In the run up to Argentine general elections this October, the Association of Argentine Journalistic Entities (ADEPA for its acronym in Spanish) called on political candidates to protect press freedom and pointed to attacks from organized crime as increasing threats to journalists.
“We urge the presidential and legislative candidates from all parties, as well as authorities that remain in office, to make a commitment to help restore, starting on December 10, respect for full enjoyment of the freedoms of expression and press, as essential pieces of a democratic and republican system,” ADEPA said in a report released during their 53rd General Assembly.
The publishers' association released the report, “Rebuilding institutions, recovering respect for freedom of expression,” on September 18, the final day of the assembly in Rafaela.
Argentine presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for October 25; the newly elected president will assume office on December 10.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, of the Front for Victory, has held office since 2007. She is unable to run for a third term. Fernández de Kirchner, her government and the press have frequently been at odds during her presidency.
The most high profile case involved the Kirchner government and multimedia conglomerate Grupo Clarín. The contention was over the administration's Audiovisual Communication Service Law that aimed to break up media concentration in the country. Supporters of the media group believed it was being used to target publications critical of the administration.
More generally, in recent years, journalists have pointed to obstacles accessing public information, the withholding of government advertising or government-led pressure on advertisers and harassment of journalists.
ADEPA’s report referred to many of these problems, as well as “selective application of laws and resolutions”; “abandonment of the mechanism of the press conference as a communication tool of government actions and response to citizen concerns”; “grievances and repeated defiant messages from the highest echelons of political power against dissenting voices”; and “absence of policies to protect journalistic work”. At times, pressure is also carried out at the provincial and municipal levels, according to the organization.
In a recent case from September 11, two unknown people beat and cut Maximiliano Pascual outside a radio station where he works in Arroyo Seco, Santa Fe province, according to ADEPA. An attacker reportedly told him to “shut up”. ADEPA said Pascual, director of La Posta Hoy and Radio Extremo 106.9, has been monitoring coverage of a drug trafficking case.
Also recently, teams of journalists from two television stations and a newspaper from Rosario were attacked while covering a homicide in an area where, according to ADEPA, activity from drug trafficking gangs had apparently spread.
"We say that there is freedom of expression in Argentina, but a conditional freedom. Or, put another way, an indirect censorship,” said Carlos Jornet, president of the Commission of Press Freedom of ADEPA, to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. “Who dares to express their differences with the model imposed by the political power is subject to disqualification, pressure, harassment and sometimes even physical violence by government militants, police forces or others who exploit the lack of guarantees for journalistic work.”
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.