In Argentina, death threats against two critical journalists raise alarm

New York, September 29, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by death threats against a media company owner and a prominent columnist, both harsh critics of President Néstor Kirchner’s administration. CPJ today called on Argentine authorities to immediately denounce the threats and to launch a thorough investigation.

Joaquín Morales Solá, columnist for the daily La Nación and host of the weekly cable news show “Desde el llano,” told CPJ that he received two threatening telephone calls in his office on Thursday. “This is the beginning: The next one you will feel in your body,” Morales Solá quoted the first caller as saying. “Stop it if you don’t want to see the seed from below,” he said, was the message in the second call.

The calls came a day after Kirchner responded to criticism from Morales Solá by reading aloud at a public event a 1978 newspaper article in which the columnist purportedly praised former dictator Jorge Videla. But Morales Solá told CPJ that the president erred in his citation; the columnist said he didn’t write that article and said he would respond to Kirchner in his Sunday column.

Two intimidating e-mail messages were sent Wednesday to Editorial Perfil, Argentina’s largest magazine publisher. The messages, sent to different company e-mail addresses, were aimed at the company’s chief executive officer, Jorge Fontevecchia, and his family, local press reports said. “Stop bothering the national government. You know the story of the father who lost his son. … Hope it doesn’t happen to you,” one of the e-mails said. The e-mails came from two different, unknown addresses.

“Recoleta is a nice area to live, a nice area to explode a bomb… Stop bothering the president,” said the second e-mail message. Editorial Perfil said Fontevecchia also received intimidating calls at his home this week, threatening him and his sons.

Editorial Perfil sought a court injunction against Kirchner in July, alleging that the government discriminated against the company in retaliation for its critical reporting. Perfil said its weeklies, Noticias and Fortuna, and its Sunday paper, Perfil, were denied government advertising and their journalists were barred access to official sources and events.

The threats come amid Argentine officials’ increasing intolerance of press criticism. This summer, for instance, Kirchner and his wife, Sen. Cristina Fernández, sought to discredit journalists who criticized new laws allowing expenditure changes without congressional approval.

“We are alarmed by the threats against Fontevecchia and Morales Solá,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on Argentine authorities to conduct a prompt investigation, apprehend those responsible, and punish them to the full extent of the law.”