57th General Assembly Washington, DC October 12 – 16, 2001 ARGENTINA There have been a number of attacks on media organizations and journalists, reflecting a range of violations of freedom of speech and of the press. In a ruling that rightly caused concern, the Supreme Court at the end of September upheld the conviction of Editorial Perfil S.A., ordering it to pay punitive damages for allegedly harming former president Carlos Menem by reporting aspects of his private life. The court ruled in favor of Menem, saying that some articles published in the magazine Noticias violated his privacy and damaged his reputation. Editorial Perfil is required to pay 60,000 pesos. In two news stories published in 1994 and 1995, the magazine Noticias reported on a relationship the then president had with Justicialist Party legislator Marta Meza when Menem was exiled in Formosa province during the military government. A son reportedly was born to the couple. Menem sued and lost in a lower court. But in March of 1998, Division H of the Civil Chamber overturned that decision and ruled against the publishing firm. That decision was upheld later by the Supreme Court. It must be noted that the facts published by Noticias were already public and widely known, and the truth of the report was not in doubt, as the court admitted. In addition, Menem always kept himself and many aspects of his private life in the public eye. The Argentine press warned that, “an official who opens the door to his private life, should not be annoyed because the media pass the threshold of his privacy, report accurately to citizens about certain aspects of his personal ethics which, necessarily, affect his concept of public ethics in exercising his mandate.” Unfortunately, the newspaper El Liberal’s problem with the governor of Santiago del Estero province, Carlos Juárez, continues. In June, Abid Hussain, special rapporteur of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, made an official visit to Argentina to evaluate press freedom. During an interview in Buenos Aires, a group of publishers told him “no problem worries us more than that of the newspaper El Liberal.” Hussain traveled to Santiago del Estero to meet with the parties. His report will be presented to the United Nations in March of 2002. Among other irregularities in this case, the court in Santiago has not forwarded the original files requested by the Supreme Court, while most of the cases are being heard by judges who were challenged by El Liberal’s defense team because they were not independent. The biggest obstacle the newspaper faces are multiple seizures because of lawsuits, supposedly initiated by the government. A group of 440 women (of a total 4,000 who also threatened to sue) of the women’s branch of the Justicialista Party in the provincial government sued the newspaper, saying they had been harmed by the publication of an article that had appeared in the newspaper La Voz del Interior of Cordoba. The damages demanded could total $19 million. Before the complaints were filed, the provincial government suspended all advertising in El Liberal and stopped payment of advertising that had been ordered earlier. The situation had not changed as of July of this year. The Federal Radio Broadcasting Committee (COMFER) imposed administrative sanctions on two stations: Crónica TV for broadcasting an event of the neo-Nazi party New Triumph, and Canal 7 for comments in the program “Marcapazos” that, the agency said, had affected the presidential inauguration. The sanctions are based on Radio Broadcasting Law 22285, still in effect in Argentina, which regulates the content, goals and character of news broadcast by radio and television. The law, approved during the most recent military dictatorship, establishes restrictive and obsolete regulations. It also clearly violates international treaties incorporated into the National Constitution in 1994. In the province of Río Negro in Patagonia there have been attacks by Governor Jorge Sobisch against the daily newspaper Río Negro. On August 3, Sobisch attacked the newspaper Río Negro in statements to Radio Departamento Minas of Andacollo, harshly criticizing its news agency Neuquén and its news director, journalist Héctor Mauriño, for having published the day before that the government had withdrawn police from a highway bridge where there was a large protest of picketers, to prevent problems two days before internal elections of the Popular Movement of Neuquén (MPN). The governor also mentioned another news story published earlier that reported an alleged decrease in membership in the MPN, which, paradoxically, he admitted was true. In another incident that occurred midway through the year, unknown individuals broke into the Río Negro’s paper storage facility with gasoline cans in an arson attempt that remains unsolved. In the early morning of April 13, threats were made against newspaper vendors to prevent them from opening their newsstands in the northern part of greater Buenos Aires. The threats had no effect. The newspapers were published as usual and distributed along their routes at the usual times. This situation was reported to Interior Minister Ramón Mestre and to the interior minister of Buenos Aires province, Raúl Othacehe. They were asked to establish methods to avoid such attacks against free trade and press freedom.