ARGENTINA Veiled attacks on journalists, libel suits, verbal abuse and threats of restrictive bills have marred the general climate of press freedom. On the positive side, legal regulations and court decisions have recognized journalists' right not to reveal their sources and President Carlos Menem has fulfilled his promise not to impose a 21 % value added tax on newspapers and magazines. Defense Minister Oscar Camilion and Justice Minister Rodolfo Barra resigned after controversial media reports. The media held Camilion politically responsible for arms traffic to Ecuador during its border conflict with Peru, and it accused Barra of Nazi sympathies during his youth. Barra was the minister who drew up a bill two years ago that attempted to restrict the press in its disclosures on financial corruption. Not only journalists have been the targets of repression. Judges and prosecutors investigating cases of alleged wrongdoing in the public administration and in the Justice Department itself were also attacked and threatened. As in the case of journalists, it is unclear who is responsible for the attacks. Menem declared "in a spirit of appeasement" he would drop a lawsuit against journalist Jacobo Timmermann filed in 1988. Menem made the announcement shortly after his lawyer had asked the Supreme Court to issue a warrant for the arrest of the 73-year-old Timmermann, who now lives in Uruguay. A Catamarca court prohibited television coverage of a trial of national interest concerning the death of a young woman six years ago involving complex political intrigues and drugs. A higher court overruled this action, seen as censorship, in turn sparking the resignation of the judges concerned after 20 hearings and bringing to a halt the still inconclusive investigation, which is now expected to be renewed once agaln towards the end of this year. In Buenos Aires, a judge accused fellow judge Juan Carlos Wowe of corruption, saying he had offered journalist Bernardo Neustadt a favorable verdict if he was paid $200,000. Javier Ruda Bart, one of the judges who is trying the now-imprisoned Wowe, was attacked on a Buenos Aires street. Neustadt was involved in a libel case initiated by an automobile magnate who felt offended by stories he had written and who demanded $5 million in damages - an unprecedentedly large sum for this type of case in Argentina. Journalists have been subject to verbal attacks, as in the case of Sergio Levit of La Nación, who was berated by the governor of Corrientes, who objected to his news reports. Journalists have also been subject to physical attacks in their homes and offices. Among those attacked and threatened were the editor of La Arena, Santa Rosa, La Pampa, Saul Santesteban and his son Alberto; Ignacio Turin, a sports reporter for La Nación, who was beaten by police officers; cartoonist Nik (Cristiiin Dzwonik), also from La Nación, who was assaulted; independent journalist Santiago Pinetta, who had written about alleged illegal deals between IBM and the Bank of Argentina in his book "La Naclon Robada" (The Nation Robbed), and Dario Lopreite, of Radio La Plata, threatened with death after reporting on the confidential expenditures of state intelligence agents. The husband of a former Argentine diplomat issued a death threat to Gente magazine photographer Alejandro Carra. A fourth arson attempt was reported against the home of Carlos Castro Espinosa, editor of the weekly La Septima-Periodismo de Antidpo of San Juan, which had reported on the climate of insecurity in the province. Alberto Eduardo Rocha, editor of La Manana of May 25, a Buenos Aires province, suffered a similar attack after the newspaper reported on alleged criminal behavior by top provincial police officials. Another arson attempt took place at the home of television reporter Aldo Rachit, who also had reported on alleged police irregularities. In the last two years, there have been 75 reported attacks on journalists. The Tucuman provincial governor began legal action against two reporters of La Gaceta of Tucuman in a clear attempt to intimidate the independent local press. A complaint by Ricardo Saenz Valiente, editor of La Calle, of Concepcion del Uruguay, Entre Rios, that the mayor of that city had unleashed a campaign of persecution of the local media was relayed by the Argentine Newspaper Association (AD EPA) to the national Senate, which at first upheld the compaint but then reversed its decision, saying the ADEPA report had been inaccurate. Several congressional and court actions also appeared designed to intimidate the press. San Luis province Governor Adolfo Rodriguez Saa sued Juan Alemann, chairman of the board of directors of the Buenos Aires afternoon newspaper La Razon, for libel. Journalist Hector D'Amico counted 11 different complaints filed by members of the Menem family (including the president himself) against the weekly Noticias. Damages demanded in the suits totaled $1.5 million. The Justice Department also began an investigation to determine whether the journalist Mariano Grondona had broken a law in televising an interview with a clandestine group known as the Revolutionary Peoples Organization (ORPA). Grondona was also verbally attacked by President Menem on a radio show because of his political analysis. Menem questioned the journalist's professionalism, despite his 40-year career and high reputation. A few days after the Grondona incident, the independent press was denied access to a meeting of the ruling party in which the president set out his ideas. The press protested the denial of access. Media organizations protested two bills that would restrict press freedom. One, supposedly designed to combat corruption in the public administration, includes a provision prohibiting the publication of sworn statements by officials about their financial worth. The other bill would make reporting on court cases involving minors subject to fines ranging from $5,000 to $200,000. Interior Minister Carlos Corach promised to revise the first bill. On June 7 - Journalists' Day in Argentina - President Menem promised reporters covering the presidential palace, known as the Pink House, that he "would rather step down from office than undermine the freedom to comment without prior censorship." Several statements by public officials brought press criticism. In one, Federal Police Chief Adrian Pelachi declared that journalists went after only "the easy news, not the easy gun" - a reference to press disclosures of police weapons abuse. Then, a few days later, Justice Minister Rodolfo Barra declared there would be no prison riots if only the press could be prohibited from covering them. Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo was reported as advocating in a cabinet meeting chaired by President Menem that newspapers and magazines should not be exempt from payment of value added tax, saying, "Why should we keep the tax exemption for the media when they treat us so badly?" Cavallo denied the report. A few weeks later, he resigned. A Bariloche appeals court decided to limit access to information, denying credentials to those reporters that in the judges' view had reported inaccurately. Several court rulings, however, have been positive for the press. Attorney General Abel Agiiero Iturbe recommended that the Supreme Court refuse a Senate appeal to put journalist Guillermo Cherashny under 72-hour house arrest for allegedly attacking a senator. Lower courts had rejected the Senate measure against the journalist, who himself had been attacked on prior occasions. The Federal Appeals Court of San Martin in Gran Buenos Aires upheld the right of the press not to disclose its sources, in line with Article 43 of the Constitution, and declared that three journalists who had interviewed leftist guerrilla leader Enrique Gorriaran while he was an outlaw could not be put on trial in an attempt to force disclosure of the rebel's whereabouts. The Federal Justice Department decided to investigate proven illegal wiretaps on the newspaper El Comercial, of Formosa, apparently set up to allow provincial police to listen in. Radio journalist Enrique Vasquez was sentenced to five months in jail for defaming President Menem. The Chamber of Criminal Appeals upheld the sentence. The journalist had said in 1991 that Menem had put together a propaganda campaign to damage the prestige of Fidel Castro. The defense lawyer contended that the sentence sought to intimidate those who criticize the government and declared he would appeal the sentence to the Supreme Court. If the sentence is upheld, it would be the first time Menem has won a suit of this type against a journalist.