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Freedom of the Press 2009 - Argentina

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 1 May 2009
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2009 - Argentina, 1 May 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b27422428.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 13 (of 30)
Political Environment: 21 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 15 (of 30)
Total Score: 49 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Covers events that took place between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008.

Freedom of speech and of the media is guaranteed under the constitution, but press freedom is occasionally restricted in practice. The 1980 broadcasting law, enacted during a period of military rule, is widely considered to be out of tune with international standards. While federal laws that criminalize defamation of public officials have been abolished, officials have been known to use other statutes that more generally prohibit accusing someone of committing a crime or impugning a person's honor. Such civil laws require compensation for any material or "moral" damage, while criminal laws carry jail time of up to three years. The use of criminal legal action against the press is more prevalent at the state level than at the federal level. In May, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights urged Argentina to reform its defamation laws to meet regional standards and ordered the country to pay US$30,000 in damages to journalist Eduardo Kimel, who had faced a criminal defamation conviction since 1999 for criticizing Judge Guillermo Rivarola's investigation of the 1976 slaying of five priests. No defamation reform legislation had been passed by year's end.

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner accused the media of distorting reality during her four-month battle against a farmers' strike over government tax policy, which began in March 2008. She launched verbal attacks against media outlets including the Clarin Group, the daily newspaper La Nacion, the magazine Noticias, and the Spanish media group Prisa. State-owned television showed images of an anti-Clarin rally organized by the government. The Argentine Journalists Forum (FOPEA) and the Association of Argentine Journalism Entities (ADEPA) criticized Kirchner for her strong reaction to an April editorial illustration published in the Clarin newspaper, showing her with a bandage over her mouth.Kirchner had suggested that the cartoon was a "message from the mafia." Journalists complained that it was almost impossible to get any high-ranking government official to speak openly and on the record about anything of significance during 2008, while the president contended that local newspapers said only negative things about the government. On a positive note, Kirchner gave the first news conference of her presidency in August, breaking a tradition of avoiding the media that had been established by her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner. The president's newly announced communication strategy included taking questions from reporters at public events and agreeing to a limited number of interviews.

Although the government has promised to replace the current broadcasting law, negotiations in Congress did not advance. As a result, numerous FM radio stations continued to broadcast with temporary licenses pending conclusion of a licensing normalization process. In a radical move, the Federal Broadcasting Committee (COMFER), Argentina's broadcast media regulator, decided to strip Buenos Aires-based Radio Continental of its FM frequency in August, leaving it with an AM frequency only. The move was interpreted as a punishment for the station's editorial position, which supported Argentina's farmers in their tax dispute with the president.

The number of assaults on reporters decreased during the year, but physical attacks, threats, and harassment continued to take place. In February, the car of radio news host Carlos Carvallo was set on fire while parked in the garage of his home. Carvallo has often spoken on the air about illicit financial dealings that allegedly involved the mayor of a neighboring town. On November 14, Fabricio Glibota, a reporter with Radio Universidad and Norte newspaper in Chaco province, was stabbed while covering a clash between municipal employees and street vendors in the provincial capital. Several other journalists were assaulted or threatened during the year, and Radio Uno, located in northwestern Argentina, was forced off the air by an arson attack.

The country's print media are all privately owned, and the numerous privately owned radio and television stations are able to broadcast mostly without restrictions. While national publications have been hampered by the discretionary use of official advertising budgets, provincial publications have been even more vulnerable owing to weak local private sectors and politically cautious owners. The distribution of government advertising was frequently used as a tool to limit freedom of speech in 2008, 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. The problem persists 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." Other nonpartisan groups such as the Citizen Power Foundation criticized the excessive government advertising given to media entrepreneur Rudy Ulloa Igor, formerly Nestor Kirchner's personal chauffeur. Igor's media group comprises a radio station, two television stations, one newspaper, and two production companies. It consistently carried favorable coverage of President Kirchner in 2008.

An estimated 49 percent of Argentina's population had regular access to the internet in 2008. Nonetheless, multiple restraining orders from local judges limited internet users' access to search results from Yahoo! Argentina and Google Argentina. The rulings established that internet search companies must censor search results on their Argentinean sites for information about dozens of plaintiffs, including public figures such as soccer player Diego Maradona and Judge Maria Servini de Cubria . The U.S.-based search companies Google and Yahoo! have unsuccessfully appealed the restraining orders.

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