topped headlines all over Cordoba, Argentina that day.
Noticiero Doce, El Doce’s noontime program whose content is mainly local news, had regular live reports on the situation of the victim’s family. Using a mobile live pack, a reporter delivered his updates inside the Barletta home, interviewing the grieving mother from time to time. Another live report showed the child’s angry neighbors storming to the house of the suspect.
The Barletta family allowed media access to their home, enabling TV networks like El Doce to deliver compelling and disturbing images of grief that shocked the province.
Crime is nothing new in Cordoba, however. Events in the province, as seen in the news, reinforce this belief among people.
I studied the daily line-up of Noticiero Doce for a week, and saw that just like newscasts in the Philippines–and probably in many other countries–stories about crime are in the program every day.
On Monday, April 9, Noticiero Doce’s top story was a robbery at a bakery, where armed men beat the owner and his wife and tied up their granddaughter before running away with 4,000 Argentine pesos (around US$1,000).
On the same say, robbers stole some 200,000 Argentine pesos from an insurance company. Police caught two of the suspects on the spot.
Another robbery incident made it to the newscast’s first body the following day: a jewelry store losing items worth 80,000 Argentine pesos to thieves.
The next day, a school was robbed for the sixth time, and police had a shootout with suspected thieves in a separate incident.
The top news on April 12 was about armed men who broke into a house and took away more than US$7,000, a plasma TV, cellular phones, and even the owner’s dog. The owner said the thieves also threatened to rape his daughter.
Other offenses aside from robbery and also made it to Noticiero Doce’s headlines.
The top story on April 11 was about government employees caught partying and getting drunk in the city hall. Administrative charges were filed against them, and they admitted to the mistake.
A 16-year-old boy, meanwhile, was jailed for making at least 88 prank calls to emergency service 101. Days later, he managed to escape.
On Friday, a bus driver was arrested for trying to bribe police with 4,000 Argentine pesos after being caught committing a traffic violation. But it was just the tip of the iceberg. The bus driver raised the money with the help of his passengers, who were found carrying smuggled items with them.
The newscast also had several stories about mass demonstrations, many of them involving government employees.
Members of the Policia Judicial have been holding rallies for several days in protest of their “unhealthy” working conditions. On April 10, they failed to respond to an emergency because of the demonstration: A man who had a heart attack spent four hours lying on the street without rescue, and died.
Doctors, nurses, and other employees of a municipal hospital stopped working in shifts to hold protests, demanding that they be paid their salaries. Reports say many of them have not received their salaries since the hospital was opened in September last year. The local government blamed bureaucratic problems, like missing files, for the delay.
Other government employees, like university professors and cemetery staff, also held strikes to denounce their working conditions.
Some protesters were more creative. To protest the delay in their salaries, employees of the government’s emergency service chained themselves to the door of the mayor’s office. They said they have been asking for a meeting with him, but he was always unavailable.
Some milk producers, meanwhile, distributed one thousand liters of milk in bags for free to raise public awareness of their plight.
Too much bad news?
Bernaus admits that a “greater part” of El Doce’s programs carries bad news. But he says they’re simply telling things as they are.
“If we live in a developed country, maybe all of our problems will be solved,” he says. “Here, we have a lot of problems.”
For Bernaus, El Doce’s mission is to present these problems to call the attention of government and pressure it to find solutions.
This is why the station is often at odds with government. The commentaries in its morning show, for instance, are often critical of officials.
“The government always thinks that we must give the audience good news about the government. But we don’t do it,” Bernaus says.
“We only promise them that when we put on air a criticism, or problems of society, we give them the possibility to respond.”
But the station also makes it a point to have some good news. For instance, Noticiero Doce reported on the increase in Holy Week tourists in the province, and the government office’s plan to computerize its services.
Entertainment and sports news are also a staple in El Doce’s programs. Every gap of Noticiero Doce, for instance, ends with either a sports, showbiz, or lifestyle report.
El Doce takes pride in being the most watched channel in the province. But for Bernaus, it’s not the station’s ultimate goal.
Bernaus says he still longs to see the day when TV stations in Cordoba would finally have more good news to report. To get there, he believes they have to start with the bad.