Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
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Argentina took steps to diversify broadcast media ownership and decriminalize libel in 2009. However, the overall level of press freedom remained unchanged, as observers warned that the new media regulation regime unfairly targeted critics of the government. Freedom of speech and of the media is guaranteed under the constitution, but press freedom is occasionally restricted in practice. In 2009 the legislature approved a law to eliminate imprisonment as a punishment for libel and slander by journalists. The law brought Argentina into compliance with an agreement it had signed with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights 10 years earlier. In cases of “real malice,” journalists accused of slander could still face fines.
Other media regulations have proved politically divisive. In October, the legislature approved a controversial broadcast media law drafted by the government. It would break up monopolies, reduce the number of broadcast licenses one company can hold, and reserve a third of the television and radio spectrum for nonprofit organizations, labor unions, and other elements of civil society. The other two-thirds of the spectrum are to be divided between private companies and state broadcasters. In addition, the new law forces companies that own both broadcast networks and cable channels to choose only one type of holding, and sets quotas for locally produced music, films, and programs. The law was immediately challenged in court by Argentina’s largest media group, Grupo Clarin, and at year’s end it remained suspended due to several judicial injunctions. While some experts hailed the new law as a significant step toward the democratization of broadcasting and pluralistic access to information, others pointed to provisions that could be manipulated for political purposes, such as an article that creates a new broadcast regulatory body. The seven-member commission would have two members appointed by the president, three by Congress, and two by a federal council made up mostly of governors and some representatives of civil society. Critics argued that the regulator’s lack of autonomy could allow the government to control content and revoke broadcast licenses based on vague definitions in the legislation. By December 2009, several civil society groups had challenged four of the nominees to the regulatory body, all of whom were considered close government allies.
The Argentine Association of Journalistic Entities (AEPA) claimed that the new media law was an attempt to silence dissenting voices and break up Grupo Clarin, with which President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had sustained a bitter feud for over a year.The company operates a variety of broadcast and cable television channels, newspapers, magazines, a textbook publisher, broadband internet services, websites, and online portals. In September, 200 tax agents raided the offices of the newspaper Clarin after it ran a cover story alleging that the government improperly granted a farm subsidy. When the newspaper called the raid a government intimidation tactic, the tax agency claimed that it was a mistake and promised to fire the officials responsible after an investigation. However, the government did not disclose the results of any investigation, and no officials were fired. In November, a teamsters’ union led by government ally Hugo Moyano temporarily blocked the distribution of Clarin and other papers, demanding to organize the papers’ truck drivers. AEPA complained that the move was politically motivated. A final episode in 2009 ended in a lawsuit by Grupo Clarin against Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno for alleged threats of a government takeover of Papel Prensa, which supplies paper to most of the country’s print media. Currently, Papel Prensa’s ownership is divided among Grupo Clarin (49 percent), La Nacion (22 percent), and the government (27 percent).
Throughout the year, journalists and news organizations were targeted in several acts of violence. The Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA) counted 147 cases of aggression against journalists and threats to freedom of expression in 2009, including pressures imposed by advertisers, media owners, directors, and employees of public agencies. In an interactive map, FOPEA found that the 147 incidents included 52 cases of physical aggression, 19 attempts against private property and against the broadcast or publication of information, 15 cases of censorship, and 12 death threats. The most frequent perpetrators were public officials.
Argentina has a large private media sector, with more than 150 daily newspapers, hundreds of commercial radio stations, and dozens of television stations. The dominant television networks are privately owned. Many radio stations operate on temporary licenses pending regulatory reform. As in past years, the government was accused of manipulating the distribution of official advertising to limit free speech, a practice termed “soft censorship” that had been institutionalized by former president Nestor Kirchner. In the first half of 2008, the Kirchner administration spent US$52 million on official ads that benefited friendly media outlets—almost 10 percent more than the amount spent in the first half of 2007—according to the nonpartisan group Association for Civil Rights, and this continued to be a tactic employed by the government in 2009. The problem has persisted even though the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that “the government may not manipulate advertising by giving it to or taking it away from media outlets on the basis of discriminatory criteria.” A February 2009 federal court ruling ordered the government to allocate advertising to the newspaper Perfil within 15 days and to refrain from “discriminatory behavior.”About 30 percent of Argentines use the internet, one of the highest usage rates in Latin America. While Argentina has sometimes censored search results to protect the privacy of celebrities, there were no new reports of government restrictions on the internet in 2009.