ARGENTINA Freedom of the press came under attack in Argentina with an unprecedented number of assaults on journalists, the pre-eminent case being the murder of news photographer Jose Luis Cabezas. The judicial probe into the January 25 killing of Cabezas, outside the seaside resort of Pinamar in Buenos Aires province, has failed to establish the identity of the gunman and those behind the murder. Cabezas' publication, the weekly Noticias, published articles on police corruption, which was followed by the dismissal of about 100 police officers. The killing shocked Argentina. Under the slogan "Cabezas will not be forgotten," there were widespread calls to bring the killers to justice. The judge in the court case, Jose Luis Maachi, has amassed a 20,000-page, 97-volume dossier under file number 56,546. Five police officers have been arrested as suspects, including Gustavo Prellezo, a former Buenos Aires province police officer. Prellezo, who was the deputy commander of the Pinamar police station, is suspected as being the gunman. On October 1, the judge ordered the arrest of GregoriO Rios, the chief bodyguard of postal tycoon Alfredo Yabran. Rios was identified as the probable instigator of the crime. There are now a total of eight persons detained in the case, but to date no one has been convicted. A few weeks ago, Buenos Aires provincial governor Eduardo Duhalde reiterated that questions about the crime "point toward the provincial police and the circle of Yabran." Yabran, who was irritated by a photo snapped by Cabezas shortly before his death, told a judge in an interrogation May 23 that he had no connection to the crime. He was called back in for interrogation October 11, this time on suspicion of conspiracy in the murder, but was later released. Yabran's political links came under the spotlight last June when Justice Minister Elias Jassan resigned after denying and then acknowledging that he had spoken to Yabran by telephone. Another pending, unresolved case is the mysterious 1993 death of Buenos Aires Press Union officer Mario Bonino, whose body surfaced in a river outside the Argentine capital. In September, President Carlos Menem insisted once again about the need to place limits on the press. In inaugurating the National Office of Public Ethics, he said: "I respect freedom of the press and opinon but I think that it should have its limits." On September 19, Menem sent a letter to the directors of news organizations and excused himself for these declarations and admitted they had been "inappropriate." "I apologize, and I reiterate my unbreakable will to keep fighting so that these freedoms remain intact," the president said. In 1993, the government announced the creation of a commission to investigate assaults on and threats to journalists, but no further news about this project has appeared. Since last March, more than 30 attacks on journalists have been reported. The cases range from physical assaults to anonymous telephone calls. Channel 13 called off reporter Antonio Fernandez Llorente from daily coverage of the Cabezas affair after his sister was shot and wounded and threats followed that his nephews would be targeted for assault if he continued reporting on the case. Reporters Fernando Menendez of Telefe and Verónica Jacobsen of Noticias also were taken off covering the case after they received threats. In the context of the unsolved Cabezas murder case, it is worth noting that the press enjoys a great degree of public trust as compared to a low level of credibility accorded to the judicial system. Among negative developments, Santa Cruz Governor Nestor Kirchner in April criticized provincial newspapers for carrying stories or comments which he said disgusted him. Agitators twice blocked the distribution of 11, 500 copies of the Salta daily El Tribuno and threatened one of its photographers, Benjamiin Arias, as he took photos of the action. C6rdoba's La Voz del Interior published stories on the sale and use of drugs in a provincial jail. When judicial authorities asked the daily to identify the traffickers, its editor, Luis Remonda, refused to do so, citing the press' right to confidentiality. In May, the press rejected a proposal by Interior Minister Carlos Corach to create journalistic ethics tribunals. The media termed this proposal as "unfortunate" since they saw no need to establish special tribunals or a separate system of justice given that a court system already existed to settle disputes. The editor of the General Roca daily RIO Negro, Julio Rajneri, was summoned by the Senate's Constitutional Affairs Commission to clarify a newspaper story that alluded to a senator. Rajneri called the summons "a subtle anti-media threat," because the legislator in question could have directly asked for a clarification or taken up the matter in the courts. The Supreme Court dismissed a motion brought by the former editor of La Prensa, Maximo Gainza, and upheld his eight-month suspended sentence for libel stemming from a 1986 story naming three persons as guerrillas belonging to a group which could conceivably fight to take power. A group of newspaper delivery boys tried to halt distribution of the daily El Ancasti in Catamarca, but a judge ordered a stop to the action. On June 12, the Supreme Court rejected a formal complaint brought by a La Plata daily charging the government discriminated against it in the placement of official advertising. An unexploded letter bomb was sent to Jose Claudio Escribano, deputy editor of La Nad6n and president of the Argentine Newspaper Association. The missive said the next letter bomb could blow up. A few days later, two people acting suspiciously asked for the names La Nad6n workers who parked their cars outside the building. La Nación reporter Magdalena Ruiz Guinaza received telephone threats in June and a shot was fired into the door of her home. In July, Jorge Lanata of America TV was beaten up by a motorcycle driver who worked for the state television channel, a media outlet about which Lanta had reported irregularities. On July 15, unidentified assailants threw Molotov cocktails at the weekly La Opini6n de la Costa of San Bernardo in Buenos Aires province. Its editor, Mario Bobryck, said he had received an anonymous telephone threat demanding suspension of the publication. In August, 200 employees of the OCA postal firm demonstrated in front of the daily La Nación to protest a story on a judicial inquiry into allegations the company's trucks were being used to transport narcotics. The workers threatened to stick labels on the mail they delivered calling for readers to boycott the paper. In September, an appeals court apparently paved the way for soccer superstar Diego Armando Maradona to be sentenced for his conviction for a February 2,1994, BB gun assault on four journalists, injured by the projectiles. The prosecution is asking for a four-year jail term. Argentine President Carlos Menem, in an interview on a television program, attacked the press for "not respecting the institution of the preSidency, because its attacks have reached an unthinkable magnitude." At the same time, the ruling party broadcast TV advertisements charging the press reported only negative news about the government. Former Navy Captain Adolfo Scilingo was kidnapped and held for several hours after he charged Navy planes dropped political prisoners alive into the ocean in the "dirty war" waged during Argentina's last military government. Scilingo's abductors carved MGV on his face - the initials being interpreted as referring to prominent journalists Magdalena Ruin Guinazu, Mariano Grondona and Horacio Verbitzky, all of whom had interviewed Scilingo. On September 19, the Argentine Air Force called on the country's Ombudsman Office "to protect the population from sensational journalism," a reference to reports on more than a dozen mid-air collisions. The Air Force, which controls the air space above Argentina, claimed that disclosing details of such incidents was prohibited under a public order law. The Communications Commission of the Chamber of Deputies approved a draft bill limiting or excluding foreign investment in the media and barring phone companies from participation in the broadcast media. Under consideration by the Supreme Court is a motion brought by German Sopena, managing editor of La Naci6n, in connection with a lawsuit over 1994 stories about alleged air freight corruption. The Court is expected to uphold the principles that a free and responsible press may report on such matters. On October 4, Julio Delfo Rodriguez, deputy photo editor of the newspaper Los Andes in Mendoza, was arrested and roughed up by three police officers, who held him for five hours, following incidents in front of a stadium. They threatened the journalist by telling him he could "face the same fate as Cabezas." The policemen were subsequently punished with up to 10 days of detention. Also in October, the Superior Justice Tribunal of Tierra del Fuego prohibited judges and prosecutors in this southern province from giving the press information about matters of public interest and from disclosing the names of witnesses to be summoned in pending court cases. Another matter of serious concern have been recent statements by Economy Minister Roque Fernandez accusing the news media of orchestrating a "media coup d'etat" aimed at downplaying the government's successes so as to make the Justlcialists (Peronists) lose votes in the November elections. These accusations contradict the fact that Argentina has a varied press reflecting a wide range of views. What this amounts to is a new attempt at intimidation of journalists and an indication of intolerance of press freedom - that is, the unconditional right to report and comment. Among positive developments, the following stand out: In March, Governor Duhalde dropped the bulk of his accusations in a lawsuit brought against journalist Hernan Lopez Echaglie, for his book "EI Otro," which contained references to the official. Responding to press objections, Congress scrapped bills aimed at regulating the activities of congressional investigative commissions. The bills would have, among other unconstitutional measures, obliged the media "tell the truth about the accuracy of its reporting." In June, reporters Alberto Ferrari and Marcelo Helfgot reached a mediated accord with Judge Nora Gesualdi, the victor in a Supreme Court case in which the two were ordered to pay her $25,000 in damages for untruthful reporting. The judge said she would not demand payment of the fine since she had won redress by demonstrating the lack of truth in a report published in the El Porteno magazine. The Supreme Court, citing the principle of actual malice, overturned a Rio Negro Provincial Court conviction of Julio Rajneri of the dally Rió Negro. A criminal appeals court acquitted Editorial Sarmiento and Esto magazine editor Francisco Loiacono on libel charges stemming from publication of court proceedings. Press protests successfully squashed an advertising tax bill aimed at raising revenue for teachers' salaries. The press considered that the measure would erode a revenue base essential for independent journalism. A court in June convicted suspects in the beating of journalist Santiago Pinetta, without demonstrating that the assault was linked to his work. After media protests, a Chamber of Deputies committee withheld approval of a bill which would have reqUired public officials to declare their personal assets but at the same time ban the press from publishing these statements. In September, Judge Carlos Wowe was sentenced to seven years in prison for requesting a $200,000 bribe from journalist Bernardo Neustadt to acqUit him in a libel and defamation suit. The Senate is debating a bill to enact criminal code provisions that would protect journalists from disclosing their sources, even if the courts demanded the information from media owners and editors. However, at least one ruling party senator has objected to the proposal. On October 7, as it campaigned for the October 26 mid-term elections, the opposition alliance announced that it would present two bills in Congress to incorporate the doctrine of "actual malice" into the Penal Code and to create a bicameral commission for the protection of press freedom and the right to information."