Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 11 (of 30)
Political Environment: 21 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 15 (of 30)
Total Score: 47 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

President Néstor Kirchner's four-year term ended in December with his particular "news management" style intact. The "estilo K" was based on strategic use of government advertising money, reduced access to the president, and intimidating calls to critical news directors. There was hope, but still little evidence, that new President Cristina Fernández would improve press relations. Fernández, a former senator and Kirchner's wife, also benefited from the ex-president's press strategy. In a development that improved the prospects for press freedom, the courts indicated they may intercede to change federal advertising practices. Although there were fewer reports this year, bullying of reporters with authoritarian press laws and physical harassment continued, especially in the provinces.

Argentina no longer has criminal punishments in its federal press statutes, but state-level laws are more problematic. Radio journalists Néstor Pasquini and Hugo Francischelli in Cordoba province were released in March after spending more than three months in jail on charges that were finally dropped for lack of evidence. A judge in the northwestern Salta province convicted an Argentine radio journalist of criminal slander, or "injurias," for calling Gov. Juan Carlos Romero "a crook of the worst kind." The judge suspended the one-year prison term, but barred radio station owner Sergio Poma from working for one year. The Inter-American Press Association called on Argentina to use civil penalties to settle such disputes. Poma's lawyers said they would appeal. In another case, state authorities in Santa Fe province ordered the closure of printing facilities at the city's only newspaper, citing a permit dispute. El Observador owner Andrés Sharretta told CPJ he was operating on a provisional permit while awaiting a previously requested new permit. Sharretta said he was never asked for documentation or notified of the pending closure. He obtained an injunction from a local appeals court. The Argentine Journalists Forum (FOPEA) accused authorities of ignoring a provincial constitutional ban against shuttering presses.

Reporters Without Borders noted 20 complaints of physical harassment of reporters in 2007, down from 34 in 2006. Among them, police shot Santa Cruz radio reporter Adela Gómez with rubber bullets as she covered a protest blocking the route of Kirchner supporters heading to a presidential rally. Gómez said she was shot in the foot even after identifying herself as a journalist. A commander said the operation's leader and the border guard who shot the journalist were fired. Darío Illanes of the Salta province daily El Tribuno was arrested and beaten after he went into a juvenile detention center for a story. Charges were later dropped and officers involved suspended. Police in Entre Ríos province beat up radio reporter Carlos Furman after he accused them of downplaying the desecration of a cemetery.

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 political use of state advertising seemed to increase as the October presidential election neared. The federal government increased advertising spending 63 percent in the first half of 2007 as compared to 2006, according to a study by the non-governmental Civil Rights Association. National publications have been hampered by discretionary use of state ad budgets, but provincial publications are more vulnerable because local private sectors are weak or politically cautious. In Kirchner and Fernández's home of Santa Cruz, for example, investigative journalist María O'Donnell reported that media owner Rudy Ullos Igor received almost US$1 million in state advertising. The group consistently featured Kirchner, and later Fernández, prominently and favorably. Igor was once Kirchner's chauffer. The group Poder Ciudadano found that national government Channel 7 favored Fernández in their electoral coverage.

Media groups that feel harmed by state advertising practices have sued on constitutional grounds. In an important decision, the Argentine Supreme Court ruled that while media do not have a right to state advertising, "the government may not manipulate advertising by giving it to or taking it away from media outlets on the basis of discriminatory criteria." The ruling, in a case filed by Editorial Río Negro, ordered Neuquén authorities to re-write its regulations and may indicate a willingness to rule in a federal case filed by Editorial Perfil. Pressed by NGOs, several lawmakers have filed bills to clarify federal rules.

Also in 2007, the Argentine Community Radio Forum celebrated the first five broadcasting licenses granted to non-commercial radio since the broadcasting law was enacted 25 years ago under the Videla dictatorship, but vowed to continue to pressure Congress to re-write the law altogether. The licenses included an AM station for the famous Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The great majority of radio stations continue to operate in legal limbo two years after the law's provision prohibiting non-commercial radio was declared unconstitutional. Foreign news broadcasts are available in Argentina, and the internet was unrestricted by the government and used by nearly 40 percent of the population.

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