ARGENTINA There have been physical attacks on journalists, court rulings that impugn press freedom and official pronouncements making unfounded criticism of the press. And there were proposals that sought to weave an unacceptable mesh of protection around public officials in a bid to discourage media charges of misuse of government funds. Such initiatives were only partially successful. On May 14, President Carlos Menem declared thatt by winning the elections he had "defeated not only the opposition but also the media." Reflecting general media concern at his remarks, La Naci6n noted: "The fact that there is in Argentina a press that is independent and not docile, and which coexists with another, blatantly pro-government press, should be celebrated by Menem as an invigorating sign of liberty and pluralism." A few hours after his electoral triumph, Menem was rankled by questions from Patricia Janiot, a reporter with the Latin American section of the CNN television network, which he saw as being as being critical of him. Janiot said afterward that Menem had suggested that the interview be kept off the air. The government withdrew three bills seen as "gag laws." Penalties for libel would have been disproportionately increased, in a bid clearly designed to discourage the publication of accusations against public officials. But another bill of concern continues under consideration in Congress. It would impose stiff fines of up to $50,000 and prison terms of up to two years on anyone publishing what the courts rule to be false accusations. The issue of alleged public corruption has also involved the Argentine press. Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo was taken to court by two prominent broadcast journalists, Daniel Hadad and Bernardo Neustadt, for having stated, in a report to the Chamber of Deputies, that they were influenced by a businessman that the minister accused of being a leading member of the Mafia. Also as a consequence of that debate, Interior Minister Carlos Corach admitted in a response to a request by Hadad that he had contacted a senior Treasury Ministry official to find out whether Hadad had really been investigated for alleged unpaid back taxes. "I did not try to halt the investigation," the minister said. Going counter to a concept that has otherwise held sway recently, the Supreme Court sentenced journalist Horacio Daniel Rodriguez to a suspended 18-month prison term and a $20,000 fine, ruling that an article published in La Prensa of Buenos Aires was false in having linked a public official to an alleged fraud. The prior concept required a demonstration of either actual malice on the part of the journalist, or that he or she had exhibited reckless disregard for the truth. A lower court, the National Court of Criminal and Correctional Appeals, sentenced journalist Guillermo Cherashny to 18 months' imprisonmen on charges of criminal libel of the former director of the Government Intelligence Service. As in the Rodriguez case, actual malice was not proven. On June 12, Cherashny was shot twice in the back in the street with .22-calibre bullets, by two individuals who fled, leaving him seriously wounded. He made his way to the radio station where he worked. He had also written for the weekly El Nuevo Observador and in that capacity had reported on political infighting among different factions of the government, as well as possible corruption. The authorities launched an investigation into the shooting, which the government repudiated. The perpetrators have not been apprehended. Also still at large are those responsible for 60 earlier attacks and threats against journalists in Argentina. All of which has heightened the sense of insecurity felt by newspeople in this nation. In a court ruling favorable to the press, the Criminai Court decided to allow a journalist's request to examine the file of an investigation into the death of a person believoed to be linked to drug trafficking. The request that had been rejected by a lower court. Still pending is an appeal to the Supreme Court by political commentator Joaquin Morales Sola of a three-month suspended sentence handed down by a lower court on charges of libeling a former official of the Raul Alfonsin administration. Morales Sola had been found guilty, despite arguing that he had not intruded into the private life of the official. Stiff fines were imposed on other journalists for alleged libel. In a verdict punctuated by stinging criticism of the media, Eduardo Pablo Garcia, who writes under the name Eduardo Aliverti, was ordered to pay $20,000 to a former official.Journalists Alberto Ferrari and Marcelo Helgfof were fined $25,000; she had complained of having been offended by the magazine El Porteno. And the editor of the magazine Humor, Tomas Sanz, was given a one-month suspended prison sentence for publishing, although only as a reference and using the conditional tense, fragments of an article from the Uruguayan magazine Brecha, which prompted Senator Eduardo Menem, the president's brother, to file suit against that publication. The precautions that had been taken by the journalist were not enough for the court. On the other hand, a court in La Pampa province ruled in favor of the newspaper La Arena, upholding the concept of actual malice and ordering the complainant, a former official of the national bank, to pay court costs. Only two months ago it was learned that Senator Eduardo Vaca, of the governing Justicialist Party, had drafted an unusual bill that sought to bar the distribution of news classified as "state secrets" or deemed" sensitive" by the government. This was seen as an effort to institute a virtual information dictatorship, based on obscure principles of "national interest." The prompt reaction by the media persuaded Senator Vaca to announce that he did not plan to proceed with the bill. Although the Constitution (Article 43) guarantees journalists the right not to reveal their news sources, Judge Angela Braidot, at the request of the National Court of Appeals of the Federal Capital in Buenos Aires, last September ordered a search of La Nacion. A similar action was carried out at the Buenos Aires newspaper Cronica and in the bureau of the Mar del Plata newspaper La Capital. A police officer was sent by the authorities to search the La Nacion building for original notes that were the basis for the publication of a news story, and to establish the identity of the sources and the journalist who edited the story. The information, published two years earlier, was about a libel lawsuit, in which the newspapers were not involved. The police took only one photocopy of the article as it actually appeared in La Nacion, on September 23, 1993. The judge also failed to achieve her objectives at the other two newspapers. The outcome was that the Chamber of Deputies swiftly approved an amendment to the Penal Code (Article 243) protecting journalists' professional confidentiality. Some legal experts had argued the constitutional protection of journalists needed to be reinforced through specific reform of the Code. The move is expected to be ratified when the Senate takes up the measure, it having already been approved by the lower chamber. In this way, journalists, publishers and media owners will be able to refuse to testify about information received during the exercise of their profession. Almost at the same time as with the events in Buenos Aires, a judge in Santiago del Estero province assumed control of the company that publishes the newspaper Nuevo Diario as the result of a lawsuit for alleged damages filed by an attorney who earlier had a professional relationship with the firm. The judge fired the editor of the newspaper and appointed a replacement. The court takeover was shortlived, however - the judge 24 hours later reversed himself after widespread protests. There is a suspicion that the measure could have been linked to some type of political intrigue, since the newspaper often criticizied certain sectors of the provincial government. Not only the print media has been on the receiving end of abusive court action. A judge ordered seizure of film footage shot by Cronica TV of a person on trial and later convicted. A judge said the journalist was in contempt because the filmed interview had been conducted without the authorization of one of the magistrates involved.