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JOURNALISM, CRISIS AND HEGEMONY. Country Risk and Social Discourses during

the Argentine crisis (1999 - 2002)

Carlos A. Scolari
Universitat de Vic (Spain)


This work is located at the crossway of two territories: communication in a time of crisis and

social discourse theory. In this context we describe how the economic discourses worked

during the Argentine crisis of 2001. Taking the concept of “Country risk" as a starting

point, we analyse specifically how the digital newspaper contributed to

constructing the discursive process. The work is concluded with a series of reflections on

the position of the economic discourse in the current society and gives evidence of some

characteristics that distinguish on-line newspapers.


In a world economy characterised by growing independence of finance capital,

communication has become fundamentally important, as these markets are formed and "live"

within global information networks. However, the postfordist economy has an ideology that

grants money its own life: apparently capital is now generated by itself and doesn’t have

anything to do with human work or the production process. In this sense the media has been a

fundamental mechanism in the creation and growth of the financial bubble of the "new

economy". All of these transformations are also reflected in the position that the economic

discourse holds within the media and in the discursive practices of the entire society (Marazzi,

2002, 2003).

The deviated modernisations (García Canclini, 1990) that have occurred in Latin America

force us to look closely at how local economies work within the context of the globalisation

processes. In a territory where capitalist economy has been installed in an unbalanced way the

reflections on advanced postfordist societies should be taken with caution. One thing is

evident: globalisation has accelerated the appearance of the so called "emerging markets" and

consolidated their integration within the international circuits of financial capital.

In the case of the Argentine Republic this process generated a growth model founded on

the arrival of financial capital searching for the best interest rates. If at the start of the 90s the

Argentine economy grew due to favourable interest rates and from the investment of

speculative capital revenue, which generated employment and reactivated an economy that

came from 20 years of decadence, when this capital was taken away the economy entered a

process of recession characterised by political degradation and destruction of the social fabric.

If the Argentine people, after several decades of hyperinflation, adjustment plans,

devaluations and crisis, had become used to seeing their daily life filtered through exchange

tables and interest percentages, in the 90s the economic rationality was consolidated at the

level of social discourses. In this context the discourses of and about the economy took on new

valences that helped to form a new discursive territory. Some researchers have identified a

move from the economy towards philosophy: in the 90s the economic discourse ended up

occupying a fundamental position in Argentine society, eclipsing other discourses such as the

political and social discourses (Abraham, 2000).

This was complemented by a repositioning of the economic enunciators (Greimas &

Courtes, 1979) within the discursive universe. The economists imposed their agenda and their

concepts, carrying out a therapeutic role based on a certain fact: they decided what should be

talked about, they drew the limits of action and marked out the area of the possible. The

economy, beyond its legitimate "scientific pretensions" within a knowledge discipline worked

"as a moral guarantee of the degree of responsibility of a political discourse" (Abraham, 2000,

p. 260).

1.1 The social discourses

From the origin of writing in Mesopotamia – where the first practises of cuneiform writing

had a commercial objective – to the latest dreams of the "new economy" - in which the

structural function of the discourses and the interpretative practices are evident - the paths

where communication and the economy cross seem to be infinite. According to Marazzi "the

pervasiveness or absolutisation of the economy in the flexible postfordist society reflects the

pervasiveness of the language in the new way of producing and selling merchandise. It is

possible to talk of semi-capital, of semiotisation of the social relations of production" (Marazzi,

2002, p. 41). It is an unquestionable fact that most economic practices are indistinguishable

from linguistic performative acts.

According to the speech act theory (Austin, 1999; Sbisà, 1995) a performative

enunciation is characterised not by describing a state but by producing an act. Language from

this perspective appears not so much as an instrument of communication but as a devise for

creating realities: matrimony, money, property or financial transactions are fundamentally

linguistic institutions. It is language that creates these acts by talking about them: matrimony

is a promise, money is a convention, the future value of stocks is a bet, etc.

A large part of economic activity is based on performative acts. For Carlini

"The market, before being a place for economic transactions, is a vast

network of human relations, discourses and colloquialisms. It is these

relations which make a community: it is for narrating and listening to

narrations that the African women walk kilometres to reach the market.

They will sell potatoes there but they will also receive ideas, news and,

why not, gossip” ( 2002, p. 45).

A sale and purchase contract is in fact the authentication of a promise: from this moment

a subject gives up the property of a good to another subject. A fixed term deposit and buying

bonds of an emerging country also belong to the same dimension as performative acts: In

both cases the financial entity commits themselves, if there are no exceptional circumstances,

to returning to the investor a larger quantity of money than was deposited.

The efficiency of the performative act, like any other speech act, is conditioned to a large

degree by the power of the one who utters it: the value of the phrase "I now declare you man

and wife” depends on who says it, it is not the same coming from a priest as from a used cars

salesman. The same thing happens with economic discourses: if the head of the United States

Federal Reserve promises that "next month interest rates will rise”, these words have a

different value than if they were spoken by a economic commentator of a provincial

newspaper. There are privileged enunciators that impose the media agenda with their

declarations (or, as we will see, with their silences). The media is the sounding board of these

discourses and at the same time it is also an economic speaker.

To bring into focus some concepts that accompany this analysis we will enlist the theory

of social discourses by Marc Angenot. According to Angenot a social discourse is "everything

that is said or written in a given state of society; everything that is printed or talked about and

represented today through electronic media. Everything that narrates or argues …" (Angenot, 1998,

p. 6). From this perspective the analyst will try to reconstruct a certain state of the social

discourse or, as Angenot explains, "examine a general discursive topology". That is, carry out

a kind of semiotic tomography of the discursive corpus of a society in a given moment of its

history. To reconstruct a discursive universe does not only mean recuperating enunciations:

we have to go further than "everything that is said" to analyse the way of saying – or "how it

is said" -, the modalities of the daily use of the language, the enunciatees (Greimas & Courtes,

1979) constructed by the discourse and rhetoric devices used by the enunciators. In this work,

due to limited space, we will analyse a portion of this discursive universe.

This work is framed within a social discourse theory and has the following objectives: 1)

to describe the construction of the concept of "Country Risk" within the discourse of the digital

newspaper, and 2) to analyse the process of it becoming an instrument of

hegemonic politics. As a conclusion we will make a series of reflections on how the economic

discourse works and the characteristics that distinguish on-line newspapers.

The body of research encompasses, in the first part, all the articles and infographics

published by between 1998-2002 dealing with CR (around 250 articles). In the

second part of the study we concentrate on the year 2001 and the first months of 2002. The site is one of the most visited sites of Argentina and Hispano-America (Table

1). The on-line version of the main Argentine newspaper includes, as well as the articles

published in the first morning edition, periodic up-dates that transform it into an exceptional

information channel that allows the reader to follow the evolution of the news (and therefore

the economy) minute by minute.


Daily average Monthly Total

January 2001 424,219 13,150,799
February 2001 505,969 14,167,128
March 2001 617,905 19,155,069
April 2001 558,412 16,752,355
May 2001 531,572 16,478,726
June 2001 404,161 12,124,819
July 2001 365,993 11,345,774
August 2001 183,650 5,693,154
September 2001 231,790 6,953,688
October 2001 226,621 7,025,257
November 2001 229,755 6,892,664
December 2001 Not available Not available
January 2002 322,239 9,989,420
February 2003 278,685 7,803,177

Visit sessions - - Source: IVC (2001/2002)

Table 1


What is “Country Risk”? The United States government is considered to be the most

solvent payer in the world. The interest rate on their bonds constitutes the "risk free rate" and

is used as a reference for other debtors. The "risk" of lending money to another country is

measured by the surtax that is paid with respect to the United States' rate. If the Argentine

bonds pay a surtax of 9.50% with respect to those of the United States, we can say that the

Country Risk (CR) of this country is 950 points. The value of the CR is announced daily by

investment consultants such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s or Fitch and banks such as Chase-

JP Morgan.

Now this economic variable has been defined we can move on to analysing its discursive


2.1 The appearance of the CR (1998-2000)

During 1998 the CR held an irrelevant place in Clarín’s agenda: it was a financial variable

for experts, far from the worries of the millions of citizens. Only a few articles mentioned it and

its media presence was reduced to comments made by specialists. Throughout 1999 the CR,

even though the economic crisis worsened, continued to be marginal information. On 10

December of this year Fernando De la Rúa became president of the Republic. The government

of Carlos Menem, which had lasted 10 years and had been characterised by a history of

corruption, degradation of the political system and economic recession, seemed to have stayed

definitively behind.

During 2000 this situation stayed the same: according to the search

engine the CR was quoted in only 34 articles. The Argentine CR fluctuated within normal limits

and was only news when it went "higher than that of Mexico or Brazil" (19.08.00). In

December the government negotiated a "financial bailout" of 20,000 million dollars with the

IMF. With the announcement of the bailout warned that "the country risk,

which measures the market confidence in local bonds, closed on Friday at 8.13% above similar

United States bonds…" ("Riesgo País", 18.12.00). Slowly the new concept is entering into the

universal discourse of the main Argentine newspaper.

2.2 From the didactic phase to the operative phase

According to the search engine, during 2001 the CR appeared in the

titles of 193 articles. Next we will analyse how this discursive actor entered on the scene.

January 2001: In the middle of the month the IMF approved the "bailout". The CR went down

and from outside the country “looks good”: the strategist Therry Wizman explains that "

the long term the country risk can drop, and in the immediate future, make some capital

return to the country...”. However, the analyst also expressed "concern" for the obstacles that

the judicial system could make for the reformations that the Argentine government proposed

in exchange for the "bailout."

The gaze of the other becomes fundamental in an economy founded on trust: with the

slightest hint of the smallest political tremor or social expression that generates distrust the

finance capital will take flight and leave for calmer markets. If the construction of reciprocal

trust between two parties is a strongly visual question ("look me in the eyes, don't lie to

me...”), the gaze of the foreign investors is reflected in the actions and gestures of the local

actors (stockbrokers, government, etc.): they know that from outside “they are being

watched”. In this first phase of its discursive construction the CR is not so much a sign for the

internal front but an index for the foreign investors. This fact generates an "external" gaze that

ends up constructing the subjectivity of the Argentine financial and economic actors.

February 2001: After a radiant January, the collapse of the Turkish market, the higher

inflation in the USA and the collapse of NASDAQ causes a new increase in the Argentine CR.

("Bajaron todos los mercados y subió el riesgo país", 17.02.01 – "Se acentuó la caída mundial

de las Bolsas", 22.02.01). Several articles in speak of “altered markets”.

Therry Wizman makes new forecasts: "I don’t believe Argentina will have a surtax of 6.54%

for the country risk again (above similar bonds of the USA), which it had at the end of

January. Today the risk is at 7.32% and in the following months there will be noise about the

October elections and there is no sign of an economic recovery" ("Mercados Alterados",


March 2001: Things don't improve and the uneasiness grows. The Minister of Economy

Machinea resigns from office, which promotes a recovery of the government bonds. The arrival

of the new minister López Murphy makes "the country risk, which measures the trust of the

investors, fall to 726 points...” ("Fuerte respaldo…", 06.03.01). As we can see,

continues using a didactic register with its readers: it is necessary to explain what the CR

means in each article. But the situation is not as calm as it seems. On the 8th the rumour

circulates that López Murphy is going to resign: the CR goes up 29 points in one day ("Una

versión de renuncia…", 09.03.01). Everything goes back to normal as soon as López Murphy

confirms his new economic team.

On 15 March, after a fall in Wall Street, the CR goes up 19 points; the next day it goes

up another 41 points and the rumour spreads again about the minister López Murphy resigning

from office. The ex-minister Domingo Cavallo (the inventor of "convertibilidad", a system that

anchored the value of the Argentine peso to the dollar) is profiled as his probable successor.

The stockbrokers suppose that his return will calm the forces of the market. On the 19th the

CR closes at 898 points. Finally the president De la Rúa decides to open the doors to the

Ministry of Economy for Domingo Cavallo.

Little by little the CR has become part of the media discourse. On 24 March the economic

journalist Gustavo Bazán explains how this economic variable works:

"The enigmatic term “country risk” takes up an increasing amount of

space in the analyses of the stockbrokers, who know what it is about,


and also the politicians who are starting to understand – under pressure

— about its implications. But the most striking aspect is that the country

risk has also started to become a topic of conversation and a concern

for normal people. Today it is the ingredient that replaces obsessively

consulting the price of the dollar and the rates of the fixed term

deposits, two classic concerns of the Argentine middle class… People,

without knowing, intuitively understand that it is in the “risk zone”. But,

what is the country risk? In simple terms, the “country risk” is an

average interest rate that comes from calculating the prices and the

performance rates of certain debt bonds of our country…" ("Qué es el

riesgo país?", 24.03.01).

As the CR becomes a part of the social discourse it has to be explained. On one hand the

author presents us with a narrative program (Greimas & Courtes, 1979) that turns the CR into

an active subject that opens the way and looks to becoming part of the Argentine social

discourse. Later on Bazán describes with examples how the CR works and what it represents

for the Argentine economy. In other words, it could be said that the enunciatee for the CR

concept is constructed in this phrase: the "average" citizen, readers of Clarín who have only

basic financial knowledge, which has allowed them to survive in a hostile economy, but who do

not include the CR concept in their encyclopaedia (Eco, 1979).

In this phase the informative discourse can be confused with the didactic discourse.

Although these two types of discourse often coincide -both aim to “make something known”,

they have the capacity to transmit ("ability to say") and it is legitimate for them to do so

("right to say")- normally the journalists leave it to the specialists to explain scientific

processes and concepts (Charadeau, 2003). The specialised journalist (in this case the expert

in economy) takes an intermediate position between these two discourses and assumes the

task of “making it known” to their readers what country risk is about. According to


"The informative discourse and the didactic discourse coincide, although

with differences, in using the activity of explaining. Not a demonstrative


explication, like you can find in scientific work, but rather a clarifying

explication. These two types of discourses are directed at a broad range

of unspecialised audiences and therefore they don’t try to lay the

foundations of a truth but only make it clear in an intelligence

framework that is accessible to the majority. This activity is called

'divulgation'…" (2003, p. 71).

Finally, Bazán describes one of the main enunciators of the CR (in this case the bank

Chase-JP Morgan). In the following pages we will look at the various repositionings that this

voice has generated: from blind obedience to questioning the origin of the enunciation.

April 2001: The ups and downs continue all month. On the 25th announces

that "after rising 388 points in three days, the country risk fell 89 basic points yesterday"

("Alivio en los mercados", 25.04.01). In the following days this tendency to fall continues

thanks to the measures of the minister Cavallo

May 2001: During the first week of May some doubts about the exchange conditions of the

Argentine debt begin to put pressure on the CR again, which is at 1092 points. Once the

question is clarified it falls to 975 again. The following week new doubts take the CR to 1050

points. These ups and downs with the tendency to rise continue throughout the rest of the


In May the CR became a definitive part of the conversations of the Argentine people. It is

no longer necessary to explain what it means or the possible consequences of it increasing in

each article: the media have already created this competence in their readers. On the 15th publishes Vicente Muleiro’s article that confirms that this new discursive phase

has started. The CR has left its initial phase, which mainly involved economic enunciators and

enunciatees, to become a part of the social discourse of the Argentine people. According to


"The concept of country risk has become a part of daily life with the

force of a thermal sensation that marks the temperature of the soul.

Asking about its state has become as habitual as asking after the health

of a person’s family in a casual chat among friends. 'How is the Country


Risk going today?' asks the person beside me while he looks, with tired

despair, at the speechless tiles of the urinal wall…" ("Cómo está hoy el

riesgo país", 15.05.01).

It is possible to see how Muleiro introduces a metaphor: the CR as a meteorological

value. The author also holds that

"Redressed with this apparent economic rationality, the closing figure of

the country risk has the ancestral weight of a force of nature, of the

kind that are impossible to dominate. It’s as if they told us that it is 44

degrees in the shade... like a dark force, against which we rationally can

do nothing, the country risk is a powerful discovery of verbal terrorism"

("Cómo está hoy el riesgo país", 15.05.01).

In this way the discourse of the economy seeks to be presented as if it were a natural

science of the markets. This position of the economic discourse tends to cancel out any space

for debate: the economy stops being a social science subject to interpretive dynamics and

places itself next to the "hard sciences". Behind the rationality of the numeric values that the

stockbrokers shuffle every day there hides – as Muleiro writes – “dark forces of nature” that it

is necessary to dominate. In the same article the references to "the lava of Etna" and “yellow

fever” are sufficiently clear in manifesting this concept.

As if finishing a discursive phase, Muleiro explains once again what the CR is. However,

if we continue reading the article we discover that it is no longer necessary to continue

insisting with a didactic discourse: most Argentines know what it is.

"… 76% of the people of Buenos Aires have heard of the "country risk".

And 57% not only consider it an important indicator but also follow its

level and evolution with interest, according to a survey made by Equis

Consultants managed by Artemio López. The survey was carried out in

the capital in the first week of May interviewing 440 people.

Therefore, the “country risk”, that until recently was only part of the

language of certain specialists, today integrates en masse the concerns


of the people of Buenos Aires from all neighbourhoods, social strata and

economic recourses.

And although it is difficult for people to define it technically, the citizens

of Buenos Aires believe they understand the importance of the term.

Understanding what the “country risk” is seems to be in direct relation

to the socioeconomic profile of the people. But the survey highlights

that no social stratum escapes the phenomenon.

82.6% of those that live in the zone north of the capital and 85.5% of

high income earners are familiar with the term. In the south zone

knowledge of the term reaches 59.2% and among low income earners

the percentage falls to 54.8%" ("Cómo está hoy el riesgo país",


On Sunday 20th an article is published that has a certain critical tone regarding the risk

assessment companies. The article starts with a question: who assesses the assessors?

Daniele Nouy, spokeswoman of the Bank of International Settlements, explains to that in her institution “they are not taking any steps or plan to monitor these

agencies”. However the role of risk assessors like Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch was

questioned by the bank in the latest crises: "the country risk is overestimated in recessions

and underestimated when the economic cycle is inverted. In this way, the banks don't reserve

enough in good times and in the crises they restrict credit." Helmut Reisen from the

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development of Geneva, stated that "in general

the agencies are mistaken in preventing crises, like the Asian crisis, although Moody's lowered

South Korea’s and Thailand’s credit rating before the crisis. After this exploded in the region,

the ratings they gave these countries 'fell to rubbish status which increased their problems'

because everyone cut their credit" ("Críticas a las calificadoras de riesgo", 20.05.01). This

critical analysis of the CR agencies is interesting: for the first time the infallibility and

transparency of the gaze of the credit rating agencies is questioned. In spite of this warning,

the CR continues to be the main economic indicator for the rest of the year.

At the end of May the minister Cavallo "reconciles" himself with the markets: “I am

currently having a better reception from the markets than the one that I received in the first

two months of my previous administration” he explains to the journalists. In this way Cavallo

completes "the reconciliation process with the stockbrokers, with whom he had a confrontation

last March, after a few days of taking office, when he described them as 'short sighted' and

'ignorant'..." ("El ministro se reconcilia con los mercados…", 22.05.01). Once again the gaze

appears as the constituent element of the financial relationships: investigates,

and to a certain degree plays down, the gaze of the assessors. However, the minister Cavallo

writes against the local stockbrokers and the "short sighted" men: the men of the city "don’t

see" the new measures that come from the Ministry of Economy (in this case the debt

exchange) that will open the way to growth., 14.05.01
- Daddy. To find out the real country risk shouldn’t we measure the unemployment levels, the road
blocks, the crime rate, the corruption, floods, traffic accidents and all these things?
- Yes, but the risk assessors are only interested in the possibilities a country has of paying.
- And if we make an assessor for the risk assessors?
13, 12.05.01
- Europe is a different reality.... in Monaco for example they don’t measure the “country risk” but the
“country pleasure”.
Figure 1

The minister Cavallo’s statements again take up another classic topic of the economic

discourse: the market as an organic entity that is alive, something that is subjected to

narrative programs: "the markets don’t support or stop supporting. Rather the markets get

scared or they get less scared... The markets have been exaggeratedly afraid, but as soon as

they receive all the information and see results they will become much calmer" ("El ministro se

reconcilia con los mercados…", 22.05.01). Once again the economy is presented as the natural

science in charge of studying this live being. The CR has jumped from the economic

supplements to articles on politics and society, to end up in the Clarín’s comic strips (see

Figure 1).

2.3 From the operative phase to the explosion

June 2001: In spite of Cavallo’s repeated gestures the distrust of the markets and the

tendency of the CR to rise continue during the whole month.

July 2001: In the second week the CR goes over 1600 points. The situation is very complex,

the political alliances are about to explode and there is even the hypothesis that the president

De la Rúa will resign. The government, to avoid falling in default (failing to pay the country’s

debt), prepares to vote for an apparent rescue plan: the "law of zero deficit". The investors,

frightened, detach themselves from Argentine bonds for fear of unseen measures.

August 2001: Approval of the "law of zero deficit" reduces the CR to 1571 points, but the

next day it shoots up to 1700 and the United States government sends the Under Secretary of

Treasury, John Taylor, to calm the situation. The financial speculators begin to look towards

other more revenue-yielding markets; while the stockbrokers wait for an answer from the IMF

which makes them wait.

It is interesting to stress that the processes of unlimited semiosis (Eco, 1979) that are verified

in the discursive space (rumours of resignations, misinterpretations, "signs" of the government

or the IMF, etc.) have more than once caused the CR to shoot up. In this case, it is the

"silence" of one of its privileged enunciators which causes an ulterior increase in the CR:

"without having precise information on how the negotiations, in which a good part of the

economic team and the IMF technicians are involved in Washington, are advancing, the

stockbrokers are starting to show a certain amount of distrust about the fruit of the

agreement… And this attitude was expressed by the consequent rise in the country risk to

1503 points" ("El silencio del FMI…", 15.08.01). The economic system demands a constant flow

of communication, without frights, in which there is no place for silences or for the wild

circulation of discourses (rumours). It is evident that a discursive situation of this type is

utopian, since the discourse is by definition the world of secrets and misunderstandings, a

place where we are all potential double agents (Fabbri, 1995). However, the silence of a

privileged speaker such as the IMF becomes a factory of rumours. The next day confirms: "the market moved to the rhythm of the rumours. If help from the

International Monetary Fund would arrive or not was not discussed but rather how large this

assistance would be. And there was a version for everyone’s taste…" ("Repuntaron las

acciones…", 16.08.01). The war of rumours doesn't stop. On the 22nd informs

that "the market is still trapped by nervousness and uncertainty, which was translated into a

new, strong increase in the country risk" ("Un rumor equivocado", 22.08.01). Finally the

agreement with the IMF arrives and the CR falls to 1451 points. The Argentine market (this

living being that moves to the rhythm of rumours and silences) has a “positive reaction” and

some speculate that the CR could even fall to 1200 points.

September 2001: If August closed with a decrease in the CR, September could only start up

with an increase. On the 7th the CR rises to 1455 points and the continuous flight of bank

deposits is confirmed. On 11 September all eyes are on New York: the terrorist attack creates

a strange political and financial climate. The national agenda also changes and for the rest of

the month practically doesn't talk about the CR again, which continues

fluctuating around 1600 points (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The long march of the country risk

October 2001: The rumours get worse about the future of the minister Cavallo. It is only a

few days to the legislative elections. At this point the CR has beaten all the records and has

stopped being a meaningful value for foreign analysts: when it went over 1000 points the

country entered another economic dimension in which ranking assessment doesn't make

sense. However, the CR continues to be the main indicator of the Argentine economic

discourse. This persistence can be explained in only one way: the CR has stopped being an

economic indicator and has become exclusively an instrument of political hegemony. Although

from the moment the CR appeared it was used for political ends – to legitimise fiscal

adjustments, accelerate the approval of laws or cut back on public works – in this last phase

the hegemonic function tends to cancel out the economic function. On 11 October the

Argentine CR went higher than that of Nigeria arriving at first position with 1859 points: "And

the day arrived. Yesterday on the screens of stockbrokers all over the world Argentina

appeared, for the first time, as the economy with the highest country risk in the world...” ("La

Argentina…", 11.10.01).

The day after the elections – in which the "voto bronca" (punishment vote in the form of

blank votes or invalid votes) got the highest result – the agenda leaves politics to return to the

economy. Everyone waits anxiously for a new set of measures from the minister Cavallo... that

don't come. The silence of this privileged speaker causes the CR to climb to 1824 points. The

government responds to the crisis with more silence. The result is that the CR goes over 2000

points and the bond market collapses (-20%).

November 2001: On 1 November the CR, amid the silence of the state enunciators, rises to

nearly 2300 points. The next day, when the economic measures are known, the CR climbs to

2500 points. The financial world is evidently sceptical. Nobody believes in the minister

Cavallo’s new measures. Faced with this decomposition of the financial system the analysts

stop monitoring the unstoppable ascent of the CR to direct their attention towards the bank


The oscillations of the CR mark the week of Monday 12. The on-line newspaper describes

a typical day:

"The financial market began to move again up and down to the rhythm

of the different versions of the debt exchange. In the first part of the

day, the risk climbed up to 3170 points, encouraged by comments

attributed to the Secretary of Finance, Daniel Marx, regarding a possible

debt-restructuring offer (known as a haircut) to external investors.

Later, the civil servant refuted this interpretation of his statements and

denied emphatically that he is thinking of proposing a haircut. This

relaxed the nerves of the stockbrokers a little and attenuated the fall of

the price of the Argentine debt bonds. Therefore, the country risk finally

closed at 3026 points..." ("El riesgo país cerró…", 13.11.01).

The market is agitated, more alive that ever, it "moves up and down" following the

"rhythm" induced by the different versions. It is possible to think that the financial markets are

organisms that feed on semiosis: when there are a lot of interpretations, the market becomes

agitated. On occasions one speaker has to return many times to his discourse to "rectify" or

"clarify" the meaning of his words. The absence of discourses, as we have already observed,

also alters the metabolism of the markets: sometimes it is the silence of a privileged speaker

which creates a hole that is unfailingly filled with the rumours generated by other enunciators.

December 2001: On Tuesday 4th the Argentine CR closes at 3306 points but on Wednesday,

thanks to a change in the credit rating system introduced by the bank JP Morgan, it dawns at

4040 points. The Argentine economy has gone through all the financial red lights and slips

towards the hell of default. The pressure cooker finally explodes and becomes a "cacerolazo".

December 12 reminds its readers that the CR has reached 4160 points. But

the temperature in the streets is higher: the banks refuse to return money to their clients and

the social fire runs through the streets of Argentina to the rhythm of the beating saucepans.

The week that begins on Monday 17 December has already entered the history books. The

road blocks, demonstrations and mass meetings at the entrances of the banks are only the

warm up to the resignation of the government and the assault on the Congress headquarters.

Buenos Aires burns live on the world’s screens while the presidency is passed between five

politicians during an endless week. During the attack on 11 September the digital newspaper reached 994,843 daily visits, but the resignation of president De la Rúa raised

this to 2,221,500 (Grupo Clarín, 2004).

2.4. After the explosion: the meteorological discourse

The arrival to presidency of Eduardo Duhalde generates a discursive change: the great

obsession with the markets, the scourge of the savers, the value that best represented the

rhythm of the economy (and the decadence of a society) ... leaves the pages of the newspaper

together with the government of Fernando De la Rúa. The CR, which in the months following

the December 2001 crisis will reach 6000 points, disappears from Clarín’s discourse.

This disappearance is less suggestive: in general the news enters at the first page and

little by little is diluted in the inside sections of the newspapers. Following this pattern the CR

would have stopped “being news" in the big headlines then died little by little in some

secondary column of the economic supplement. However, the journey in this case is different:

the CR, a fundamental component of the media agenda, disappeared abruptly from Clarín’s

discourse. The question is even stranger when we reveal that other Argentine newspapers

(such as La Nación) continued to talk about the CR in the articles published in the weeks after

the crisis.

Figure 3: The new meteorological value

However, to say that the CR disappeared is incorrect. Starting from 21 January 2002 the

CR acquired a new status in the display: the Argentine credit rating is located

in the right column of the on-line newspaper, under the icons that provide the Buenos Aires

weather information and forecasts. From now on this space is dedicated to the CR and the

price of the dollar (see Figure 3).

The end of the system of "convertibilidad" reopened a frozen exchange market during

several years. In this context the CR stops being “news” mentioned in headlines and articles to

become a meteorological variable. With a glance at the on-line newspaper the readers can find

out if it is raining in Buenos Aires and what temperature the markets have reached. Clarín’s

"silence" can be understood as a contribution made by Argentina’s largest communicational

group to the government of Eduardo Duhalde. Furthermore, after the social explosion the

hegemony should be rebuilt on a different discursive base, employing new metaphors and

concepts. The revolution of the "cacerolas" ate up the government of Fernando De la Rúa and

its discourse.


The aim of this work was not to analyse the “economic information” (the statistics or

forecasts of the financial markets) nor question its enunciators. As we have seen, on several

occasions the actual economic actors that dance to the rhythm of these figures have

questioned the institutions that assess the CR and rank the different economies. The objective

was to analyse how the economic discourse is imposed on society and how it becomes a

powerful instrument of political hegemony. The CR constitutes an exemplary case: for one year

in the name of the CR, fiscal adjustments were applied, reductions in social expenditure were

justified and special powers given to the Argentine Minister of Economy were legitimised.

The discursive evolution of the CR invites reflection. The economic discourse, if it aspires

to hegemonise the territory of social discourses, should adapt to the rhythms and the

rhetorical devices of the mass media (short, forceful sentences, extended use of metaphors,

etc.). The domain of finance is sown with metaphors: the stocks "rise" and "fall" like the

temperature and the markets "react" like living organisms. The Argentine markets, like air

masses, have "turbulent" days or they are calm, and in the event of a crisis even Brazil can

end up "contaminating" (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980).


At the beginning we pointed out how the economic discourse was proposed to Argentine

society as a place in which to found other social discourses (the "economy as philosophy"). But

the economy also tried to make itself the "natural science of the markets". When the financial

area is understood as an ecosystem governed by laws the economist can make hypotheses,

carry out predictions and propose possible remedies. The metaphor of the ecosystem is

complemented with the organic metaphor: as we can observe the market is a live, conscious

organism that sometimes "becomes agitated" and should be "calmed”. The "illnesses" of the

market (like unemployment) can be "diagnosed" and cured with a "remedy". According to

Abraham, during the 90s "the economists were the main characters of the public scene" in

Argentina, "they made the diagnoses, and carried out the therapy as well" (2002, p. 15).

In the case of the CR we can detect a longer lasting phenomenon with respect to the

average duration of information in the media. It is not without meaning that they talk of the

"long march" of the CR: bringing the CR onto the scene and turning it into an instrument of

political hegemony was a process that lasted many months. If between the years 1998 and

2000 it made shy appearances, in 2001 the CR burned stages to an unstoppable rhythm and

at the end of its journey in 2002, instead of dying in the inside pages of the newspaper, it was

comfortably installed in the home-page of the main Argentine on-line newspaper.

Including the CR with the weather information is positioning it at the crossroad between

different types of discourses: informative, economic and meteorological.

Although the meteorological discourse can be seen as a subgenre of the informative discourse

(both try to "make something known"), they differ in the temporal dimension. The

meteorological discourse: 1) offers current information about the weather conditions, and 2)

proposes a series of hypotheses about the evolution of these over the next hours and/or days.

As a difference to the traditional informative discourse that works in the dimension of “has

been", the meteorological discourse combines the “is" with "will be”. In this sense the on-line

newspaper is an ideal device for the meteorological discourse, since besides the forecasts, it

can indicate the temperature and the current state of the weather. The CR is placed in this

dimension of “is”: the real time necessary to move in an economy dominated by financial logic.

The contamination between the economic discourse and the climatic discourse is not a

coincidence. As Abraham states, economy and meteorology share the space of prediction: both

are knowledge that, starting with a probabilistic analysis, define a future scenario.

To conclude it is necessary to ask: Where is the specificity of the on-line newspaper

found in this case? It is clear that the printed newspaper can only offer information from the

day before. Yesterday’s dollar price or CR estimates have no financial value (except for

identifying tendencies): economies based on capital flows and financial activity need

information in real time. In this sense the on-line newspaper creates an implicit user (Scolari,

2004), inviting the reader to visit the newspaper several times a day, offering them the

climatic-financial information that is most useful for surviving in the agitated markets.

Therefore, the on-line newspaper finds its specificity in providing information in real time that

allows the reader to stay in tune with the rhythms of the market. At the discursive level, this

causes a confluence between the meteorological discourse and the informative discourse.

In the last decade of the 20th century the economic discourse has delineated a

relentless destiny for Argentine society. The decrease in state presence was considered a

return to the “natural order” that the economic science took charge of understanding,

explaining and preaching. The long march of the CR is only one example of political

instrumentalisation of an economic concept. We are speaking of naturalisation and of building

hegemony hiding the social conflict. Naturalisation and cancellation of history are, according to

Roland Barthes (1957), the coordinates of myth: In our case, the myth of Country Risk.

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