While the economy began to recover in 2003 after the worst socioeconomic crisis in the country's history and the political situation regained stability under a new president, the Argentine press continued to struggle with significant budgetary difficulties.
Argentina's economic collapse not only caused about a dozen media outlets to fold, it has also meant that a society that once prided itself on its consumption of newspapers and magazines was forced to cut back. However, despite a shrinking media market, at least three newsmagazines were launched in 2003.
Although the economic recovery halted a free fall in circulation and advertising revenue, media owners complained about tax regulations that imposed "a discriminatory burden" on Argentina's smaller newspapers and magazines, according to publishers with the Asociación de Entidades Periodísticas Argentinas (Association of Argentine Journalistic Entities). While other small and medium-size businesses in Argentina pay a 10.5 percent tax, small and medium-size newspapers and magazines must pay double that amount. However, on December 17, the Senate passed a law reducing the tax for small and medium-size publications with yearly advertising revenue of less than 43 million pesos (US$14.3 million).
Attacks on journalists covering demonstrations increased in the run-up to Argentina's presidential elections but dwindled when Peronist candidate Néstor Kirchner was elected president in May after Carlos Menem withdrew from a runoff election. Kirchner, former governor of Santa Cruz, an oil-rich province in Patagonia, took office on May 25. He promptly gained popularity by challenging the military for past human rights violations, attacking police corruption, and pressuring an unpopular Supreme Court chief to resign.
In the fall, the government lambasted a cover story in the October 18 issue of the newsweekly magazine Noticias. The article argued that Kirchner's administration used the distribution of official advertising to reward supportive media and punish critical publications. A number of journalists said they agreed with Noticias, but others said the article exaggerated the facts.
The media supported the president's embrace of progressive policies. The daily Página12, which uncovered many corruption scandals during Menem's two presidential terms in the 1990s, became an active supporter of the administration's human rights and anticorruption policies. Although some journalists complained that Página12 was rewarded with state advertising for its supportive coverage, an editor of the paper said the allegation was false. "The paper has the right to back the government if we agree on certain issues," Sergio Kiernan, Página12's weekend editor, told CPJ.
On May 8, the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, passed a bill on freedom of access to public information, which was drafted by the government's Anti-Corruption Office, along with a large group of nongovernmental organizations and civil society advocates. The bill was under consideration by the Senate Constitutional Affairs Commission at year's end. Meanwhile, the Senate Defense Commission was debating a bill to regulate state secrets that would determine what information could be classified by government agencies and for how long. On December 3, President Kirchner signed a decree guaranteeing, among other things, public access to both government information and meetings between officials and lobbyists.
On November 13, an Appeals Court in Buenos Aires Province reduced the sentences of six individuals convicted for the 1997 murder of José Luis Cabezas, a photographer with Noticias magazine. The sentences for Gustavo González and Horacio Braga were reduced to 20 years; José Luis Auge to 18 years; Sergio Camaratta and Aníbal Luna to 25 and 24 years, respectively; and Gregorio Ríos to 27 years. Due to provisions in Argentina's legal system, however, some of them could be released in late 2004.
Cabezas was killed in January 1997 in Pinamar, one of Argentina's most exclusive beach resorts. Armed men kidnapped the journalist while he was leaving a celebrity party where he had photographed reclusive business tycoon and reputed mafia kingpin Alfredo Yabrán. The men shot Cabezas twice in the head, placed his body in his car, and ignited it. Yabrán committed suicide in 1998, after being subpoenaed to testify in the murder trial.
2003 Documented Cases – Argentina
FEBRUARY 14, 2003
Posted: January 29, 2004
Clara Britos, La Tapa
Three unidentified assailants threatened to kill Britos, owner and editorial director of the Guernica-based monthly La Tapa, in Buenos Aires Province. Britos was not injured, according to local press reports. During 2002, Britos had published information on alleged acts of corruption involving Guernica city officials.
Britos, who is 36, told CPJ that at 9:30 p.m. three unknown individuals stopped her near her house in Guernica, south of Buenos Aires Province. The attackers pushed her and insulted her. They later threatened to kill Britos and her sons.
Britos has been threatened a number of times since June 2002, according to CPJ sources. Following a story published on May 29, 2002, in which she denounced Guernica police forces for beating three teachers during a demonstration, Britos received anonymous menacing calls.
According to Britos, a vehicle has followed her from her home three times. In one of the incidents, the driver threatened Britos with death if she continued publishing information on alleged acts of corruption involving former Guernica Mayor Oscar RodrÌguez.
Britos believes that the threats are linked to articles published in La Tapa that have exposed corruption at the local council in Guernica. The publication reported that RodrÌguez, who now holds an important position in the State Intelligence Service, was allegedly involved in fraud and embezzlement.
Britos, who filed a complaint about the threats, has been under police protection since February 25.
FEBRUARY 21, 2003
Sergio Carreras, La Voz del Interior
La Voz del Interior
Carreras, an investigative reporter for the Córdoba Citybased daily La Voz del Interior, was charged with criminal defamation by the wife of Córdoba Province Governor José Manuel De la Sota.
The charges stem from an investigation published in La Voz del Interior on July 24, 2002, in which Carreras reported irregularities in the local government's purchase of provincial bonds. According to the article, in November 2001, Olga Ritourt, wife of De la Sota and former provincial government secretary-general, secretly traveled to Chile on a private jet and tried to return with 50 million Argentine pesos (US$17 million) worth of bonds known as Lecor, which are issued by Córdoba Province and printed by the Chilean mint.
Carreras reported that the governor's wife was temporarily held in Chile for not declaring the content of her luggage to customs officials. Ritourt was carrying 10 pieces of luggage, each containing 100,000 bills of 50 Lecor.
On July 30, 2002, Ritourt and the governor denounced Carreras on the América TV television show "La Cornisa," according to local press reports. On August 6, Carreras published the second part of the investigation with more details on Ritourt's trip to Chile.
The case will be tried in a public hearing. Under Articles 109 and 117 of the Argentine Penal Code, Carreras faces up to one year in prison if convicted. Ritourt also charged La Voz del Interior for civil damages totaling 500,000 Argentine pesos (US$175,000).
FEBRUARY 25, 2003
Maximiliano García Solla, América TV
Julián Sequeira, América TV
García Solla and Sequeira, producer and cameraman for the biweekly television show "Puntodoc" on América TV, were attacked by Federal Police agents while covering street protests in the capital, Buenos Aires.
The incidents occurred at around 12 p.m., while police were evicting more than 100 people from a building that the municipal government had declared in danger of collapsing. According to local press reports, the journalists were reporting on the confrontation between the police and the tenants.
The police beat Sequeira, breaking his nose and fracturing two ribs, and seized his equipment. He was held at a local police station and later taken to the hospital for treatment. The security forces also punched and kicked producer García Solla, who was taken to the same police station and released several hours later. He faced charges for "resisting authority."
The journalists told CPJ that media professionals have often become targets while covering demonstrations, especially in Buenos Aires.
FEBRUARY 26, 2003
Norberto Ortiz, Crónica TV
Ortiz, anchor with the 24-hour cable news station Crónica TV, was attacked by police forces at around 11.30 a.m. while covering a demonstration in the capital, Buenos Aires.
While demonstrators were protesting outside the gates of a federal courthouse where four political activists of the leftist organization Quebracho were on trial for inciting violence during demonstrations eight years ago, riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, and masked protesters responded by throwing rocks and sticks.
Ortiz was hit by a rubber bullet and taken to the hospital for treatment before being released several hours later.
JUNE 9, 2003
Alejandro Goldín, Indymedia Argentina
Goldín, a photographer for Indymedia Argentina, an international alternative-media outlet, was attacked by Federal Police at around 5:30 p.m. while officers confronted a group of protesters at Brukman, a textile plant in the capital, Buenos Aires. According to local press reports, Goldín was covering the confrontation between police and the factory workers, who had continued to keep the plant operating after the owners abandoned it when the company went bankrupt.
Although Goldín identified himself as press and showed his credentials, the police tried to smash his equipment. Goldín was beaten on the head with a shotgun and shoved to the ground, where various officers kicked him repeatedly.
Goldín was taken to a hospital, where he received three stitches on his head and treatment for a swollen leg. He was released a few hours later. Indymedia Argentina filed a judicial complaint on June 10, and authorities continue to investigate the incident.
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