Like a time bomb that has been ticking for years, the crisis of journalism in Argentina has exploded in part because of negative conclusions contained in a preliminary report of the Inter American Press Association. President Néstor Kirchner has confirmed the accuracy of these IAPA conclusions with offensive comments about the role of the independent media. Argentina is overcoming the worst economic crisis of its history, which had such a profound social impact and did such institutional damage that it even put at risk the country’s governability as well as the democracy that was consolidated with so much effort. Most of the newspapers survived, although many went under immediately. The economic and financial effects are still hitting hard because the recovery of the media has been much slower than other service sectors. The government has taken advantage of this turning point to use subtle, but forceful tax mechanisms to complicate the economic and financial solvency of companies, which is the only pillar of their independence, especially the small and medium-size ones. It would be easier to face these difficulties with optimism if it were not for the attitude of suspicion and distrust toward the media detected in official circles. These circles, which look at the media with apprehension, seem unaware of its fundamental role, which is to promote well-informed public opinion and facilitate communication between the government and the governed. This is indispensable to the functioning of democratic institutions. If those who govern ignore the opinions and wishes of the people, and those who are governed do not have a full understanding of what their leaders are doing, democracy loses one of its fundamental ingredients. This is an affront to the consideration that the press and the people deserve, because they do not receive all public information. In their speeches, the rulers only say what they want to say but not what the people need to know. Authoritarianism, embedded in the government’s work and in several provincial governments, will continue to advance along with news organizations’ indecision and passivity. The value of independent journalism as the valid representative of public opinion must be reaffirmed. The challenge for the media is not just to restore their economic losses and productive structures bur also to overcome their information deficiencies to provide everything the public needs to know, truthfully and objectively. Despite all this, it is possible to affirm that there is press freedom in Argentina, with restrictions. These disturbing and serious trends and facts, if they continue over time, could cast a shadow on the horizon of press freedom. The IAPA delegation analyzed the problems of the media in Argentina from February 28 to March 4. In a press conference, members of the delegation said the media are not dodging their responsibility, but admitted some errors on the part of journalists and media companies. They stressed that pressures on the media affect the information transmitted to the public. The following issues also affect press freedom in Argentina: The placement of government advertising has become a thorny problem. Technical and objective criteria are not applied, and the national government’s chief of staff has said that he helps some more than others in an effort not to favor the large media. The president of the Federal Radio Committee, Julio Bárbaro, also admitted in a report published by the daily La Nación on February 6 that officials use their discretion to place advertising in the broadcast media. While advertising contributes income to guarantee the economic independence of companies, this does not mean that the role of independent journalism is to be the self-appointed prosecutor of a political class that ignores the press. Something similar occurs with the long delayed Freedom of Information Law, slowly moving through Congress. It was not approved because of the changes in the criteria for the final text, which aroused suspicion that there was a lack of interest within the government party. The changes have made the public’s access more difficult rather than easing it, as should be done in accordance with republican norms and the principles of accountability and transparency. The greatest concern is that the new bill includes private entities, including media outlets, among those that would be required to open their records. Recently, the courts in Buenos Aires province ordered the government of the municipality of La Plata to make available all the information about its permanent and freelance staff at the request of the daily El Día, which had exhausted all the administrative methods to obtain that public information. This court decision goes beyond its immediate effect to set a valuable precedent about the press’s access to public information. The radio law decreed by the military government in 1980, and which is still in effect with partial amendments, has not been replaced by rules that are consistent with the changes in the sector, especially the social concept of press freedom. It is well known that the state administers radio frequencies, and political interests can influence their concession or renewal. Greater openness would deflect suspicion and strengthen the work of broadcast media outlets. The increase in radio stations without the required bidding process has created chaos in the functioning of legally constituted stations. All municipalities, benefit societies and public welfare organizations have been authorized to use radio signals, and this has increased the number of media outlets controlled by the state. There is now a national radio network belonging to the government in every province and large city, as well as television Canal 7, the TELAM news service and press and broadcast outlets belonging to provincial officials or people close to them. The IAPA mission heard reports of discrimination by the government in the placement of advertising, as well as discrimination in information and disguised but direct pressure against journalists. The government has called the magazine Noticias “extortionist” just because it reports on and criticizes government actions. And, of course, it denied the magazine access to public information and advertising. Access to official sources disappeared as soon a Dr. Alberto Fernández, chief of staff, announced that the government’s communications policy would be carried out by the president through his public speeches. This shows a lack of respect for the function of the press as the ideal way to inform the public about government activity. There is a real lack of consideration for the activity of the press. However, as the IAPA mission also warned, the media and journalists fight on against these hardships. In some cases they have acted with excessive prudence and weakness in the face of authoritarianism, which affects the ability to follow professional principles of reporting everything that happens objectively. In Argentina there is enough journalistic variety so that these situations have not resulted in “disinformation” in the strict sense of the term, as the government says. The problem in Neuquén between the daily Río Negro and the government goes back to 2001. Since then, sources of government information have been closed and almost all government advertising has been eliminated. The newspaper has reported this aggression, discrimination and lack of respect for press freedom to the courts, ADEPA, IAPA and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The provincial government still has not ended the advertising discrimination and other restrictions. President Néstor Kirchner stubbornly repeats his attacks on legitimate opinions and information. He repeatedly attacks journalists and media outlets as he did with the preliminary report of the IAPA delegation. Its statements about the situation of journalism in Argentina were greeting with retorts and denials. Unjustified personal attacks on journalists, such as those against La Nación managing editor José Claudio Escribano, and former IAPA president, Danilo Arbilla, a well-known member of the delegation that went to Buenos Aires, is another gratuitous harangue aimed at covering up errors reported in the press. President Kirchner also made insulting comments about Uruguayan journalists. These acts define the state of constant tension between the government and journalists, laying bare government abuse that stifles freedom of speech. These circumstances seriously undermine freedom of expression, which while dangerous, does not hinder freedom itself, yet impedes the work of journalists and the independence of the businesses. Héctor Ricardo García, founder and editor of the Buenos Aires daily Crónica, is still under house arrest for alleged tax evasion and has not received due process in his case. The Buenos Aires federal court dismissed the case brought by Judge María Servini de Cubría against the director of the board of the newspaper, La Nación, and other management personnel, accusing them of financial crimes. Evidence in the case was insufficient, all the more so since it was initiated by a fugitive based on articles published by the scandal sheet, El Guardián. The hostile attitude of the judge, who ordered a search of the paper's offices, was completely unwarranted. Just recently, El Heraldo, a newspaper published in Concordia, Entre Ríos province, reported that it had received notice from the federal revenue service, AFIP, to surrender the title to its property within three days for auction. The daily had been in arrears before 2004 but is current in its payments. The Argentine press association, ADEPA, interceded to request the order be suspended and the authorities promised to look into the matter.