Journalists in Argentina call for an end to five years of political pressures, internal struggles

By Alejandro Martínez

Journalists in Argentina had plenty to say last week about their sour relationship with the country's political leaders -- and the problems that threaten the profession from within.

Around 120 journalists gathered at the country's Senate on June 7 -- Day of the Journalist in Argentina -- to launch the campaign "If they silence me I can't serve you" and call for the end of political pressures as well as internal conflicts within the profession. The manifesto “We journalists say, 'Enough is enough!,'" read by the president of journalism ethics organization FOPEA Fabio Ladetto, underscored the journalists' sense of urgency to repair the situation of the press in the country, which has been in decline for the last five years.

We journalists of FOPEA demand that our work and our integrity as individuals be respected," Ladetto said. "We call for an end to the attempts to destroy a profession which is intimately tied to our democracy, which this year celebrates the 30th anniversary of its restoration. The defense of journalism is not a task for a small group of people. It should concern all."

On the one hand, FOPEA called for an end to the discriminatory use of government advertising to pressure media outlets, the selective denial of access to information and public events, and the harassment and discrediting of journalists based on the companies they work with.

"Public berating of journalists leads of a high degree of social violence, which expresses itself with greater intensity in smaller localities," Ladetto said.

On the other, the organization also called journalists not to make enemies out of each other over different points of view, disguise editorial opinion as news and use spaces to train journalists as "political trenches." FOPEA also denounced bad working conditions for media workers in the country.

"Journalists must be paid in such a way that they can provide for their families and exercise their profession on the best possible terms," Ladetto added.

The journalists also called for an end to all threats, pressures and attacks against them. In 2012, Fopea documented 172 cases of aggressions and threats, which represented an increase of 41 percent compared to 2011.

"The message (of the campaign) could be said that it's a warning about a process that has been going on in the last years in Argentina. Freedom of expression in the country has deteriorated in several areas and this has worsen in recent years," said Andrés D'Alessandro, executive director of FOPEA, in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

The pressures that the press faces in Argentina have been gradually increasing since the government's 2008 conflict with the agricultural sector, during which news coverage – specially the one from media conglomerate Grupo Clarín – were unflattering of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's administration. Since then the relationship between the country's government and some private media outlets has become more and more tense.

In 2009, Fernández de Kirchner's government successfully pushed for a new Media Law to update the obsolete regulations on the topic. However, Grupo Clarín, the largest media group in the country and the one that stands to lose the most from the legislation, contends that the law is a direct attack toward private media outlets. Clarín obtained a court-issued cautionary measure to prevent the implementation of the law, which is still in effect.

In May, the government of Argentina proposed a bill to expropriate the shares of paper company Papel Prensa, which supplies paper to Grupo Clarín and newspaper La Nación. Currently the two media groups and the government are the biggest stockholders in the company.

And a few weeks ago, the government called on the country's soccer association to change the schedule of games broadcasted on Sundays to coincide and compete with the TV program Journalism for All of journalist Jorge Lanata, one of the most critical voices against Fernández de Kirchner's government. His show has surpassed soccer ratings three weekends on a row.


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.