Report to the 71th General Assembly
Charleston, South Carolina
October 2 – 6, 2015
In three weeks there will be presidential elections that will mark the end of a 12-year government cycle in which the press has undergone its most adverse time since the restoration of democracy.
The obstacles that journalism has encountered are the same ones that were registered in this stage in the Latin American countries that had governments intolerant of critical voices. Among other problems there are: the use of public resources to mount gigantic communication apparatuses aimed at undermining independent journalism and the opposition; making publicly-owned media partisan; discriminatory placement of official advertising with the objective of co-opting its recipients or punishing non-supporting media; selective application of regulations to go after dissidents; enactment of specific laws to break up critical media and favor pro-government voices; pressure on private sector advertisers to bankrupt news companies; use of control agencies and intelligence services to apply pressure, intimidate and spy upon; the shutting down of reporting suffered by critical journalists; banishment from presidential press conferences; employment of national broadcast chains with a proselytizing purpose; official speeches stigmatizing journalists.
In this period there were various attacks and difficulties for the press.
President Cristina Kirchner spoke on 40 occasions on a national network so far this year to highlight her administration, parting from what is established under the media law enacted during her presidency, which only permits its use "in serious, exceptional situations or those of institutional significance." On repeated occasions they have been a vehicle of defamatory statements directed against the press, as on August 5 comparing judges, journalists and media occupying themselves with alleged acts of corruption with groups involved in kidnapping, torture and murder during the military dictatorship.
The expenditure on official federal government dissemination and propaganda during Cristina Kirchner's second term in office amounted to $900 million at the official exchange rate – a figure even higher than the one spent on Football for All, a state program that televises first division soccer matches and which has the federal government as an almost exclusive advertiser.
The publicly-owned channel scheduled this cycle in the time slot in which there was being held the first debate of presidential candidates in the history of Argentina in which the pro-government candidate had declined to participate. The following day it was learned that the government had set aside an additional amount of $400 million for official advertising.
Following the press denunciations a candidate belonging to the party of the Buenos Aires head of government gave up being a candidate for member of the national Congress over a questioned allowance for official advertising that is being investigated by the judiciary.
The first six months of this year concluded with expenditure of more than $145 million on official advertising. Its arbitrary placement responded to a large degree to electoral interests and served as fuel for media aligned with the official discourse.
In this context of the ongoing attacks on news companies of concern is the government pushing ahead with a legislative bill that already is half approved aimed at creating a commission of a purely political nature that aims at denigrating the business sector, linking it to the military dictatorship of 40 years ago, all that outside the margin of the Judicial Branch and thus circumventing guarantees of due process.
This double standard is also reflected in other media policies, such as the assignment of audiovisual frequencies. Several days ago the publishing company Perfil complained of having been excluded from an online television competition because of its editorial stance.
The work of the press was disrupted by numerous acts of violence and intimidation. In April journalist Rodrigo Mansilla of FM El Chubut radio and the newspaper El Chubut was beaten up and threatened by a municipal employee with the rank of secretary. In July the security post of the building of journalist Jorge Lanata was stoned and at the scene there were found cartridge shells apparently shot with an intent to intimidate. In August cameraman Jorge Ahuali of cable television channel CCC in Tucuman was beaten up as he was filming the distribution of foodstuffs by political militants in the midst of an election campaign in that province.
Many of the attacks taking place in this period are linked to the coverage of cases of drug trafficking, a phenomenon that is growing alarmingly in Argentina. A group of employees of television channels 5 and El Tres and of the newspaper La Capital, all in Rosario, were threatened and attacked as they were covering a homicide attributed to drug dealing gangs. Maximiliano Pascual of the newspaper La Posta Hoy in Arroyo Seco, Santa Fe province, who reports on a drug trafficking case known as "Carbón Blanco" (White Coal), suffered knife wounds to the ears by unidentified assailants.
In June the Córdoba High Court ratified the validity of laws that require graphic media in that province to provide a page a day to political parties during the 10 days prior to each provincial election. In July there were frozen the bank accounts of the company that publishes the Salta newspaper El Tribuno, as a preventive and excessive measure in a libel suit brought by the province's Economy Minister. In September the newspaper Democracia in Junín, Buenos Aires province, suffered a brief interruption in the placement of municipal advertising in reprisal for reports critical of the work of the mayor.
Argentina does not have a law on access to public information nor regulations governing the distribution of official advertising. The country has tax regulations that are discriminatory for graphic media. It lacks rules concerning defense of rights to online journalistic content. The publicly-owned media continue to be used as political instruments and there are no press conferences.