How top TV executives sold Peruvian stations' editorial integrity
By The Associated Press
LIMA, Peru They were once Peru's top television executives. Now two sit in jail, three others are fugitives and the latest broadcast head to fall is awaiting extradition from Argentina.
All are accused of having made corrupt deals with Vladimiro Montesinos, the disgraced intelligence chief who propped up former President Alberto Fujimori's 10-year regime.
Hundreds of videos secretly taped by Montesinos show how the shadowy power broker corrupted military chiefs, judges and congressmen to maintain an autocratic government.
Key to that control was public opinion, which investigators say the now-jailed spy chief shaped largely through bribes and favors lavished on television moguls to corrupt and manipulate Peru's airwaves.
Fujimori's downfall a year ago and his self-exile to Japan was followed by the arrest of Montesinos, and then the historic election of Alejandro Toledo, Peru's first democratically chosen president of Indian descent.
But the drama isn't over, and its latest chapter is playing out, appropriately enough, on television. Peruvians have been treated to almost daily broadcasts of the Montesinos' "Vladi-videos" and audiocassettes from the Congress floor.
Ernesto Schutz, majority shareholder of Panamericana Television, channel 5, made his video debut in Congress Oct. 2. He was shown, sometime in late 1999, accepting stacks of cash totaling $350,000 to slant coverage in favor of Fujimori's fraud-filled re-election last year.
In a separate audiocassette recorded in November 1999, Schutz and Montesinos are heard haggling over the amount of his bribe to support Fujimori.
"Hey, I have big needs, at least $12 million," the voice identified as Schutz's says. Montesinos' voice is heard saying none of the other television owners received such high sums, and makes a counteroffer of $9 million in six monthly installments.
Not enough, comes the reply. "With that, brother, I can't make it."
Release of the Schutz video- and audiotapes shocked Peru's already scandal-ridden television industry.
Monica Delta, host of Panamericana's top-rated Sunday news program, "Panorama," resigned "out of respect" for the viewers. More than a dozen reporters and producers also quit in protest.
"It was already difficult enough after the video, but the audio was intolerable because we heard Schutz haggling for dollars to sell the station's editorial line," said Panamericana news director Eduardo Guzman.
Schutz was hardly alone. Referring to heads of channels 4, 2 and 9, Montesinos is heard telling Schutz, "We're all on the same team."
A day after the tapes' release, Schutz, facing arrest for embezzlement and corruption, fled to Chile, then boarded a flight for Germany but was taken off by Interpol during a stopover in Buenos Aires and is being held in an Argentine prison.
Analysts say Peru's television industry, racked by debt and dependent on government advertising, was an easy target for Montesinos. Besides cash, he offered to influence court cases involving back taxes and shareholder battles for control of various stations.
In return, newscasters critical of the government were thrown off the air and in several cases Montesinos assumed direct control of programming and even dictated newscast scripts from his National Intelligence Service headquarters.
Throughout his contentious re-election bid, Fujimori enjoyed prime-time coverage, while rival candidates were ignored or portrayed as mentally unstable or terrorist sympathizers.
The first television executives arrested were brothers Samuel and Mendel Winter, minority shareholders of Frecuencia Latina, channel 2, who are accused of signing a contract worth $500,000 a month to slant coverage in favor of the government.
The Winters took control of channel 2 in 1997 after Fujimori's government stripped the majority shareholder, Baruch Ivcher, of his station and his Peruvian citizenship in retaliation for reports linking Peru's military to torture and political espionage.
Israeli-born Ivcher regained his Peruvian nationality and his station after Fujimori fled.
Press, Power & Politics: Peru 2000
A Freedom Forum report on the Peruvian media.