President Néstor Kirchner’s administration continued its practice of funneling government advertising to friendly news outlets and withholding it from critical media. Amid increased tension between Kirchner and the press, authorities were also accused of editorial interference in the abrupt cancellation of two independent shows on state-owned broadcast networks.
The national government’s advertising budget increased from 127 million pesos (US$41 million) in 2005 to 160 million pesos (US$52 million) even as controls on spending remained loose. Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC), a nonpartisan group that promotes constitutional rights, said that the allocation of state advertising in the “absence of clear rules” was causing serious damage to press freedom.
Editorial Perfil, the nation’s largest magazine publisher, sought a court injunction against the executive branch in July, alleging that the government discriminated against the company in retaliation for its critical reporting. The company 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.
Perfil and ADC, which filed a supporting brief, argued that the government was manipulating the media in defiance of free expression guarantees contained in Articles 14 and 32 of the Argentine Constitution, and Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. In its brief, ADC said that the legislature should adopt regulations and objective criteria for government advertising.
In September, Sen. Ricardo Gómez Diez of the provincial party Partido Renovador, introduced a bill aimed at ensuring objective distribution of state advertising. The bill would guarantee that 15 percent of state advertising be shared among all media, with the balance distributed according to circulation for publications and ratings for broadcasters.
Two independent shows on public broadcast systems were unexpectedly canceled. José “Pepe” Eliaschev said his radio show was pulled suddenly in January after his supervisor told him an order had come “from above.” His show “Esto Que Pasa,” on state-owned Radio Nacional, had been on the air since 1985. Eliaschev, who also writes a column for Perfil, is a harsh critic of the government.
The weekly television news show “Desayuno,” hosted by Víctor Hugo Morales on state Channel 7, was canceled in July. Morales said an executive told him the station wanted to control the editorial stance of its programming. Morales covered issues sensitive to the government, including the conflict with Uruguay over construction of pulp paper mills and the removal of a deputy-elect accused of human rights abuses.
Both Channel 7 and Radio Nacional are part of the National System of Public Media (SNMP). According to the May 2001 presidential decree creating SNMP, the public media system is designed to “ensure the Argentine people the right to plural, impartial, and truthful information.” On August 3, CPJ wrote a letter to Kirchner expressing concern that authorities had not clarified the motives behind the abrupt cancellations and urging him to publicly explain the reasons. Kirchner did not respond, nor did the administration offer a public explanation.
The moves come amid Argentine officials’ increasing intolerance of press criticism. In the summer, for instance, Kirchner and his wife, Sen. Cristina Fernández, sought to discredit journalists who criticized new laws allowing expenditure changes without congressional approval. The president labeled the press “perverse” and lacking “intellectual quality.”
A media company owner and a prominent columnist, both outspoken critics of Kirchner’s administration, received anonymous death threats in September. Joaquín Morales Solá, columnist for the daily La Nación, got two threatening telephone calls one day after Kirchner responded to criticism by reading aloud at a public event a 1978 article in which the columnist purportedly praised former dictator Jorge Videla. Morales Solá told CPJ he did not write the story attributed to him by the president. He said one caller warned him to stop his critical work “if you don’t want to see the seed from below.”
Jorge Fontevecchia, chief executive officer of Editorial Perfil, received intimidating e-mails and calls that same week, according to news reports. Referring to the executive’s home, one e-mail message said, “Recoleta is a nice area to live, a nice area to explode a bomb. … Stop bothering the president.”
Some independent journalists said they received hostile phone calls from officials after critical stories, followed by subsequent denials of interviews and access to information or state facilities. Argentina’s chief of cabinet, Alberto Fernández, said that the government is not attacking the press. “The press has an opinion, we have a different one. What we do is expose journalists’ contradictions,” he told the daily La Nación.
Of the eight people convicted in the 1997 murder of photographer José Luis Cabezas, only one remained in prison by late year. Two were freed on parole in 2006, and a third was moved into home confinement. The defendants took advantage of legal provisions that allowed each year they served to be computed as two years while their appeals were pending.
Cabezas, a photographer for Noticias magazine, was brutally murdered in one of Argentina’s most exclusive beach resorts. Armed men abducted Cabezas while he was leaving a party where he had photographed powerful business tycoon Alfredo Yabrán, reputed boss of the Argentine mafia. 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.