BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (May 5, 2011)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed its concern at the Argentine government’s actions and exclusions that, as part of an official strategy to control information, severely restrict the full exercise of freedom of expression in the country, the organization claimed.
IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquín, who headed the IAPA delegation, warned that the evidence gathered confirmed reports that “freedom of the press is in a state of deterioration in Argentina.” Marroquín issued “a call to all sectors and the people in general to defend and promote freedom of expression, because without it there can be no true democracy.”
Marroquín, president of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Siglo 21, was accompanied on the visit to Buenos Aires by Robert Rivard, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas; committee co-chair, Claudio Paolillo of the Montevideo, Uruguay, news magazine Búsqueda; Chapultepec Committee chair, María Elvira Domínguez of El País, Cali, Colombia; IAPA Executive Director Julio E. Muñoz, and Press Freedom Director Ricardo Trotti.
Although a document handed by the Media Ministry to the IAPA delegation contained a number of accusations against a specific group of media outlets and claimed that there is “full freedom” of the press in the country, the hemisphere organization was able to verify a different situation in which the confrontation and polarization of society has been encouraged.
In numerous interviews with political, social and press players the IAPA mission was repeatedly told of the existence of legislation that could potentially restrict the media through discrimination in the granting of operating licenses, by clear interference in media content and editorial positions, and in a bill that would declare the manufacture, sales and distribution of newsprint a matter of public interest.
The IAPA also detected the unlawful use of public resources to punish or reward news media and journalists through the placement of official advertising based on editorial views. In addition the mission heard numerous complaints of the creation of publicly- and privately-owned networks of journalists and media devoted to producing propaganda and/or supporting the actions of the government.
The mission also received concrete accusations of harassment and intimidation on the part of government agencies towards independent or critical members of the press, of failure to comply with court rulings regarding press freedom that enabled, for example, newspaper circulation to be blocked on March 27 this year, without leading to any form of final accountability, and the push for unexpected legal actions accusing newspaper executives of alleged crimes against humanity.
Rivard said that the IAPA’s fear was that “the climate of press freedom would continue to deteriorate,” adding that “if President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner does not deal with this situation of constant attacks on the news media the Argentine people will once again, as in dark times in the past, lose true freedom of expression.”
Paolillo added that “it should be made very clear that contrary to the position stated by the government to the delegation, the main responsibility for guaranteeing and fostering the effective exercise of freedom of expression belongs to the government no matter what opinion anyone has of the actions of journalists and news media.” That was what is stipulated in the Argentine Constitution and international treaties recognized and signed by Argentina.
The IAPA was informed by the Association of Argentine Inland Newspapers (ADIRA) of the regional press’ concern regarding taxation and the country’s major media outlets. According to the group, there had been a promise made in 2009 by President Kirchner, as yet unfulfilled, that a bill would be sent to Congress to establish special treatment for newspapers in the interior of the nation.
The IAPA mission found it disconcerting to learn of statements by senior government officials indicating an ignorance of the responsibilities that are part of their role in a democracy, such as the Interior Minister having declared that “the public media are at the service of the government” or by other officials who hold that journalists should be militants.
In this connection the IAPA regards as essential greater political will by both the opposition and the government in order that the country join other nations that have passed effective laws on access to public information and transparency, and adopted clear, technical rules on the use of public funds, whether for official advertising or electoral propaganda.
The IAPA maintains that the state-owned news media must be at the service of all the people and not at the service of governments, whatever their ideology.
This is a preliminary report on the mission, whose final results will be presented to the IAPA officers.
The delegation held interviews with non-governmental organizations, including Laura Zommer of the Center for Implementation of Public Policies; Hugo Wortman Jofré, president of Citizens’ Power, and Eduardo Oteiza, president of the Association for Civil Rights. It also met with the press secretary of the Argentine Presidency, Juan Manuel Abal Medina, and several of his collaborators, and with Senator María Eugenia Estenssoro, chair of the Systems, Media and Freedom of Expression Committee; Deputy Silvana Giudici, chair of the Press Freedom Committee, and a number of other legislators, members of the Chamber of Deputies.
The delegation held meetings with Supreme Court Deputy Chief Justice Elena I. Highton de Nolasco; the chairman of the Episcopal Commission for News Media, Merced-Luján Archbishop Agustín Radrizzani, and the spokesman for the Argentine Episcopal Conference, Father Jorge Oesterheld. There were also meetings with journalists Luis Majul, José Ignacio López, Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazú, Nelson Castro, Joaquín Morales Solá, Carlos Jornet, Julio Rajneri, Hugo Grimaldi and Daniel Dessein, as well as with media executives, including Jorge Fontevecchia and Gustavo González of Editorial Perfil publishing company, Bartolomé Mitre and Fernán Saguier of La Nación and Héctor Magnetto and Héctor Aranda of Clarín, among other representatives.
The delegation also met with representatives and executives of inland media, members of the Independent News Media Employers Commission (CEMCI); Argentine Cable Television Association president Walter Burzaco; Buenos Aires Newspapers Publishers Association vice president Alberto Gowland Mitre; Argentine Magazine Publishers Association president Daniel Ripoll; Argentine Broadcasters Association executive director Carlos Molinero, and Edmundo Rébora and Héctor Parreira of the Privately-Owned Broadcasters Association.
Other meetings were held with the secretary general of the Federation of Newspaper and Magazine Vendors of Argentina and Federal Congressman Omar Francisco Plaini; with the City of Buenos Aires head of government, Mauricio Macri; with Buenos Aires municipal commissioners, among them City Commission vice-president Oscar Moscariello and Social Communication Committee chair Diana Martinez Barrios. The IAPA also met with representatives of ADEPA, headed by the association’s president, Daniel Dessein, with members of ADIRA, under its president, Fernando Cuello, and of FOPEA, headed by Gabriel Michi.
Other interviews were requested, but for various reasons not granted, among them Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Federal Congressman Alejandro Rossi, Senator Miguel Pichetto, CGT secretary general Hugo Moyano, Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo and the general counsel of the Association of Distributors of Newspapers, Magazines and Related Publications, Carlos Taboada.
The IAPA also received complaints and inquiries from journalists and other news media employees who support the official press freedom line regarding threats which, according to them, the “monopolistic communication groups” represent to “the full exercise of the right to the citizens’ information.”
The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. For more information please go to http://www.sipiapa.org.