Argentine court orders official ads into critical publications

New York, February 19, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes a recent Argentine court ruling that orders the government to place state advertisements in critical publications.

On February 10, a federal appeals court ruled that withholding official advertising from several publications of Editorial Perfil for being critical of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration violated freedom of the press, according to local news reports. Editorial Perfil is the country’s largest magazine publisher.

The court gave the government 15 days to place state ads in the company’s weeklies Noticias and Fortuna, and its weekend paper Perfil. In July 2006, Perfil filed a court injunction against the executive branch, alleging that it was discriminated against by the Argentine government for its critical reporting.

“We hail the ruling as a step toward ending Argentina’s discriminatory practices in the distribution of state advertising,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on Congress to promote legislation that would limit the government’s discretionary authority in allocating official advertising.”

The court’s decision, reviewed by CPJ, states that there was “a discriminatory behavior with the only alleged goal to punish publications not sympathetic with the current government.” According to the ruling, “the unequal treatment with other publications–both those that announce their circulation and those that don’t–represents a clear press freedom violation that should be repaired immediately.” The court stated that without the principles of equality and freedom of expression, “democracy does not exist in the country.”  

The court cited a 2007 Supreme Court ruling condemning the province of Neuquén for the withdrawal of state advertising from the national daily Río Negro as a basis for its decision. In the Río Negro case, Argentina’s highest tribunal stated that the government cannot curb the placement of official ads to the press arbitrarily.

Perfil and the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (Association for Civil Rights), a nonpartisan group that promotes constitutional rights, which filed a supporting brief, argued that the government had manipulated the distribution of state ads 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.    

According to CPJ’s annual report Attacks on the Press in 2008, the Kirchner administration has repeatedly manipulated the distribution of state advertising by withholding ads to critical media and rewarding friendly outlets with government spots.