Television, Democracy, and the Mediatization of Chilean Politics

by Harry L. Simón Salazar, Ph.D.


After seventeen years as dictator of Chile, in 1990 Augusto Pinochet ceremoniously handed the presidential sash to the leader of his legal opposition to formalize the peaceful transition to civilian rule in that country. Among the many idiosyncrasies of this extraordinary transfer of political power, the most memorable is the month-long, nationally televised campaign of uncensored political advertising known as the Franja de Propaganda Electoral—the “Official Space for Electoral Propaganda.” Produced by Pinochet’s supporters and the legal opposition, the 1988 Franja campaign set out to encourage voters to participate in a plebiscite that would define the democratic future of Chile. Harry L. Simón Salazar presents a valuable historical account, new empirical research, and a unique theoretical analysis of the televised Franja campaign to examine how it helped the Chilean people reconcile the irreconcilable and stabilize a contradictory relationship between what was politically implausible and what was represented as true and viable in a space of mediated political culture. This contribution to the field of political communication research will be useful for scholars, students, and a general public interested in Latin American history and democracy, as well as researchers of media, communication theory, and cultural studies. Television, Democracy, and the Mediatization of Chilean Politics also helps inform a more critical understanding of contemporary hyper-mediated political movements such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the particularly germane phenomenon of Trumpism.

Simón Salazar, H. (2018). Television, Democracy, and the Mediatization of Chilean Politics. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: “Pinochet’s Enduring Legacy”3
Chapter 2: “The Rainbow that Brought Down a Dictatorship”23
Chapter 3: “A Fictive Self-Representation of Chilean Democracy”51
Chapter 4: “A Democratic Transition? NO. A Shift in Political Culture? .”73
Chapter 5: “The Production of the 1988 Franja Electoral”95
Chapter 6: “The Content Analysis of the 1988 Franja Electoral”123
Conclusion: 1990 to 2013: The Arc of La Concertación147
About the Author171


“Harry L. Simón Salazar has written a compelling book about a media-induced change in Chilean politics that marked the beginning of the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. In place of a simple narrative about the victory of representative democracy in Chile, Simón Salazar reveals a process of mediated cultural change within a ‘protected democracy’ in which elites from the Pinochet era continued to dominate Chilean politics without fundamentally changing the life of the country. This is a great introduction to the mediatization of politics, with lessons that apply broadly to the role of the media within contemporary politics.”  — Michael Cole, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Communication & Psychology, University of California San Diego

“This book represents an important contribution to an insufficiently explored field in the recent history of Chile. The book’s author, Harry L. Simón Salazar, trained in the prestigious Communication Department of the University of California San Diego and in the tradition of its founder Herbert Schiller, studies in-depth the media phenomenon of the plebiscite that in 1988 put an end to the Pinochet dictatorship. The analysis is rigorous and free, exploring the factors and facets by which the media fulfilled a decisive role in the event, to the point of configuring aspects of the democratic style that would endure in the country. This well-informed and illuminating study deserves to be read by both specialists and the general public.” — Jaime Concha, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Latin American Literature, University of California San Diego

“Harry Simón Salazar’s well-researched and deeply thoughtful book is a landmark in our understanding of media’s role in Latin American politics and an important contribution to debates on mediatization globally. Highly recommended!” — Nick Couldry, Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory, London School of Economics and Political Science

“The Chilean plebiscite of 1988 represents a fascinating moment in the history of television, a moment when a fifteen-minute television program with a catchy jingle seemed to change the course of history. Harry L. Simón Salazar, in the first comprehensive study of this moment, provides a rich and complex account of the role television actually played, rooted in a deep knowledge of the Chilean political context. For anyone interested in the ‘mediatization’ of politics, Simón Salazar’s exploration of the Chilean plebiscite is a rich source of insight.” — Daniel C. Hallin, Distinguished Professor of Communication, University of California San Diego

“Television, Democracy, and the Mediatization of Chilean Politics is the first in-depth analysis of the media’s role in the Chilean transition to democracy. Unlike other analyses of this important chapter of Chilean history, Simón Salazar brilliantly theorizes the structural changes brought about by the use of media during the 1988 plebiscite that paved the way for the return to democracy. This is an essential book to understand not only contemporary politics in Chile but also the rise of media-driven political events such as the Arab Spring or the rise to power of Donald Trump. Theoretically sophisticated, historically informed, and politically compelling, this study is a must-read for those interested in Chilean history and culture, media studies, human rights, cultural studies, and especially for activists in Chile and beyond interested in understanding the relationship between media and political transformations.” — Luis Martín-Cabrera, Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Cultural Studies, University of California San Diego

“Harry L. Simón Salazar gives us a fascinating analysis of Chile’s 1988 plebiscite and a careful content analysis of the Franjas, the television political campaigns where the future of Chile was debated. Simón Salazar shows that while in fact, the military continued to control the media, political actors on both sides of the plebiscite used the Franjas to convince voters that the democracy was in place—that by voting, they were living in a democracy. This act of fiction, in which people had to try to reconcile the irreconcilable, continues to echo in Chile’s political culture, where remembering how Chile returned to democracy requires forgetting. This study is a must-read for those interested in politics, democracy, and social justice.” — Nancy Postero, Professor of Anthropology, University of California San Diego

“Harry L. Simón Salazar has written a nuanced, learned, and meticulous analysis of the processes of mediatization of Chilean politics in the post-dictatorship era. The study combines state-of-the-art theorizing about the dynamics of mediated politics and a granular examination of electoral communication. It raises important questions about the impact of media-centered politics for democratic governance in a country still experiencing the tragic legacy of authoritarianism. This book is a must-read for Latin American scholars and communication researchers interested in the troubling consequences of mediatization.” — Silvio Waisbord, Professor of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University

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