A Brief History of the 1988 Franja de Propaganda Electoral
Harry L. Simón Salazar, Ph.D.
One of the most consequential examples of Latin American political communication is a month-long series of political advertising televised throughout Chile during the 1988 national referendum intended to define the democratic future of the country. The collection is known as the Franja de Propaganda Electoral, which loosely translates as “the official space for electoral propaganda.” Produced initially to encourage Chilean voters to participate in the 1988 plebiscite, it consists of 13 hours of televisual content; 6.5 hours for the Franjas in opposition to the military regime (the NO campaign), and 6.5 hours for the pro-Pinochet Franjas (the SÍ campaign).
The 1988 Franja de Propaganda Electoral is collectively the most fascinating cultural/ political media artifact produced during this period in Chilean history. Despite its considerable significance, as of the summer of 2022, a complete set of this archival material remains inaccessible through any institutional collection within Chile.
The material is nearly impossible to find because at the end of the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), a series of leyes de amarre or “gag laws” were hurriedly passed to protect the image and interests of Pinochet’s supporters after his exit from the presidential palace. According to one of these dictatorial statutes, no audio-visual material produced in Chile during the military regime will be publicly available unless someone claims authorship and ownership rights over said material, and subsequently authorizes its public circulation. Members of the anti-Pinochet NO campaign completed the authorization process for their programming soon after the 1990 transition to civilian rule, but it has never been completed for the pro-Pinochet SÍ campaign programming. To this day, those who supported the Pinochet regime during the 1988 plebiscite collectively refuse to acknowledge their role in producing the SÍ Franjas, thereby blocking the public circulation of this essential historical content within Chile, even three decades after the first and only national broadcast of the complete series.
In 2015, I negotiated the duplication of the only known complete set of the 1988 Franja de Propaganda Electoral. After years of unsuccessfully searching for a new institutional home for the Franjas outside Chile, in 2019, I uploaded this copy of the entire Franja collection to my personal server, thereby helping to overturn the Pinochet regime’s residual censorship of this content. What follows is a brief history of the 1988 Franja de Propaganda Electoral and how I provided access to the only publicly available complete set.
With the September 11, 1973, aerial bombing and violent seizure of the presidential palace of La Moneda, Augusto Pinochet demonstrated how far he was willing to go in his mission to alter the course of Chilean history. This attack established a benchmark for political violence during his seventeen years as dictator of Chile, a period marked by political assassinations, death squads, censorship, and general repression of all unauthorized political activities. By the late 1980s, Pinochet’s hold on power was unyielding, political reconciliation with the military was unimaginable, and civil war seemed inevitable.
Under these circumstances, official preparations began in earnest for the military junta to convene a third and final referendum in 1988 that was key to its continued political dominance for at least another decade. The entire process would be a controlled one. It was designed to culminate in the establishment of a “Protected Democracy” – a political order that would legitimate the 1973 coup d’etat and normalize the existing military regime by rebranding itself a popularly elected government. The new “Protected Democracy” was bound to the political-economic tenets of the Chicago school of economics and precluded any participation of left-wing political parties. Pinochetistas were confident it would work out in their favor. In the end, even if things should go awry, their interests were protected by the power of the Chilean armed forces, who would remain under the direct control of General Pinochet irrespective of the outcome of the referendum.
Thus, what became known as El Plebiscito was scheduled to take place on October 5, 1988, to be decided according to a simple vote of SÍ or NO; a SÍ or “YES” victory would be treated as a mandate for the dictator to retain power in Chile for another eight years, but thereafter serving as a “democratically elected” president. On the other hand, a NO victory required Pinochet to convene new presidential elections within twelve months of the 1988 vote, and subsequently surrender his “presidential power” to a newly elected leader chosen from a field of civilian candidates.
“Chile, La Alegría Ya Viene”
Sanctioned and coordinated by the Chilean military dictatorship to substantiate its 1988 plebiscite in the eyes of the Chilean people, the regime opened uncensored nationally televised airtime during the final 27 days of the 1988 electoral contest. Access to the Franja Electoral was afforded to both sides of the El Plebiscito; one side sought to sway voters to cast their vote in favor of continuing the military regime of Augusto Pinochet (the SÍ vote), and the other was in opposition to the dictatorship (the NO vote). Each was assigned 15 minutes of nationally televised airtime beginning at 10:45 pm (11:45 am on weekends), back-to-back, every night, running for 27 days before the Plebiscito vote was to take place.
On September 5th, 1988, the moment arrived for Day 1 of the nationally televised Franja de Propaganda Electoral. The initial broadcast represented the culmination of months of intense and risk-laden organizing by supporters of the NO campaign. At exactly 10:45 p.m., a blue screen appeared on every television channel throughout Chile, and Vivaldi’s “Violin Concerto No. 8 in D minor” filled rooms across the country. The disembodied voice of the military regime entered abruptly to read aloud the following words as they flashed on the screen:
IN COMPLIANCE WITH PROVISIONS REGARDING ELECTORAL PROGRAMS, ALL TELEVISION CHANNELS SHOULD INTEGRATE THE NATIONAL NETWORK AS OF THIS INSTANT.
The well-known TV personality, Patricio Bañados, opened the NO campaign with a short, but meaningful statement:
Chile, happiness is on its way.
Good evening. For the first time in 15 years, those of us who do not share the official way of thinking, have the opportunity to address you through a television program of our own. This is also an opportunity for me to reconnect with this profession, from which i was marginalized more than five years ago.
But, of course, 15 minutes, in 15 years, is not very much time, so let us begin by sharing that happiness, the one that is coming our way.
From the first minutes of this broadcast, the evocative power of the Franja campaign was evident. Suddenly, 2.5 million of television sets across the country began to sing the oppositional jingle Chile, La Alegría Ya Viene – “Chile, Happiness Is On Its Way.” This moment electrified Chileans and marked the beginning of a qualitative shift in Chilean political culture that would become the mediatization of Chilean politics.
The televised Franja Electoral campaign continued for 26 more days. Despite their mainstream media proscription, performers and artists who were marginalized from government-controlled broadcasting (such as NO campaign anchor Patricio Bañados pictured above) were suddenly back on TV with a distinctly uninhibited and even liberatory swagger to their presentation. Or, as was the case of the highly popular, youth-oriented, and politically conscious Chilean rockers Los Prisioneros, the Franjas would be the first time Chilean national TV acknowledged their existence.
The NO Franjas were both a televised political event and a sociocultural experience. It was a mediated catharsis for millions of Chileans who did not support Pinochet and who, for the first time, saw themselves and others like them on national television. The Franjas of the NO campaign introduced an unexpected vision of Chilean democracy composed of beautiful smiling faces, pirouetting bodies, mimes, and catchy jingles. They included ironic comedic sketches, musical presentations, intense drama, and thinly veiled references to the military regime’s ongoing threat of political repression. The Franjas were a new mediatized form of oppositional politics broadcast nationally and internationally for the world to appreciate, and subsequently inspire depictions of happy “forward-looking” Chileans, dancing and blissful, peacefully waiting for a chance to vote NO and thereby opening the door for democracy to arrive in Chile in the form of esa alegría – that “happiness that was on its way.”
This was how during September of 1988, the televised Franjas introduced a new, though thoroughly fictive, understanding of what democracy represented to Chileans, and what Chilean democracy would come to represent to the world.
The Impact On Chilean Political Culture
The average number of daily viewers numbered 4.5 million. It was immediately ranked the most widely viewed TV program in Chile, scoring the highest ratings in the history of Chilean television up to that moment – ten points higher than the most popular show Sábado Gigante (Piñuel Raigada, 1992; Boas, 2015; Quilter, 1989). By the time the Plebiscito vote arrived, 93% of registered voters had watched at least one day of Franja Electoral programming (ibid).
On October 5, 1988, 56% of the Chilean electorate voted against Pinochet. Notwithstanding the lack of substantive political, economic, and institutional change throughout the country, on March 11, 1990, over a year and a half after El Plebiscito, Pinochet ceremoniously handed the presidential sash to the leader of his legal opposition, Patricio Aylwin, thus initiating a purportedly peaceful transition to civilian rule in Chile.
Multiple sectors of the Chilean political class declared that the cheerful and relatively innocuous television campaign developed by Pinochet’s opposition had been the key factor that tipped the scales in favor of the NO campaign enough to cajole an electoral victory from the Chilean military dictatorship (Piñuel Raigada, 1992; Tironi, 2013). After the vote, opinion polls asked Chileans what they thought about the Franjas. A frequent description expressed by viewers of the Franjas was that they felt like a “breath of freedom” (Quilter, 1989).
During the 15 years previous to the Franja campaign, the Chilean TV audience had only experienced the total instrumentalization of TV, and nationally televised direct critical representations of the dictator were something that no one would have dreamed possible. It was a tremendous shock to see a representation of Chilean politics so fundamentally different from the official portrayals produced by the military government and its television allies. Within the context of the highly restrained 1988 Plebiscito, the Franjas appeared suddenly as a new, exciting, yet ephemeral public sphere – just beyond the repressive reach of the Pinochetista regime, within which a seemingly impossible transition was not only articulated but also, through which, a transformation of Chilean political culture was engendered (Crofts Wiley, 2006; Simón Salazar, 2018).
Decades later, the discursive power of that initial televisual experience is still palpable. There are multiple accounts about how the televised programs of the NO have come to represent a seminal moment in Chilean political communication. Latin Americanist Paula Cronovich claims that the NO Franjas “left a mark on the nation’s collective memory; its rainbow emblem and the lyrics and tune of its upbeat jingle still stick in people’s minds” (2013). Franja themes and imagery have since helped reproduce political folklore in a country that, for the next twenty years, voted in favor of Concertación governments – the political coalition that directed the NO campaign. Franja mythology began to gain prominence immediately after the 1988 Plebiscito to serve as a cultural prophylactic, helping mollify the institutional reemergence of unresolved tensions, conceal the impunity enjoyed by a substantial part of the Pinochetista elite, and soothe repressed memories of human rights violations in Chile (Simón Salazar, 2020).
The importance of this material should not be underestimated. In the wake of the 25th anniversary of the 1988 plebiscite, a number of biographies, novels, and theatrical plays were produced to tell the story of the now-legendary producers of the Franja de Propaganda Electoral. There is even an Oscar-nominated feature film.
Unsurprisingly, most of these artistic renditions focus on the Franjas developed by the NO campaign. Beyond celebrating how the NO Franjas captured the democratic imagination of Chileans and inspired support for the negotiated political transition in Chile, there are few accounts of how the situated, short-term logics in the Franjas influenced Chilean collective memory of this period. Indeed, Chileans were compelled to alter their understanding of what democracy and human rights meant for them as a function of residual Pinochetista power, since the recorded history of human rights violations in Chile stands in sharp contrast to Franja de Propaganda Electoral content produced by the NO campaign. This differentiation provides insight into how the month-long televised campaign helped graft the myth of change and reconciliation onto the body of Chilean political culture and helped suppress the collective memory of human rights abuses in Chile.
The Pinochet Regime’s Residual Legal Claim Over Chilean Collective Memory
The result of the 1988 plebiscite is only part of the extraordinary Franja story. When Pinochet seized power in 1973, TV was still a novelty enjoyed only by a small sector of the Chilean population. Between 1973 and 1988, the Chilean television industry rapidly expanded to emerge as Pinochet’s preferred medium. Operating under the direct political censorship of the military regime for 15 years, the absolute suppression of Chilean TV by the military regime amplified the significance of that moment in 1988 when the people of Chile witnessed oppositional politics self-represented on national television for the first time in the medium’s history.
The Franjas continue to evoke strong feelings among Chileans. This televisual experience not only marks the beginning of the Chilean transition to democracy but also represents a broader shift in Chilean political culture that helped alter the meaning of democracy in that country (Simón Salazar, 2018). The 1988 Franja de Propaganda Electoral is collectively the most fascinating cultural/ political media artifact produced during this period in Chilean history. Despite its considerable significance, as of the summer of 2022, a complete set of this archival material remains inaccessible through any institutional collection within Chile. The material is nearly impossible to find because at the end of the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), a series of leyes de amarre or “gag laws” were hurriedly passed to protect the image and interests of Pinochet’s supporters after his exit from the presidential palace. According to one of these dictatorial statutes, no audio-visual material produced in Chile during the military regime will be publicly available unless someone claims authorship and ownership rights over said material, and subsequently authorizes its public circulation. Members of the anti-Pinochet NO campaign completed the authorization process for their programming soon after the 1990 transition to civilian rule, but it has never been completed for the pro-Pinochet SÍ campaign programming. To this day, those who supported the Pinochet regime during the 1988 plebiscite collectively refuse to acknowledge their role in producing the SÍ Franjas, thereby blocking the public circulation of this essential historical content within Chile, even three decades after the first and only national broadcast of the complete series.
The contemporary impact of the partial circulation of Franja content is noteworthy; whereas the NO Franjas, when viewed in isolation, are often celebrated as happy icons of a peaceful transition and political reconciliation, when they are viewed together with the corresponding SÍ Franjas, a dramatically different story of that critical political moment is made accessible. To be sure, the 1988 Franja de Propaganda Electoral can only be understood when both the NO and the SÍ Franjas are viewed together as they were experienced in 1988 – in the form of a national debate over the future of Chile that was taking place while the country was still firmly in the grip of the military regime. Short of experiencing the Franjas in this way, scholars, political figures, and Chilean collective memory of the 1988 plebiscite remain fractured and incomplete.
I have first-hand knowledge about how a complete set of this material is nearly impossible to find because, for the better part of four years, I unsuccessfully searched for a set. It was not until 2015, while conducting my final field research trip to Chile, that I was able to negotiate the duplication of the only known complete set of 1988 Franja de Propaganda Electoral stored in the archives of Televisión Nacional de Chile (TVN), the Chilean public television network. That last official archival set was not accessible to the public, where it remained in the original “U-Matic” ¾-inch tape used in 1988, and was susceptible to the inevitable degradation of that magnetic tape format.
I am proud to note that the person who authorized my reproduction of this rare complete set was Amira Arratia, the director of archives at TVN who had worked there since before the 1973 coup d’état. Amira is a widely respected figure in Chile, most notably because immediately after the coup d’état she was instructed by the recently installed military administrators of TVN to destroy all audiovisual material related to Allende and the Unidad Popular (UP) government. Amira did remove the items from the TVN archive, but instead of destroying the collection as directed by her new military superiors, she risked her life to hide the material in her home for seventeen years, bringing it back to the TVN archive only after the return of a civilian government in 1990. I presume that Amira’s decision to provide me with a complete set of the 1988 Franja de Propaganda Electoral was based on my promise that I would take it out of Chile and find a new institutional home for it, where it might be made accessible to the Chilean people. Her decision was especially significant since the original collection remained on ¾-inch tape, and was likely damaged in the process of being transferred to a digital format before it could be delivered to me.
Pinochet’s residual legal claim over this content resurfaced in September of 2016 when I uploaded the Franja content that is embedded below to my personal YouTube channel, I marked the video as “unlisted,” making it unavailable to the general public, as it was intended only for viewing during an academic talk. At some point during early 2017, two companies, “egeda” and “egeda Wildside” claimed copyright for this content but did not block access to the material from my channel, choosing only to “monetize” the content in their favor. I have not been able to find any information about these companies, much less the basis for their copyright claim. At some point during the summer of 2017, “Canal 13 SpA” also claimed to own the copyright of this material and filed a claim with YouTube to completely block the unlisted video from my personal page. To be clear, YouTube does not process copyright claims very well, and it is usually enough to receive a random claim for YouTube to block the distribution of content on its platform. I continue to provide the link to this blocked video to serve as a reminder that a complete set of the 1988 Franjas is not available on commercial platforms.
The long-dead dictator’s censorship continued through 2018, the 30th anniversary of the Chilean plebiscite of 1988. The complete Franja set itself is valuable for research in multiple disciplines, including anthropology, communication, film and television studies, history, literature, political science, and sociology. Despite substantial academic interest in this material and the fact that Chilean researchers, as well as scholars from around the world, would benefit from the housing and preservation of this material at an academic institution, none of the eleven U.S. academic intuitions I approached accepted my donation of the Franja de Propaganda Electoral collection, fearing the consequences of violating the Pinochet regime’s residual claim over said material. My primary interest has always been to find a new home for this material outside of Chile. I am not seeking to be paid for this material and only hope to donate it to an academic institution.
After failing to find an academic institution willing to accept the only complete Franja collection, and no way to get around the various online copyright claims, I decided to disregard Pinochet’s postmortem hold over Chilean collective memory. I moved the digital content to my own server, and you can now view the original 7-minute sample of the Franjas off YouTube here: <https://harrysimonsalazar.net/video-excerpts-from-the-1988-franja-de-propaganda-electoral-0747-min/>. In 2019, I uploaded the entire Franja collection to my personal server. This is the only publicly available complete set of the 1988 Franja de Propganga Electoral. As of 2022, I know of no other complete collection of Franjas housed anywhere within or outside Chile.
A few technical details about the Franja collection:
- The Franja collection consists of approximately 13 hours of a/v material, divided into 30-minute programs, organized according to the original 27-day televised campaign.
- I am working on a narrative description of each Franja program, and I have completed a thorough content analysis of this material. My book, on the other hand, primarily provides a historical and qualitative analysis of the Franjas examined as an artifact of Chilean political culture.
- Ideally, I would have preferred to see this material deposited in a Latin American studies AV archive/collection for preservation, but also that it be made searchable (as a text) to thereby make it accessible to scholars and the general public, at least in text form.
- To my knowledge, there is no intrinsic risk with an academic institution adding this material to a collection. The NO Franjas already circulate freely online. The problem is with the SÍ Franjas, for which no one within Chile is willing to claim the rights. The material remains sensitive to some members of the Chilean political elite that were active in the military regime. They maintain a campaign to scrub this material from Chilean collective memory along with any other evidence of their participation within the military regime. That is why a complete set of this material is not available in Chile. The complete set of Franja material is available here.
Boas, Taylor C. (2015). “Voting for Democracy: Campaign Effects in Chile’s Democratic Tradition.” Latin American Politics and Society 57.2: 67–90.
Crofts Wiley, Stephen B (2006). “Assembled agency: media and hegemony in the Chilean transition to civilian rule.” Media, Culture & Society 28.5: 671-693.
Cronovich, Paula (2013). “The ‘NO’ Campaign in Chile: Paving a Peaceful Transition to Democracy.” Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts, Discussion Paper, February.
Piñuel Raigada, José Luis (1992). Cultura y Comunicación Política en la Transición en Chile. Madrid: Centro Español de Estudios de América Latina (CEDEAL).
Quilter, Peter A. (1989). “Television in the Chilean Plebiscite of 1988.” Fletcher Forum on World Affairs 3: 295–305.
Simón Salazar, Harry L. (2018). Television, Democracy, and the Mediatization of Chilean Politics. Lanham: Lexington Books.
Simón Salazar, H. (2020). The Mediatization of Human Rights Memory in Chile. Communication Theory, 30(2020), 429-448.
Tironi, Eugenio (2013). Sin Miedo, Sin Odio, Sin Violencia: Una Historia Personal Del NO. Santiago: Editorial Planeta Chilena.