Radio show cancellation sparks controversy in Argentina

The recent cancellation of a radio show hosted by prominent Argentine broadcast journalist Nelson Castro, a harsh critic of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration, sparked immediate controversy. Electroingeniería, the company that owns the Buenos Aires-based Radio Del Plata, announced on Friday that the news show “Puntos de Vista” (Points of View), which has been on the air for 16 years, will come to an end today, the local press reported. 

Castro said the decision is an attempt “to suppress critical voices in an electoral year,” according to the daily La Nación. In his weekly column, he called it a blow to freedom of expression in Argentina. His colleagues in the Argentine media reacted immediately. According to the daily Crítica de la Argentina, it is a case of “masked censorship.” The political opposition condemned the cancellation. Representative Elsa Quiroz, with Coalición Cívica party, described it as an act of censorship.

The owners of Electroingeniería, a construction and engineering company that purchased the station in November 2008, have close ties with high-ranking administration officials, according to local news reports. Castro, who runs a column in the Sunday edition of critical newspaper Perfil and hosts the weekly show “Juego Limpio” (Clean Game) on cable television, said the decision was motivated by his reporting on a story about alleged surcharges paid by Electroingeniería in a public works project in southern Patagonia.

Castro said that officials close to Cristina Kirchner and her husband, former President Néstor Kirchner, told the station’s owners that they were not pleased by the journalist’s reporting, an anonymous official source told him. During a telephone conversation with CPJ, Castro said that Del Plata’s owners were disgruntled by his reporting though the story had been aired by other media, including the daily La Nación, which first broke it, and Radio Mitre.

“This was an issue of public interest,” said Castro. “I did an interview with opposition Deputy Carlos Morán, who presented the complaint on alleged surcharges, and the spokesman for the Radio Del Plata.” Three weeks after the story was aired by “Puntos de Vista,” the owners decided to terminate Castro’s contract.

Local journalists and political analysts explained that the presidential couple, which has ruled Argentina since 2003, has a lot in play in the October midterm elections. Cristina Krichner’s approval ratings have plummeted since a heated dispute with agricultural producers over grain taxes in early 2008. Local journalists told CPJ that the decision to cancel Castro’s show is part of the government’s electoral strategy of restricting dissent or critical voices in the months leading up to the elections.

In a column published today in the daily El Cronista, well-known journalist Luis Majul wrote: “In a war where losing is fatal, [Néstor] Kirchner prefers to pay the political cost of being accused of silencing critical and prestigious journalists rather than tolerate their advocacy in the political campaign.”