Argentine Journalism Forum denounces 'organized attack' on social media and Javier Milei's 'growing hostility' against journalists

Argentine President Javier Milei took part in a digital attack on the Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA for its acronym in Spanish) on June 27 and 28 on the social network X. The association reported having suffered a “clear defamation campaign from digital operators linked to the government,” which included the dissemination of screenshots of an “absolutely fake” chat, according to the organization, and direct attacks from the president himself.

The incident marks yet another tense episode between the Argentine president, who took office in December last year, and journalists and the press. Milei has taken measures against public news media in Argentinawas sued for defaming a journalist and, according to organizations in the communication sector in Argentina, follows policies that encourage media concentration.

According to FOPEA, the new wave of attacks began on June 27. The previous day, Argentina's Ministry of Human Capital published on X a call for the National Registration of Journalists, a registry of professionals at the Secretariat of Labor, Employment and Social Security. The Secretariat's page stated that registration was mandatory, as reported by Argentine media.

On June 27, FOPEA spoke out against the measure, highlighting that since 1985 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has considered mandatory registration an illegitimate restriction on the universal right to freedom of expression.

“The Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA) condemns and deplores the decision of the Ministry of Human Capital of the Nation to reimplement the mandatory registration of journalists, an obsolete practice [...] FOPEA demands that the Ministry of Human Capital correct its error and eliminate the mandatory application of a norm that fell into disuse due to incompatibility with the legal order and due to lack of concrete and continuous use for decades,” the statement reads.

Newspapers La NaciónClarín and Página 12 were among the Argentine media outlets that reported FOPEA's statement. The president of FOPEA, Paula Moreno, told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR) that she sent the statement via WhatsApp to the press secretary of the Milei government, Eduardo Serenellini, with whom she had already had meetings on other topics.

“He [Serenellini] clarifies to me: [registration] 'is not mandatory.' He tells me a couple of times in writing in a chat and then he calls me and actually says no, it is not mandatory,” Moreno said. “My response was 'well, then publish it officially with your channels, denying that,’ and they didn't do it.”

The Ministry of Human Capital's post about the registration of journalists was deleted. In an interview with the newspaper La Nación, Serenellini confirmed the conversation with Moreno and said that the Ministry's publication stating that registration was mandatory was an “unintentional error.” However, to date, there has been no official clarification from the Argentine government in its institutional channels on the topic.

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The post on the X network with the fake prints, according to Fopea, of the organization's alleged conversation. (Screenshot)

In the late afternoon of June 27, an X user close to the Milei government published an alleged leak of a conversation between members of the FOPEA steering committee on WhatsApp. The messages deal with libertarian YouTuber Mariano Pérez, a supporter of the president, who that same day, in the morning, had gone to a march of Milei's opponents in front of the Argentine Congress. Pérez posted a video on his YouTube channel that shows that he was recognized by protesters as a “Milei activist” and shoved out of the demonstration.

According to screenshots of the supposed conversation shared on X, the FOPEA steering committee allegedly debated whether or not the organization should show solidarity with the YouTuber, who is accredited as a journalist at Casa Rosada, the seat of the Argentine government. “Que #FOPEAComplice sea tendencia YA” (Let #FOPEAAccomplice be a trending topic now), wrote the user who posted the screenshots.

“That chat is absolutely fake. In no way did we have a conversation like that. We hadn't even started to discuss and we would never have spoken in that tone,” Moreno said. “It's even bizarre to a point. And well, that was shared quickly and what we understand is that there is a malicious situation, organized harassment.”

After that, X users – among them, the Argentine president – began to republish the original message with the screenshots and post new attacks with the hashtag.

According to Moreno, it was an “organized attack that was very difficult to respond to” and “very large.”

“In fact, the hashtag they proposed was trending in minutes, and that also speaks of the response and organizational capacity to establish [the attack],” she said.

Shortly after the original post with the screenshots of the supposed conversation between members of the FOPEA committee, the organization spoke out that the screenshots were fake and that such a conversation “never existed.”

“Its dissemination has the clear intention of discrediting this organization,” FOPEA said, attributing the “false accusation” to the fact that the previous warning about mandatory registration for journalists received wide media attention in the country.

The following morning, Moreno gave an interview to a radio program about the attacks on FOPEA. Asked why the organization did not show solidarity with the YouTuber the day before, Moreno replied that FOPEA works “for professional journalism” and that Pérez “defines himself as a Milei activist.”

Moreno's statements prompted a new wave of attacks on social media on the morning of June 28. Milei then wrote on his X profile: “FOPEA ES UNA VERGÜENZA” (“FOPEA is a shame”).

As of July 8, the Argentine president's post had accumulated more than 880,000 views, 16,000 likes and 2,000 shares. Milei continued to repost messages from other users attacking the organization and using the hashtag #FOPEAComplice.

Context of the attacks

The attacks against FOPEA are part of a context of “increasing hostility from the government, in general, and the president, in particular, towards journalists,” Moreno said.

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Argentine President Javier Milei wrote on the X network that Fopea "is a shame". (Screenshot)

“The level of hostility is very serious. And it is very serious that it is headed by the president of the nation himself,” the FOPEA president said. “Even the most credible journalist in a country does not have the reach and also does not have the institutional responsibility that a president of the Nation has. He does not speak for himself, he speaks for a country.”

FOPEA is an association founded in 2002 that brings together more than 600 Argentine journalists. In March, the organization published an overview of its monitoring of attacks on journalism in the country in the first 100 days of Milei's government. According to FOPEA, 40% of attacks on the press in the period were perpetrated by Milei or his ministers.

Moreno said that this attack against FOPEA is unprecedented for its volume and level of intensity. It was also the first time Milei directly mentioned the organization in his attacks, she said.

The president of FOPEA said that, in addition to the meetings that the organization has already held with the government's press secretary, the association also participated in a meeting called by the Minister of Security, Patricia Bullrich, in February.

“We are not nor do we want to be fighting” with the government, she said. “We bet on dialogue. It makes no sense for us to shout from one side and them to shout from the other. We can't build anything like that.”

“It seems that professional journalism, journalism that goes in-depth, journalism that pokes around, bothers. And that is what, sadly I say, whether you like it more or like it less, we are going to work to preserve, because it is what we understand has to happen for a society and a country to truly boast that it’s democratic.”

LJR sent questions to the Argentine government's Press Secretariat about national registration for journalists and Milei's attacks on FOPEA and the press. The Secretariat responded that it would not be possible to respond within 24 hours, the deadline originally given. LJR said that it extended the deadline for receiving responses, and the Secretariat responded that the “the deadlines for putting together the agenda of the President of the Nation are set by the General Secretariat. In any case, the issue you are asking about was already clarified by the Press Secretary in public statements.”

Translated by Teresa Mioli
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