Attacks on the Press 2003: Argentina

While the economy began to recover in 2003 after the worst socioeconomic crisis in the country’s history and the political situation regained stability under a new president, the Argentine press continued to struggle with significant budgetary difficulties.

Argentina’s economic collapse not only caused about a dozen media outlets to fold, it has also meant that a society that once prided itself on its consumption of newspapers and magazines was forced to cut back. However, despite a shrinking media market, at least three newsmagazines were launched in 2003.

Although the economic recovery halted a free fall in circulation and advertising revenue, media owners complained about tax regulations that imposed “a discriminatory burden” on Argentina’s smaller newspapers and magazines, according to publishers with the Asociación de Entidades Periodísticas Argentinas (Association of Argentine Journalistic Entities). While other small and medium-size businesses in Argentina pay a 10.5 percent tax, small and medium-size newspapers and magazines must pay double that amount. However, on December 17, the Senate passed a law reducing the tax for small and medium-size publications with yearly advertising revenue of less than 43 million pesos (US$14.3 million).

Attacks on journalists covering demonstrations increased in the run-up to Argentina’s presidential elections but dwindled when Peronist candidate Néstor Kirchner was elected president in May after Carlos Menem withdrew from a runoff election. Kirchner, former governor of Santa Cruz, an oil-rich province in Patagonia, took office on May 25. He promptly gained popularity by challenging the military for past human rights violations, attacking police corruption, and pressuring an unpopular Supreme Court chief to resign.

In the fall, the government lambasted a cover story in the October 18 issue of the newsweekly magazine Noticias. The article argued that Kirchner’s administration used the distribution of official advertising to reward supportive media and punish critical publications. A number of journalists said they agreed with Noticias, but others said the article exaggerated the facts.

The media supported the president’s embrace of progressive policies. The daily Página12, which uncovered many corruption scandals during Menem’s two presidential terms in the 1990s, became an active supporter of the administration’s human rights and anticorruption policies. Although some journalists complained that Página12 was rewarded with state advertising for its supportive coverage, an editor of the paper said the allegation was false. “The paper has the right to back the government if we agree on certain issues,” Sergio Kiernan, Página12‘s weekend editor, told CPJ.

On May 8, the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, passed a bill on freedom of access to public information, which was drafted by the government’s Anti-Corruption Office, along with a large group of nongovernmental organizations and civil society advocates. The bill was under consideration by the Senate Constitutional Affairs Commission at year’s end. Meanwhile, the Senate Defense Commission was debating a bill to regulate state secrets that would determine what information could be classified by government agencies and for how long. On December 3, President Kirchner signed a decree guaranteeing, among other things, public access to both government information and meetings between officials and lobbyists.

On November 13, an Appeals Court in Buenos Aires Province reduced the sentences of six individuals convicted for the 1997 murder of José Luis Cabezas, a photographer with Noticias magazine. The sentences for Gustavo González and Horacio Braga were reduced to 20 years; José Luis Auge to 18 years; Sergio Camaratta and Aníbal Luna to 25 and 24 years, respectively; and Gregorio Ríos to 27 years. Due to provisions in Argentina’s legal system, however, some of them could be released in late 2004.

Cabezas was killed in January 1997 in Pinamar, one of Argentina’s most exclusive beach resorts. Armed men kidnapped the journalist while he was leaving a celebrity party where he had photographed reclusive business tycoon and reputed mafia kingpin Alfredo Yabrán. The men shot Cabezas twice in the head, placed his body in his car, and ignited it. Yabrán committed suicide in 1998, after being subpoenaed to testify in the murder trial.