Argentina's Michael Moore Is More Popular Than Soccer

PHOTO: Journalist Jorge Lanata poses for a photograph during a photo session on July 8, 2010 in Mexico City, Mexico.

Marcos Delgado/Clasos.com/LatinContent/Getty Images

A TV show that focuses on government corruption is getting higher ratings than big soccer games in Argentina.

With its irreverent style, the show is sticking up its middle finger at President Cristina Kirchner and government supporters, who have tried to sink the program by pitting it against popular soccer matches.

The show we're talking about here is called "Periodismo Para Todos," which translates to "Journalism for All." You probably haven't heard about it, but it is huge in Argentina, where it is broadcast every Sunday night at 10pm.

Much of the show's success can be attributed to its style, which focuses on hard news about corruption, but imbues reporting with drama, comedy and confrontational situations.

In one episode, for example, reporters expose the lavish homes of Argentine government cronies, known as "the penguins," who have become millionaires under the Kirchner administration.

The segment is followed by a visit to Sweden, where a reporter chronicles the austere lifestyle of that country's parliamentarians. She is shocked to discover the tiny bathrooms used by politicians, and how they share vacuum cleaners and brooms in an apartment complex for parliamentarians in Stockholm.

In another segment, Jorge Lanata, the show's director and main host, unveils the blueprints of President Kirchner's vacation home. Wearing a tuxedo, he then walks you through a real-life replica of a giant cellar, where, according to Lanata's investigations, the president stashes millions of dollars from contract kickbacks and other corrupt deals.

Such gimmicks have earned Lanata the nickname of "Argentina's Michael Moore." They've also caught the attention of public officials, with rumors circulating that the government is trying to find ways to shut down his show using a law that would enable officials to take over Channel 13, the TV channel that airs the show.

That has not happened yet.

But in the meantime, government supporters are attempting to counteract Lanata's influence by having soccer games aired at the same time as his show.

Two weeks ago, Argentina's Football Association (AFA), whose president is a firm ally of the Kirchner administration, decided to schedule games played by Boca Juniors and River Plate at 9:30 pm on Sundays, so that they would overlap with Lanata's show.

The two teams are Argentina's most popular by far, and their matches draw millions of TV viewers each week. So you would think that this would seriously hurt the ratings for "Periodismo Para Todos."

So far, however, Lanata and his show have survived, garnering more viewers than the River and Boca matches.

On May 26, for example, Lanata´s show averaged 25 points on Argentina´s TV ratings system, while a game between Boca Juniors and Newell´s Old Boys, obtained a rating of 20 points.

The following Sunday Lanata´s show had to compete against a River Plate match, which it defeated by an average of six rating points. In Argentina each ratings point, represents 100,000 viewers in the capital city of Buenos Aires and its metro area, so Lanata got about 600,000 more viewers in that city, than the River match.

The changes in match times imposed by Argentina's government have also been aggravating for soccer fans who actually go to watch River and Boca in person. With the new schedule, fans now return home very late, and and the next day is a work day. Some local government officers have also said that staging games so late in the night poses a security risk for attendees.

But the Argentine Football Association has insisted in competing against Lanata's show, arguing that there is a niche market for late Sunday-night soccer. The organization believes that if Lanata's show is so good, he should not be scared of competition.

For Lanata, the latest developments have given him yet another excuse to make fun of Argentina's government and its authoritarian tendencies, which now include using soccer to cover up political problems.

"They are obviously using soccer to cover up politics," Lanata said during a recent show where he donned an Argentine national team jersey and arranged his set to look like a stadium's stands.

"The government should try to beat us by saying the truth," Lanata added. "Imagine them doing a show where they said the truth."

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