Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Local and national politicians followed President Nestor Kirchner’s lead in 2006, showing little tolerance for press criticism. Tactics used against media critical of the administration included control of government advertising and access to information; termination of programs on private and state-owned broadcasters; and use of authoritarian press laws, threats, and physical assault to intimidate journalists.
While criminal insult and defamation laws no longer exist in Argentina, “crimes against honor” prohibit intentionally accusing someone of committing a crime and/or impugning their honor. Civil laws call for the accuser to pay fines for any material or “moral” damages caused, while criminal laws carry jail time of up to three years. Both laws were used against journalists in 2006. Investigative reporter Mariano Saravia received a grant from the World Press Freedom Committee to fight charges of civil crimes against honor filed by a retired military officer and a former policeman who appeared in his book, La Sombra Azul. The journalist’s defense is that what he wrote was true. Prior to the charges, Saravia received death threats and was harassed. Although not used against Saravia, crimes against honor also exist in the federal penal code, to which truth is a defense if the accusation is made in the public interest. The minister of culture in Rio Negro province filed criminal charges against journalist Angel Ruiz in 2006 after his reports linked the official to fossil smuggling. Prior to the charges, the journalist received threatening calls. Other criminal laws were used against journalists during the year. In Cordoba province, radio journalists Nestor Pasquini and Hugo Francischelli were jailed in December on charges of inciting violence and arson during a riot they covered.
The press also faced various forms of political pressure. President Kirchner continued to criticize conservative journalists and publications for complicity with the 1976–1983 military dictatorship. These publications, especially the daily La Nacion, provide the most hard-hitting coverage of his government. First Lady and Senator Cristina Fernandez called journalists covering Congress “ignoramuses” and “dimwits.” These comments seemed to have incited attacks on journalists, including threats made against La Nacion columnist Joaquin Morales Sola and the publisher of the critical newsmagazine Noticias, Jorge Fontevecchia. On state-owned Channel 7 television, “irreverent” journalist Victor Hugo Morales’s program, Desayuno, was canceled after a seven-year run. The order came following the station management’s replacement and the unexplained dismissal of anchor Marcela Pacheca after she criticized a gathering that President Kirchner organized on the anniversary of his inauguration. Similarly, Radio Nacional discontinued host Jose Eliaschev’s commentary program. Three current affairs programs on privately owned media suffered the same fate.
Reporters Sans Frontieres reported that 34 Argentine journalists were physically attacked in 2006, often by politicians, bureaucrats, or police. In Quilmes Town Hall in Buenos Aires province, a local leader of the Peronist Party beat radio journalist Pedro Navarro unconscious. The mayor of Quilmes convinced the Federal Broadcast Commission to revoke the licenses of two local radio stations, Navarro’s Radio Quilmes 106.9 and Fan 103.9. The lower house of Congress unsuccessfully called upon the commission to restore their licenses. Furthermore, three well-known journalists’ e-mail accounts were hacked into, giving perpetrators access to the names of confidential sources.
There are more than 150 daily newspapers, hundreds of radio stations, and dozens of television channels in Argentina. The country’s print media are all privately owned, while the numerous privately owned radio and television stations are able to broadcast without restrictions. The use of state advertising to reward or punish media outlets is considered the biggest threat to press freedom nationally. According to the U.S. State Department, national government spending on advertising increased from 15.4 million pesos (approximately US$5 million) in 2002 to 127.5 million pesos (approximately US$47 million) in 2006. Shows were canceled on privately owned Radio Rio Gallegos in Santa Cruz province, on LT 24 radio in Buenos Aires province, and on TV 5 in Tucuman after local authorities threatened to withdraw advertising. In May, Grupo Editorial Perfil sued the national government for discrimination after the administration withheld official advertising from some of its publications. Legislation that would set market-based or program-oriented criteria for the distribution of state advertising was stalled in congressional committees. The media company Perfil, owner of Noticias, has sued over the government’s refusal to award state advertising or grant the newspaper’s reporters interviews with top officials. Foreign news broadcasts are available in Argentina, and the internet was unrestricted by the government and used by 34 percent of the population.