Supreme Court ruling limits manipulation of state ads

New York, September 7, 2007—An Argentine Supreme Court ruling condemning the province of Neuquén for the withdrawal of state advertising from a critical daily will help protect the media from government manipulation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On Wednesday, Argentina’s highest tribunal ruled the government cannot suppress or substantially reduce official advertising to the media arbitrarily, the local press reported. The court’s decision concluded it is illegal to deprive a critical publication of state ads.

“The media have no right to obtain a certain amount of state advertising,” said the court’s ruling. But at the same time, the decision concluded that official advertising cannot be used as a tool to pressure the media. The court said that the State “cannot manipulate official advertising, distributing it or withdrawing it with discriminatory criteria.”

The case stemmed from a December 2002 report on corruption in the local legislature. Shortly after the story was published in the national daily Río Negro, the provincial Lottery said it would no longer advertise in the paper as it had for years. Other provincial institutions also announced that they would withdraw official advertising from the paper.   

The majority vote stated that the provincial government’s behavior “risked the integrity of the public debate, indirectly affecting freedom of the press.” The ruling said the government “must avoid actions oriented to limit the exercise of press freedom.”

Local journalists and free press activists hailed the decision at a time when several provincial administrations and the national government manipulate the allocation of state advertising to punish critical reporting and reward supportive media.

“We urge the federal and local governments in Argentina to abide by the spirit of this ruling by refraining from using the allocation of advertising to manipulate the media,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The national legislature should introduce legislation that will stop the government from manipulating public funds as a result of political favoritism.”

As a result of the decision, Neuquén has a month to present the court a plan for the distribution of official advertising that will respect the ruling’s guidelines.