Coverage of human rights group scandal sparks debate on role of Argentine journalism

A corruption scandal involving a top official at the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group, the country’s most prominent voice against the Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983), has led media outlets and journalists to accuse each other of biasing coverage for political ends.

Mothers group executive Sergio Schoklender is accused of using public construction funds allocated to the organization to buy luxury cars, a mansion, and a yacht for himself, The Associated Press reports.

The country’s biggest dailies, La Nación and Clarín, have a tense relationship with Argentine President Cristina Fernández, and they led the effort to expose the alleged corruption at Mothers, a group largely allied with the current administration.

Columnists have complained that government-leaning media outlets have minimized the scandal to avoid tarnishing the group’s image. In an editorial, El Tribuno says “the entire country should reflect on the errors” that made this scandal possible.

Writing for Los Andes, Mario Fiore wonders how a journalist could “look the other way” at a scandal at the country’s most prominent rights group: “Is this not clearly a story?” The scandal, he says, brings "the great debate on the role of journalism" onto the agenda once again.

Government-allied dailies, however, say that media coverage has attempted to take down the human rights group with its disgraced former executive. “They are not going after Schoklender. They are going after the Mothers,” writes Página 12 columnist Eduardo Aliverti. For its part, state media outlet Télam stressed that the country’s biggest media companies “were not only complicit during the dictatorship, but fervent supporters.”

Both Fiore and Télam both say there is a “war” between media outlets of different political stripes, adding to the ongoing debate over whether it is possible to practice non-ideological journalism in Argentina.

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.