May I speak to the press office, please?
You want to talk to the CEO, the opposition leader, the president? As a journalist it’s easy – you just ask their press representatives. As normal as this might seem in other countries, but Chile has – of course – its own take on the subject. In Germany, it was always more difficult, involved more research or time to get in touch with a grass route organization or lets say your typical Joe Shmoe – just because they are not used to talk to the press every day. They have jobs, families and an interview with a journalist might be a once in a month event for them. In Chile however, I found it far easier to contact, lets say, women who are willing to talk about their illegal abortion than to locate a regional politician. Due to very partial media covering, especially NGOs or smaller organizations are mostly ignored by Chilean radios, TV stations, newspapers or even online magazines. So if they get a phone call from a “gringa” journalist, they usually offer to give you and interview right then and there, or if that’s not possible, they come and pick you up, even if it involves a 4 hour drive or offering you a couch for the night. On the other hand, I have tried, really hard, to get in touch with Chile’s official elite. I wrote emails and called, went to their offices, talked to the secretary, even to their mothers in law and … nothing! Not available. Out of town. Will call you back later (in Chile that’s code for “they don’t want to talk to you!”). Maybe the big, rich and usually not very beautiful in Chile are spoiled by the constant attention they receive or they are scared of a foreign journalist actually asking a real and maybe inconvenient question? I can’t really give you a clear answer to that because the few officials that I actually interviewed either gave me a power point presentation or a pre-written press statement. My latest (ad-)venture into Chile’s political world took me to the congress. A special session was held to vote for one of Chile’s mostly disputed bills, “Ley Hinzpeter” (Hinzpeter Law, named after the secretary of interior, Rodrigo Hinzpeter). The official name is Ley de Resguardo del Orden Público (law for protection of public order) and involves a stricter legislation on troublemakers during demonstrations (government version) or a restriction of the right of free expression (everybody else’s version). Since the press channels of the congress move slower than the lines at Banco Estado and I have to cover the voting, I decide to go to Valparaíso to watch the session myself. In the morning of the day of the session (after two weeks of being ignored), I finally get through to the PR representative of the congress who assures me, the session is held that same evening and gives me a press accreditation. GRANT! But, of course, there’s a catch. Once I get to the congress, I realize that nobody knows of such a session. I am sent from the Senate over to the Congress and back, up to the second floor where the special committees meet – and nothing. At the information counter I am told that these types of sessions are no longer held in Valparaíso but in Santiago. Wonderful. I have to write an article tonight, I came all the way to Valparaíso from Santiago and all this for nothing??? Luckily, there seems to be some wine and cheese event there. Maybe, if I had been in a more investigative mood I would have asked why tax money is wasted on it but right then all I wanted was a glass of wine … or two … or three. I decide to give it one more try though and ask the waiter (?!) about the session. “Oh, yes of course. The special committee meets on the third floor, room 313.” How come a waiter knows more than the officials at the information desk? – I do not even want to know the answer to that question! Right now, I am just happy that I finally found my session. With all my confidence I walk into the room and ask about the Hinzpeter Law voting. “Oh THAT!” finally a senator seems to remember vaguely that there is a bill with that name. “No, we are not voting on that today. We changed the schedule.” – ??? – “Well, it has been postponed.” – ??? – “I think, they (who is THEY???) decided this afternoon (WHEN???) to postpone it.” – ??? – “Maybe, there will be a session next week.” – ??? – “Well, I can’t be more concrete. It has been postponed without a new date. So basically we are going to debate the bill whenever the president feels like it.” – ??? – “Just contact the president’s press office, they will have more information for you.” – !!! –