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Argentina


For more than a decade, courts and legislatures throughout Latin America have found that civil remedies provide adequate redress in cases of libel and slander. Over this period, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights -- an autonomous judicial institution, which is part of the human rights protection system of the Organization of American States (OAS) -- has issued key decisions supporting press freedom, including a 2004 landmark ruling that struck down a criminal defamation conviction of a Costa Rican journalist.

A newspaper stand displays Argentina's largest newspaper, Clarín. President Kirchner's government has given Clarín a December 7 deadline to sell off some of its holdings. (AP/Victor R. Caivano)

The debut of the HD version of Grupo Clarín's cable news station TN could not have come at a worse time for the Argentine media conglomerate. Conspicuously missing from Monday's premiere was coverage of a new criminal complaint in which Clarín's lawyers accused the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of inciting violence against the media group. In what the company now acknowledges was a misstep, the complaint named six pro-government journalists. 

Photojournalists raise photos of José Luis Cabezas as thousands gathered in Buenos Aires on Tuesday, February 25, 1997, to protest Cabezas' murder the previous month. (AP/Daniel Muzio)

It was a cold winter morning more than 15 years ago. As part of my daily routine as a foreign correspondent, I opened my laptop to read the Argentine papers. I was shocked by a headline: my colleague José Luis Cabezas, a photographer for the newsweekly magazine Noticias, had been murdered. His bullet-ridden body was found on January 25, 1997, inside a burned car, handcuffed and charred, on the outskirts of the beach resort of Pinamar.

Newsprint manufacturer Papel Prensa is the recent focus of an ongoing battle between two dailies and Argentina's government. (AP/Natacha Pisarenko)

Argentine Secretary of Commerce Guillermo Moreno made headlines in August 2010 when, at a meeting with the directors of newsprint manufacturer Papel Prensa, he whipped out a pair of boxing gloves, told the women present to clear out of the way, and after dimming the lights, challenged the men to a fight. Moreno's invitation to spar, though presumably in jest, set the stage for last month's legislative debate on Papel Prensa's future, which though lacking for props was no less combative.

CPJ and others who defend the rights of journalists are rightly alarmed when public officials and other powerful figures instigate baseless criminal prosecutions that can send journalists to prison and force them to pay heavy fines. A case pending in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Fontevecchia & D'Amico vs. Argentina, shows how abusive civil litigation can be just as bad for journalists as criminal prosecution. CPJ filed an amicus curiae brief in the case. A favorable decision by the court would be a step toward ending the use of meritless civil lawsuits to intimidate and harass the press.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez holds up a free expression prize from Argentina's University of La Plata in La Plata. (AP/Jorge Araujo)

Just as the awardee himself anticipated (in his subconscious, after all, he is no idiot), this "freedom of expression award" stirred up disapproval and indignation across the board. Notwithstanding, no one should question the decision of Argentina's University of La Plata. If anyone has freedom of expression in Venezuela, it's the prize-winner: He talks and talks without limits, his discourse immune to any attempts to be reined in. 

Today we will report another murder of a journalist. This one was in Argentina. The last one we documented was a couple days ago--Alberto Graves Chakussanga was shot in the back in Angola. These tragedies are part of our daily work at CPJ, but this week was different. There have been eight killings of journalists around the globe since September 3, an unusually high number during my three years as an editor here.
Clarín, seen here, is locked in a media war with Argentina's president. (AP)
A grave accusation by the administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner against Argentina's two leading newspapers, Clarín and La Nación, has prompted claims that the government is attempting to control the press, and stirred up a heated debate on the state of freedom of expression in the country. The administration is alleging that the papers colluded with a military regime more than three decades ago to force the sale of a newsprint supplier.

On Tuesday, Kirchner presented the findings of a government report titled "Papel Prensa: The Truth," a 400-page investigation on the history and economic activities of the newsprint manufacturer, according to local and international news reports. 

We will not make significant advances in the battle against crimes against journalists and the impunity surrounding them without the creation of a sense of unity and solidarity among a country’s news media and journalists. Nor will the cause advance without a strategy by international press freedom organizations to provide support for those two values.

(Elpais.com.co)

In an encouraging development, three courts in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Chile have recently followed the growing regional consensus against criminal defamation by dismissing criminal penalties against journalists accused of libel and slander.

The newsweekly magazine Semana reported that a piece written by Alfredo Molano, at left, in the op-ed pages of the Bogota-based daily El Espectador in February 2007 described how the members of a family in Cartagena and Valledupar had undue influence in private businesses and public offices in the country’s Caribbean region.

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