INFORMED OPINION

Colombia 2015 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ricardo Ávila Pinto, Director of Portafolio, on a changing media environment in Colombia and the overall state of the country's economy.

Ricardo Ávila Pinto
BIOGRAPHY
Ricardo Ávila Pinto is both the Editor-in-Chief of Portafolio, Colombia’s largest and most influential business daily as well as Deputy-Editor-in Chief (Opinion) of El Tiempo, the most important newspaper in Colombia. An economist by training, he holds a Master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, as well as a Graduate Certificate in Latin American Development. Before his present job he was Editor-in-Chief of Cambio, at the time one of Colombia’s leading weeklies. A winner of the National Prize of Journalism, he was tutor of Econometrics and of Economic Journalism at Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá. He has been a consultant on different matters for the Andean Development Corporation in Caracas, and for the Organization of American States and Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC.

Colombia's business journalism in general over the past 15 years has come a long way in terms of openness. Do you feel that anything in particular has inspired this transition, and how has the business community benefited?

It is a reflection of what has happened to the country, since not only has the economy grown, but also diversified with more sectors developing today. Moreover, an emerging middle class is keen to become knowledgeable about financial and economic issues. In that sense, we reflect the positive story of Colombia. What has happened is that our audience has grown as well as our advertising base on the back of national advancement, and I believe the quality of Colombian journalism in general has improved. There is a broader spectrum of media too, which prominently includes online services. Meanwhile, rising specialization is calling for a wider range of talented journalists. Essentially, we have a larger pool of professionals available than 15 years ago.

How are your readers' consumption habits changing and how does the pace of change in Colombia stack up in the regional context?

Colombia's pace is basically in step with the region. I have seen the numbers from Mexico to Chile, and of countries relevant in size to Colombia, and reader behavior is more or less the same. We have been able to sustain our print readership, while at the same time increasing online readership dramatically, a trend observable across the region. Again, here traditional media is leveraging the local pace of growth that North America or Europe is not seeing. Our readership today is 60% print and 40% is online. That amounts to 80,000 daily readers of the print edition and more or less 40,000 to 50,000 stand-alone daily users on our website. The print side generates the largest percentage of revenues. At the same time, of course, we have diversified our sources of revenue.

Do you anticipate that the reelection of President Santos will generate renewed waves of investment?

Not necessarily, because I don't believe that investments necessarily react to continuity, which is true in this case. I believe that the main drivers of investment are long-laid plans that at the same time react to global trends. We face strong headwinds because the commodity boom that helped Latin America grow rapidly over the past few years is passing. Colombia has been less affected than certain other countries, but is by no means immune. That will impact investment, specifically in oil and mining. It will of course affect the national economy unless we are able, as we have done so far, to identify alternative sectors.

In 2014 the Atlas Colombia de Complejidad Económica was launched under the leadership of the Centre for International Development at Harvard University in an effort to reduce regional gaps in Colombia. How effective do you feel this will be at identifying new production and export models?

Colombia is an unequal country, not only in terms of income, but also of local capabilities. What you see in Colombia is that some regions do their homework in terms of taking advantage of the resources and doing things correctly. Other regions, however, are slower to grasp the challenges. This creates regional disparities, even on the Atlantic coast, which is clear between Barranquilla and Santa Marta or Magdalena. That is why the national government has to take steps in order to balance the situation, which has yet to be the case.

In terms of public sector, what do you think needs to happen over the coming years?

The infrastructure program, which is extremely ambitious, must succeed at the financing round to begin actual work on the ground, and we remain some months away from that point. For this to happen requires both private and public financing. There is still a huge question mark hanging over this. The government needs to finance the 2015 budget and follow fiscal rules, which implies the passage of tax reform in Congress, which is never an easy task.