Things are hopping in South America, and not all for the good.
In the past week or so a few items occurred that, I think, we should keep our eyes on.
The Kirchner government has not been very friendly to free and independent media. (What do you expect from an ally of Hugo Chavez?)
A couple of things have happened lately that have international journalism groups concerned.
The first is a change in a new broadcast law.
The changes were long overdue as the old law was left over from the days of the generals. The problem is the way the government is implementing the law.
The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement Dec. 8 expressing its concern about how the law is carried out. (CPJ to monitor implementation of Argentine broadcast law)
“While this legislation represents a significant improvement over the dictatorship-era law that it replaced, we have concerns that the implementation could be subjected to political manipulation,” said CPJ Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “Based on the recent nominations for the regulatory board, we are concerned about its autonomy. We will be monitoring its implementation to ensure that it achieves its stated objective of creating a more diverse and pluralistic media environment.”
Another issue threatening media autonomy from the government is an attempt to control the newsprint industry.
Dec. 2 the Inter American Press Association raised concerns that measures taken by the Argentine government against the country’s largest producer of newsprint could be used to pressure the opposition press. (Thanks to IFEX for this report: IAPA concerned at government bid to control newsprint production)
Papel Prensa, local supplier to the majority of Argentine newspapers, was taken to the economic crimes court last week by Interior Commerce Minister Guillermo Moreno and charged with “administrative irregularities” that allegedly occurred during two Board meetings. The company’s major shareholders are the Buenos Aires newspapers Clarín and La Nación which, together, control 71.5% of the company’s stock. The government, the minority shareholder, has been showing hostility towards the two papers in recent months.
IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre declared that beyond the board’s administrative procedures, “what greatly concerns us are the actions against the company, just at the time we were denouncing a government offensive against the Argentine press that includes an attempt to manipulate the newsprint manufacturer as a way to gain control over the print media that is critical of the government.”
The International Press Institute raises concerns for free press following the re-election of Evo Morales, another friend of Chavez. (“The Government Considers the Press and Enemy,” says Head of Bolivian Media Freedom Organisation.)
In a report filed Dec. 4, just before the election, IPI interviewed Juan Javier Zeballos, executive director of the Bolivian National Press Association. Zeballos said press freedom has deteriorated since Morales took office and is getting worse. He noted that whenever Morales rails against the media, beatings of journalists by police or pro-morales mobs usually follows.
During the four years of his term he has made unfounded accusations against the private media of being his opponents, and of it being at the service of “US imperialism”, and also against journalists of being dirty, of being in the pockets of and in support of the opposition, separatism and the oligarchs. Following these accusations, social groups related to the government attack journalists, insult them, beat them, and throw stones at the media. This creates fear among journalists, who then often take shelter in self-censorship, which means that, through these attacks and acts of aggression, freedom of the press is being curtailed, despite the government assurances that there is liberty.
You can’t accuse the government or president directly, but the physical attacks on journalists by particular social groups have occurred, generally, after the president accused journalists and the media of being his opponents.
First posted at the SPJ International Journalism blog site, Journalism and the World.