Argentina’s top-rated news program takes on soccer chief — and wins

Journalist Jorge Lanata proves that he is king of Sunday-night television

Jorge Lanata, dressed as a soccer player.
Jorge Lanata, dressed as a soccer player.

Journalist Jorge Lanata is better known in Argentina than any of the country's opposition leaders. His Sunday program Periodismo para Todos (Journalism for Everyone), or PPT as it is commonly known, is broadcast on the Clarín media group's flagship channel El Trece, and has become a quagmire for the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

It was on this show on April 14 that viewers were told about the alleged shenanigans of millionaire builder Lázaro Báez, who reportedly employed others to help launder cash for Fernández de Kirchner's late husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner.

Báez was one of Néstor Kirchner's closest and trusted friends, and paid for the massive mausoleum where he is buried in Santa Cruz province. Besides money laundering, he is under investigation in three other cases including allegedly trying to extort a business partner and also reportedly keeping an underground safe filled with money and weapons at his home in Santa Cruz province.

In another installment, PPT featured one of Kirchner's former secretaries, Miriam Quiroga, who detailed how she saw "bags of cash" carried in and out of Los Olivos presidential residence by Kirchner's private secretary and top aide, Daniel Muñoz.

The government accuses him of lying, but Jorge Lanata remains the king of Sunday-night television in Argentina.

For some time, the Argentinean Soccer Association (AFA) had been studying the possibility of delaying by one hour Sunday night's final matches, which begin at 8.30pm on another network. Lanata and his followers believe that this is a maneuver by the Fernández de Kirchner government to try to persuade viewers to switch channels. Soccer matches don't start that late in Argentina at this time of the year, Lanata charged.

But his critics accused Lanata of egotism, explaining that the time is similar to schedules followed in other countries.

As such, this past Sunday the country's most popular journalist went head-to-head with soccer, the nation's favorite sport, broadcast on a competing network, TV Pública. And it wasn't just an ordinary match. Boca Juniors, Argentina's most followed team, lined up to play Newell, who are first in the league.

The match sparked interest even though both teams face a second date on the pitch this weekend with the best players, who had been rested for the previous match, scheduled to be called up this time. "How is this person — someone who has brought together the opposition, someone who is considered the dean of journalism, a crusader for freedom of expression — going to fear a soccer match in which only the reserves played?" asked an AFA spokesman.

Newell defeated Boca 4-0, but the true winner that night was Lanata, whose program took 24.7 points in the ratings compared to the match's 16 points.

Lanata, who always appears wearing a jacket and smokes while he is presenting his show, skipped his usual monologue commentary and presented the best clips from his past five shows. Then he ended with what had been the most awaited part of the program: a series of photos of Báez's massive underground safe, and how it had suddenly been refitted to become a wine cellar. Lanata has previously announced that he had these photos on another program he hosted on Radio Mitre, which also belongs to Grupo Clarín.

Journalist Jorge Fernández Díaz, a colleague of Lanata's, said: "It is interesting how the soccer hour was changed this year when Lanata had a 25-point rating, while last year he had 15 points. It is the same program as last year but its success this year has to do with the political climate in Argentina; you get the feeling that people are fed up with the political leaders."

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