ARGENTINA Report to the Midyear Meeting Caracas, Venezuela March 28 - 30, 2008 These are peculiar, troubling times for journalism, due to the indifference of politicians and the government’s efforts to obstruct the work of the media. It is difficult for the political establishment to allow dissent and a diversity of ideas or to have the kind of dialogue that is necessary to consolidate the democratic system and guarantee openness in public affairs. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s first acts and gestures showed an interest in changing this situation. During the first months of her term, she granted interviews and appeared on television and radio programs without restricting the questions, setting in motion a rich debate about the administration’s thinking. This commitment to change soon ran out of steam. After these initial experiences there was a return, led by her husband and predecessor, former President Néstor Kirchner, to the earlier style of constant retorts and systematic condemnation of news stories, editorials and investigative projects. Officials such as the president’s chief of staff continue to act as official spokesmen to confront media outlets whose news reports are not consistent with the government’s view of the economic, political or social situation. This interference with the news media results in continual damage inflicted by the government’s communications system that plagues and overwhelms the people. The situation is aggravated by the failure to achieve two essential reform; press conferences in which all media outlets are equal, and a freedom of information law. The government, which favors confrontation over dialogue, has maintained a hostile relationship with the country’s agricultural sector for several weeks now. Demonstrations were stepped up on March 23, and protesting farmers were beaten with sticks and bare fists outside the seat of government. Jorge Fontevecchia, a journalist for Noticias magazine and the weekly newspaper Perfil, was injured at one of these protests. Several events hinder the practice of journalism. The Argentine Journalists Forum (FOREA) protested because the government obstructed the activity of 50 local and foreign journalists who were covering a meeting of the presidents of Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina As part of a dispute with the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the president criticized the press for publicizing positions differing from the government’s regarding the energy crisis. On the other hand, there is no effort on the national level to regulate advertising costs. In the provinces, placement of advertising is regulated by each local government entity, while the national government only handles national advertising. This subject was taken up by the Supreme Court in a decision requiring the Neuquén provincial government to issue objective guidelines within one month regarding the placement of government advertising to prevent discrimination in the handling of public funds. The provincial government did not comply with the ruling, and instead sent a note to the court explaining its position. When the Neuquén government changed from Sobisch to Sapag it improved the distribution but did not establish a legal regulation. The first consequence of the court’s ruling was not in Neuquén, but farther south, in Tierra del Fuego, where there was an auspicious event: the first provincial government decree regulating the placement of government advertising. It applied some objective and reasonable criteria, but also other requirements that could hinder the process or create confusion. The decree establishes a system that assigns points to various media outlets according to criteria such as local production of content, audience or circulation levels, and the number of employees. Other criteria include protection of the environment and consumers’ rights. The funds available for advertising will be distributed according to the point system. The Association of Newspaper Institutions (ADEPA) found that some of the requirements under the provincial regulation are irrelevant. The association applauded the first provincial initiative on this subject, calling it an important step toward openness and control in the allocation of pubic funds. But it suggested changing the requirements that may open the way to official favoritism. On March 19, journalist Juan Carlos Zambrano was fatally shot after being confronted by two people as he entered his home with his girlfriend in Jujuy. The journalist was news director of Canal 7 television station in Jujuy. The journalist’s lawyer said he was constantly threatened because of investigative reporting of municipal council members. The judicial system has not ruled out other motives, which it is considering, such as his personal relationships. El Diario de la Pampa reported that the mayor of Santa Rosa, the provincial capital, had discriminated in the placement of advertising and persecuted it in the courts. The official has been removed from office. Another daily in La Pampa, La Arena¸ said municipal officials in Santa Rosa had spied on one of its journalists, Fernando Ayude. His personal e-mail password was used to intercept two messages. A journalist and a cameraman from Telefón were attacked in Resistencia Chaco by members of the indigenous revolutionary group Tupac Amarú, which is similar to groups that committed subversive acts in Peru. Andrea San Esteban of radio station LT8 and the daily Rosario 12 of Santa Fe received death threats that she connected to an investigation of a concentration camp during the last military dictatorship. A secretary of the Judges’ Council was pressured to resign when he was accused of being the source of several news stories published by journalist Adrián Ventura of the daily La Nación of Buenos Aires. This affected the confidentiality of sources. A judge convicted a television journalist who publicized the content of e-mail belonging to an actor who had committed suicide and who was being treated for drug use. The judge’s understanding was that e-mail is private correspondence protected under the terms of the Penal Code. The withdrawal of professional credentials from journalist Norberto Dupesso, who has worked for 27 years at Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires caused a stir and was deplored by media organizations. His credential, as a representative of Canal 13 and Todo Noticias gave him access to certain areas, which was necessary to do his work correctly. The Airport Security Police took his pass to exchange it for the same pass that delivery drivers use, which limits his access to the main hall. Despite the complaints of the Artear company, the police prohibited the journalist’s activities in an obvious reprisal. Dupesso had reported the actions of a criminal gang that stole articles from passengers’ baggage. There have been no projects or studies to improve the radio broadcasting law. However, a ruling by the Federal Radio Broadcasting Committee, which regulates radio and television stations, caused some concern among pay television operators. They were ordered to follow a specific order in locating signals in their programming. The measure imposes conditions that restrict their freedom by limiting their decision about what content to offer and interfering with their ability to program their broadcasts. The December 15 Group, a pro-government outfit within the truckers’ union headed by Hugo Moyano, threatened Clarín newspaper as a result of its investigation into the death of union treasurer Abel Beroiz. Clarín reported that its investigation found that members of the December 15 Group were involved in the case. The threats were issued in flyers, on the Internet, and most recently in a call to action by secretaries from the organization.