Report to the Midyear Meeting
April 4 – 7, 2014
The persecution that for 10 years now the Argentine government has been carrying out against independent journalists and media was once again evident in flagrant discrimination in the placement of official advertising in favor of supporting media, while the authorities continue to ignore court rulings against this practice. Also ignored are the Supreme Court's requirement of impartiality in the application of the Audiovisual Communication Services Law.
In recent weeks, with the usual delay, the government made public its $120 million expenditure on advertising in the first half of 2013. As has been occurring in recent years that news companies close to those in government were awarded with high percentages of the advertising package which have nothing to do with the size of their audiences. At the same time, media that maintain their editorial independence received tiny percentages. Newspapers in the same geographical region, with a circulation 10 times higher than that of a competitor, received one 20th of the latter.
To estimate the total cost that is implied in feeding the official propagandist apparatus one has to add to the consigned amount the advertising costs of decentralized government agencies, the maintenance of publicly-owned media, the generation of content with propagandist aims, and the cost of programs such as Fútbol para Todos (Soccer For All). According to the official budget the total of these items is over $600 million for 2014.
The advertising discrimination ignores the various rulings of the Supreme Court. In February, in a new ruling, the Court ratified condemnation of the use of public funds to seek to discipline a media outlet. With a paradoxical interpretation of republican principles the Head of Cabinet declared that this ruling implied a violation of the separation of powers.
Media not aligned with the government suffered the exclusion from state advertising along with a boycott of private sector advertisers promoted by the government. Las year was the one in which the independent press suffered the hardest economic blow since the restoration of democracy in 1983, due to the withdrawal of advertising by its main advertisers.
It was also a fertile year for attacks on journalists and other restrictions of freedom of expression. The Fundación Libertad + Democracia (Freedom & Democracy Foundation) recorded 455 cases of attacks last year. The nine-day detention of the editor of Última Hora Diario in Santiago del Estero province, on a charge of sedition, the death threats and blows by members of the Border Patrol received by photographer Brian Palacio, the attack by people close to the head of the Federal Public Revenue Administration on members of a team of reporters from the Rio de Janeiro television channel TN are some of the abuses suffered by journalists in the last six months. Also being threatened were reporters with the Mendoza newspaper El Sol and there was a Molotov cocktail attack on the home of the editor of the San Lorenzo, Santa Fe province, newspaper Síntesis. Both events are linked to the expansion of the illicit drug trade.
The climate for the practice of journalism continues to be adverse. In response to statements made by journalists Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazú and Joaquín Morales Solá last November to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that body expressed concern at the state of freedom of expression in Argentina. Among other complaints the journalists denounced the persecution suffered by their colleagues for doing their job in a critical manner. Several hours after making the denunciations agency inspectors charged with collecting taxes turned up suggestively at Ruiz Guiñazú's home in what amounted to a habitual act of intimidation by government controlled bodies against those expressing critical points of view.
On October 29, 2103 a ruling by the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the so-called Media Law. Six of the seven members of the Court agreed that freedom of expression is not affected by Article 41, which requires state authorization for the transfer of licenses and sets limits on such transfer, and Article 45, which limits licenses to one sole owner. With regard to the other two articles in question three of the seven judges voted against. These were articles 161 and 48, which regulate the processes of media integration and the form and timetables of divestiture to comply with requirements of the law.
The Court ruling includes a series of warnings. "Everything that has been said about the law and its intent to achieve plurality and diversity in the mass news media would lose meaning without the existence of transparent public policies regarding official advertising. The role of guarantor of freedom of expression that corresponds to the government becomes distorted if through subsidies, placement of official advertising or any other benefit the news media become mere instruments of support for a determined political current or a way of eliminating dissent and the plural debate of ideas. The same thing happens if the publicly-owned media instead of giving voice to and satisfying the needs for information of all sectors of society become spaces at the service of governmental interests." The judges also held that the intentions of the law are distorted if the body of application is not independent, is not in line with the principles of the Constitution or those of international treaties of a constitutional nature, or if there is discriminatory treatment or no guarantee of the right of citizens to access plural information.
The requirements of the Court to prevent distortion of the objectives of the Audiovisual Communication Services Law were systematically not complied with before and after the ruling. The government has mounted a gigantic quasi-governmental apparatus, through publicly-owned media or privately-owned news companies fed by placement of official advertising or benefitting from other concessions, devoted to discrediting critical journalism. The AFSCA (Audiovisual Communication Services Federal Authority), the body that applies the law, has used the legislation in a selective manner against one media group in particular. The latest demonstration of the lack of independence that the Court requires of the agency became evident in statements by the Argentine Economy Minister, who took part in mid-March in a meeting of the Grupo Clarín group and declared that he had coordinated his position with that of AFSCA.
The plural information that the Court asks for continues to be threatened in the country. The government has not stopped harassing, with particular intensity in the past six years, critical voices. Public resources are used to discipline and seduce media, multiplying the number of news companies that hew to the official line. A law on access to public information continues to be an aspiration expressed in projects ignored by those in government.