IAPA Midyear Meeting 2018

Medellín, Colombia

An incident - on December 18, stands out among the attacks on journalists registered during the last semester. In said incident demonstrators attacked police - in the vicinity of the National Congress, and injured several workers from the media TN, C5N, Canal 9, Página/12 and Crónica TV. Journalists from Radio 10, Big Bang News, Telefé, Anfibia, Ámbito Financiero and Página/12 were also hit by rubber bullets fired by police in the middle of the chaos. The case of Julio Bazán - a journalist from Channel 13 who's savage attack by demonstrators was caught on camera, was commented on by the current president of the Freedom of Expression Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, and deputy for Frente para la Victoria, Leopoldo Moreau, who declared that the professional was also "a victim of the group where he works".

The case of journalist Gabriel Hernández - who was sentenced in first and second instance to pay "compensation for moral damage" in the amount of two million pesos to the governor of the province of Formosa for comments made by an anonymous caller on his radio program, was presented at the end of October by members of the ruling party to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as an example of persecution against journalists in that province.

The public debate is contaminated by multiple disinformation maneuvers and defamatory actions - usually anonymous, carried out by digital platforms. The stigma is widespread and particularly affects journalists and the media. Traditional media also contribute to the toxicity of an ecosystem that stimulates polarization, confrontation between citizens and the subjugation of their privacy or honor. A resounding example was given in the context of the public scrutiny of a court case involving a pedophile network linked to football clubs, in which renowned journalists were incriminated in an outrageous manner and during a high-profile television program with the possible aim of intimidating them.

The law on access to public information - enacted in 2016 and regulated a year ago, became operational last October with the implementation of the law and the appointment of its director through an open and transparent mechanism. This organization - the Agency for Access to Public Information - must deal with issues related to citizens' personal data. Among its areas of action is also the deletion of certain references from official databases, which are included on its website as "the right to be forgotten." While it refers to the power of any citizen to ask for the removal of his or her name from any public database in relation to credit information services after five or more years from delinquency, it is not the most appropriate for an agency in charge of promoting access to public information.

The public media, historically used as propaganda bodies by the governments in power, and as instruments of delegitimization of critical journalism, have recovered standards of professionalism and pluralism.

Official publicity was reduced during the current administration by almost 50% compared to the level reached in the last year of the previous administration, and the Government announced a more intense adjustment for the current year. The way in which this pattern was distributed was one of the great distortions left by the previous government. But their abrupt cutbacks, in an industry undermined for years by persecutory policies, a suffocating tax burden and new skills, threatens the viability of the media. The graphic media - being the generators of most of content, suffered a much more significant cut compared to the rest of the media. Also controversial is government advertising in platforms that provide false content that distorts the digital ecosystem. The sanction of a law that regulates the allocation of official guidelines is a pending issue.

Last February, the Government - through a public letter from the Cabinet Chief of Staff, recognized the need to find alternatives to ensure the sustainability of newspaper companies. In the last semester, the closure of media and agencies such as the Buenos Aires Herald, El Gráfico, La Razón and DYN, along with media from the provinces, joined an extensive list of newspaper companies that in recent years were unable to continue operating or entered into serious crises, such as the Indalo Group or the Rivadavia and El Mundo radios. In some cases, the main cause of these situations was the negligent actions of management combined with the reception of exorbitant levels of official guidelines during the previous government. In other cases, there is a combination of an adverse environment in business activity from a tax and labor standpoint, the fall of official programming, the transformation of the information consumption habits of the public, and an asymmetric competition in the advertising market from networks and platforms.

Since 2014, a law has been in force that modified the value-added tax rates for small and medium-sized newspaper companies that are below a turnover ceiling. This ceiling was modified at the end of 2015, but since then - with an accumulated inflation above 70%, this figure has not been updated, leaving out several media whose economic equation has been significantly damaged. At the beginning of April, the Association of Argentine Journalistic Entities (Adepa) and Asociación de Diarios del Interior (Adira) formulated proposals to reduce this tax and the employer contributions for small media.

The Grupo Crónica stated that the rigorism of certain administrative agencies exceeds their function – holding back the development of journalistic activity.

Adepa brought together executives of news groups to analyze joint measures regarding technology companies, whose actions affect the sustainability of the news publishing industry, the quality of public debate and institutional dynamics.

Two cases of legal enforcement of the so-called "right to be forgotten" also generate concern. These are two precautionary measures to get Google and the newspapers La Voz del Interior, from Córdoba, and La Gaceta de Tucumán, from Tucumán, to suppress content.