News Credibility

Case Study: Education Crisis in Chile, 2006

The media can choose to cover events and situations in many different ways: through photographs, stories, video footage, commentary, etc.  How the media covers an event, while seemingly an impromptu decision, can not only affect public opinion of the event, but can change the course of the event itself.

Consider this event:  Thousands of teenagers were wearing their school uniforms, but they weren’t in class. They were invading the streets of downtown Santiago to protest the local education system. It was April 2006, and Chile would soon witness the biggest education strike in its history.

Students demanded free transportation passes and a free university admission test, among other specific requests. They were also advocating for the abolition of the current Education Law and the creation of a new one.

The students marched for three weeks to attract the country’s attention, but it didn’t work. Hooded protesters shifted the media’s focus to violence and disorder. It was now time to change the strategy: instead of going out to the streets, they stayed in their own schools for an indefinite strike. This way, violence was avoided.

The students were first considered irresponsible and lazy by their community. But this perception changed as they demonstrated their commitment to the cause for which they were fighting. Every day, different public and private schools joined in the strike.

They took over their schools and organized cultural events, like music performances. The students also surprised the media and the public with original, funny and irreverent posters and signs.

From that point on, the whole movement was led by four students who became the spokespeople, and what they said was obeyed by every school. This show of unity among the students helped the public begin to believe in them as heroes and to share their concerns.

The media called them “The Penguin Revolution,” referring to the public school’s uniform colors: grey, white and blue. This also gave them an identity and made them stronger in the public’s eye. For example, one of the covers of the national and popular newspaper La Cuarta, was titled “Courageous penguin march!” (Essay by lecturer Lyuba Yez).

The movement was very well-organized after the four students leaders took over. The schools from the north to the south of the country communicated through blogs and fotologs. There were about 100 blogs for this purpose. They would post upcoming plans to meet to discuss the issues. This kind of technology allowed them to express their ideas.

“This was the first great demonstration created and developed both in the streets and in the blogosphere of our country,” says Luis Ramírez, professor of Public Management of the Universidad de Chile.

Student being held in custody by a police officer

They used new technology to communicate. Along with blogs, they sent each other text messages during the day. At night, they contacted each other using Instant Messenger (Manuel Torres.)

This level of engagement and organization allowed them to earn credibility and the sympathy of the people. Teachers, parents and university students supported the strike, and even some parlamentarians who belonged to the Government’s party stood behind them.

By May 30, more than 800,000 students and 900 schools throughout the country were on strike. About 100,000 university students also supported the cause. The pressure from the students was so great that two days later President Michelle Bachelet went on an obligatory broadcasting to announce the government’s proposal for a solution. The students weren’t satisfied, and they continued on strike.

According to the website, a telephone poll by the Universidad del Desarrollo from Chile showed 83% of the population agreed with the student’s requests, but 67% also thought they should go back to class. On June 9, the strike finally ended. Three days later all students returned to class.

Even though the students were not completely satisfied with the government’s response, President Bachelet invited them to be members of an advisory board composed of experts tasked with improving the Education Law of Chile. The law is still in discussion.

Some of the emblematic leaders quit the movement. Other students claimed they weren’t being represented anymore. Throughout June, the priority of media had changed, decreasing their coverage on the issue.

The impact the strikes had on the community proved how powerful a group of teenagers can be if well-organized. The relevance the student’s strike gained in the public opinion showed the country that a well done protest can have severe political consequences.