New York, July 6, 2016–Argentine authorities should investigate the forced entry and damage caused at the Buenos Aires offices of the newspaper Tiempo Argentino and radio station, Radio América, on July 4, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The newspaper was being run by a journalists’ collective after a dispute over ownership earlier this year.
A group of men led by Mariano Martínez Rojas, a businessman who says that he bought the newspaper and radio station earlier this year, allegedly entered the offices in the early hours of July 4, forcibly removed three employees, and vandalized the newsroom, workers from Tiempo Argentino said. The employees in the building at the time of the raid called police and journalists to alert them to what was happening, according to reports. Photos of the offices published in local media outlets after the attack show a smashed wall, broken computers, and cabinets covered in a thick layer of debris and dust.
The newspaper was allegedly sold to Martínez Rojas in January, but journalists at the paper said that after the original owners and then Martínez Rojas failed to pay salaries and costs associated with running the business, they formed a cooperative in March so they could continue to produce news, according to press reports.
A statement by the cooperative said that the men who entered the offices “destroyed important equipment crucial to the editorial process with the clear intention of obstructing the dissemination of the newspaper and its web production.” Workers said that the internal network was disrupted when cables were cut throughout the office.
Martínez Rojas told the news site Perfil that his entry to the offices “was authorized by the police,” whom he said entered with him. He denied vandalizing the offices and accused a local political youth organization known as La Cámpora of causing the damage. “The newspaper is mine, the brand as well, so is the company,” he told Perfil. La Cámpora did not publicly comment on the accusation that its members were involved, but on its website it condemned the raid and described it as a violation of press freedom.
Martínez Rojas and 10 others are facing charges over the forced entry and damage, the Argentine daily La Nación, reported. The businessman was allegedly seen on security cameras and in photos taken by employees during the incident, according reports.
Attempts by CPJ to reach Martínez Rojas for comment were not immediately successful.
“The willful destruction of property in the offices of Tiempo Argentino and Radio América is a clear attempt to prevent the outlets from producing news, and it is concerning that the person who the journalists’ collective says is responsible is a businessman who says he owns the paper,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Argentine authorities must conduct a timely investigation and prosecute all those involved.”
CPJ called the local police for comment, but a representative said she was not authorized to speak.
The Buenos Aires prosecutor told journalists at the outlet that they could continue to work and provided them with police security, according to reports.
Slideshow: view images of the damage to the Tiempo Argentino newsroom
It is not the first time Martínez Rojas has allegedly tried to disrupt the work of the outlets. The Argentine press freedom organization Foro de Periodismo Argentino (FOPEA), reported that Martínez Rojas allegedly interrupted the transmission of a program by Radio América about three weeks ago. He allegedly entered the offices and forced staff to play music instead of the program they were broadcasting.
Ownership of the outlets has been in dispute since the start of the year. Under the previous owners, Sergio Szpolski and Matías Garfunkel, the newspaper Tiempo Argentino received state advertising funding under the government of former president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whom the paper supported.
Argentine news organizations reported that Martínez Rojas allegedly purchased the newspaper and radio station in January, but later tried to cancel the sale on the grounds that he was unaware of the newspaper’s debts. In an interview with Perfil in May, Martinez Rojas said that that the National Communications Agency did not recognize him as the owner.
A representative from the Public Ministry told CPJ, “Mariano Martinez Rojas said that he bought the newspaper from Sergio Szpolski, but he never presented documentation to prove this purchase. The workers at the newspaper claim that the owner is still the previous one.”
The cooperative set up by the outlets’ journalists was recognized by the Ministry of Labor earlier this year, which gave them custody of the building, according to El Diario 24.