69th General Assembly

Denver, Colorado

October 18 – 22, 2013

In the past six months, journalists have found themselves subjected to numerous obstacles, threats, and attacks, mostly at the hands of the national government. The boycott against advertising in certain media outlets, the use of government resources as a tool of coercion and discipline, the risks that newsprint production may be nationalized and that media companies may be taken over by the government, the selective enforcement of laws, and physical and verbal assaults on journalists—all of these combine to form a potent threat against freedom of expression, largely reflecting the government’s intention to silence anyone who questions its positions. The advertisers’ boycott against Clarín, La Nación, Perfil, El Cronista and other newspapers—now more than eight months running—represents the most serious economic hardship faced by the independent media in recent decades.  Starting in February 2013, the leading supermarket and home-appliance retailers pulled their advertising from independent media outlets. As a result, these outlets’ advertising revenues declined by as much as 20%, which in some cases dropped their budgets into the red. The annual impact of this illegal measure is estimated at $60 million (U.S. dollars). The withholding of advertising also infringes on the rights of consumers, who are denied the ability to be informed about product pricing and special offers. According to the president of the Argentine Consumers Union, representatives of four supermarket chains acknowledged at a settlement hearing in June of this year that the advertising boycott was “imposed by (Domestic Commerce Secretary) Guillermo Moreno” and claimed that they “can’t do anything.” A group of legislators from various opposition blocs has been presenting in Congress a monthly “graphic-media advertising censorship index” covering 17 newspapers published in the city of Buenos Aires. This index shows a 75% drop in 50 different categories of advertising since January 2013, the month before the boycott began. The coercion of private-sector advertisers comes alongside the arbitrary placement of government advertising. The government’s reports, released behind schedule, indicate that over 40% of the more than $300 million in government advertising placed from the latter half of 2009 through the first half of 2012 went to five media groups, none of which are leaders in their respective segments, out of a universe of 15,000 media outlets. According to private-sector estimates, government advertising increased in 2013—an election year—and generally continued to be used to reward media outlets friendly to the administration and to punish its critics. A resolution issued by the chef de cabinet and the finance minister, and published in the Official Bulletin in July, increased the government’s advertising budget from $135 million to $215 million. The administration has yet to comply with the Supreme Court’s rulings that government advertising may not be withdrawn as a form of punishment for a media outlet’s editorial line. Government advertising predominates in spaces where it is not tabulated as government spending—for example, in the “Soccer for All” campaign. Under this program, the national government spends some $250 million per year to televise the upper-division matches of Argentina’s professional soccer league. A law on freedom of information remains a mere aspiration in bills that have gone systematically ignored in Congress. For journalists and the general public alike, access to public information continues to be controlled by the government. This is a grave matter in a country where government statistics are manipulated and where hefty fines are levied against those who release alternative statistics, although government officials do not enforce these sanctions consistently. In May 2013, ruling-party legislators submitted a bill to expropriate enough shares of Papel Prensa (the lone manufacturer of newsprint in Argentina) to give the national government control over the company. The Media Law continued to come under question for both its substance and its selective enforcement by the government. Four years after it was passed, the media landscape is far from what the law’s supporters had envisioned: a clear “colonization” of the media by the government, the proliferation of new licenses for government entities (accounting for 96% of all licenses issued), the failure of bidding processes for private-sector development of digital television, and selective enforcement of the law. This law is used—much like government advertising—as part of a carrot-and-stick system. As denounced by organizations such as the IAPA and the Association of Argentine Journalism Organizations (ADEPA), the Media Law undermines freedom of speech by restricting, for no objective reason, the operations of media outlets not on the radio spectrum, such as those that use audiovisual signals or cable operators. This constitutes censorship under the terms of the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José). It also discriminates against certain operators, encourages the control of media outlets by government contractors, and gives priority to pro-government voices at the expense of others. It compromises the sustainability of private media outlets and, hence, their journalistic independence. The Argentine Supreme Court is currently considering whether the Media Law is constitutional. Under the regulations for a new law governing the capital market, the enforcement agency can split up the administrative bodies of companies listed on the stock exchange, such as Grupo Clarín, if it considers them to be “an extremely serious threat to the rights of majority shareholders.” The intrusion of the domestic commerce secretary and the deputy finance minister into a Grupo Clarín shareholders’ meeting, as well as an unusually large number of reports requested by the National Securities Commission, bolstered suspicions that the government was considering taking over the media company. In July 2013, the Secretariat of Communications, in compliance with an executive order, issued a resolution requiring telecommunications providers to furnish any information requested by the National Communications Commission. This resolution is so wide-ranging that it would allow the government agency to request information on users, such as that contained in e-mails, without authorization from the courts. In view of the troubling situation of the press, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights scheduled a hearing for November 2 to gather testimony from seven Argentine journalists about attacks on the media. A number of journalists, media executives, and media outlets suffered attacks of various types: On March 21, 2013, unknown assailants tossed two Molotov cocktails at the facilities of a newspaper distribution company in Santa Fe province. On March 27, three members of a reporting team from Día a Día newspaper were illegally detained by provincial police officers while covering a land seizure in Córdoba province; they were subsequently released. On April 5, Génesis, a radio station in the city of Ingeniero Suárez, Formosa province, was targeted in an arson attack that engulfed its facilities in flames. A similar attack was perpetrated in early June against the facilities of FM Paraíso 42, a radio station in the town of El Hoyo, in Chubut province. In late August, the home of the manager of FM Libertad, in the town of Ibarreta in Formosa province, was firebombed in an attack apparently connected to his role in an investigative piece for a program hosted by journalist Jorge Lanata. Juan Manuel Urtubey, the governor of Salta province, has repeatedly attacked the Salta newspaper El Tribuno. On April 8, he said that the scandal over an improper transaction involving low-income housing was “a mafia-like extortion maneuver.” On May 29, in response to news reports on the misuse of government planes, Urtubey said, “They don’t forgive us for fighting drug trafficking in the province.” Pablo Kosiner, who represents Salta in the national legislature, said that the newspaper is a mouthpiece for drug traffickers. Urtubey repeated this accusation and, though he acknowledged having no evidence, said, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” On April 18, during a march in Buenos Aires, a reporter and cameraman for the Télam news agency were assaulted by demonstrators. In late April, journalists from various media outlets, while covering clashes between the municipal police and workers at Borda Hospital in Buenos Aires, were injured by rubber bullets fired by police officers. In early May, unknown assailants fired 9-millimeter bullets at the front of the main offices of Cablevisión, which belongs to the Grupo Clarín media group. On May 7, six individuals were arrested by the police as they were painting a wall with the phrase “Puntal miente” (Puntal tells lies), in reference to the local newspaper in Río Cuarto, in Córdoba province. The same phrase appeared on various walls in Río Cuarto both before and after the arrest. On June 20, a strike by workers in the truckers’ union had a crippling effect on the distribution of several morning newspapers in Buenos Aires. This prevented hundreds of thousands of readers from being informed by their daily news source of choice. On July 4, at a cocktail party hosted by the U.S. embassy, Domestic Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno insulted a journalist from Clarín newspaper. On August 8, the CEO of Grupo Clarín and his attorney were insulted, spat on, and beaten by members of the Victory Front and the Tupac Amaru organization as they were leaving a mediation hearing. On August 18, a posting on the Twitter page of the Office of the President described Jorge Lanata as “Magnetto’s hitman” while Lanata’s television program was airing. Hours later, the general secretary of the Office of the President spoke more bluntly when he told a media outlet that Lanata was a “media assassin.” The leader of the ruling party’s bloc in the Chamber of Deputies, in talking about Lanata’s reporting, said that “the underlying intention is to strike an institutional blow against democracy.” On August 28, a journalist for La Nación newspaper, as he was leaving a Supreme Court hearing on the Media Law, was spat on and insulted by supporters of the president. On August 29, two photographers for Río Negro newspaper were assaulted during a police crackdown on demonstrations outside the provincial legislature in Neuquén. That same day, the correspondent for América TV in Jujuy province was detained and assaulted by police while covering a protest by government workers. On September 12, the editor of La Verdad newspaper in Junín (Buenos Aires province) received a death threat from a person who has yet to be identified.