Argentina: Latest example of why US should care about free press elsewhere

During the past few years the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner government in Argentina has been playing fast and loose with economic reporting in the country. At the same time the government has been attacking the independence of Argentina’s media.

The cooking of the economic books and attacks against free media are linked and have an impact on U.S. jobs.

According to official Argentina government figures, a person can survive on six pesos a day. (US$1.30 on the official rate, US$1 on the black market.) The problem is that six pesos only gets a person a small sweet cookie. A more realistic number, said one university study is 24 pesos.

In addition, private economists say the country’s annual inflation is 24%. The official rates is 10%.

Since 2007 when the Kirchner government has ordered INDEC, the official  statistic agency to fudge the inflation numbers, few people have taken the official numbers seriously. For example, The Economist stopped the INDEC numbers as part of their weekly index on inflation.

Now, the IMF is stepping in. The BBC reports that Argentina  could face sanctions from the IMF unless it starts producing reliable growth and inflation figures. IMF chief Christine Lagarde gave Argentina until 17 December to address the problem.

Using a football (soccer in the US) analogy, Lagarde said the IMF was giving Argentina a “yellow card” but was facing a “red card” if it doesn’t straighten up.

“We had to choose between the yellow card and the red card. We chose the yellow card. If no progress has been made, then the red card will be out,” she said.

But getting the government to stop lying to itself and the rest of the world is only part of the issue.

Along with forcing the once-honored government statistics agency to “fudge” the figures, the Kirchner government has also been harassing the independent media. The same media that dares to report that a person cannot survive on six pesos a day.

The Kirchner government uses tax law, news print supplies, and anti-monopoly legislation to attack its critics. Freedom House ranks the Argentine media as Partly Free. Besides the government actions, there have been physical and other types of attacks on members of the media, including the murder of community journalist Adams Ledesma Valenzuela.

Why is this important to Main Street America?

One word: Jobs.

For businesses to operate reliable and accurate information is necessary. Especially important are accurate reports of inflation and economic growth.

The top five exports to Argentina from the United States (2011) are:

  • Fuel Oil: US$1,300 million
  • Organic Chemicals: US$857 million
  • Petroleum products: US$496 million
  • Plastics: US$478 million
  • Computer Accessories: US$464 million

Other key exports include telecommunications, civilian aircraft, pharmaceuticals and industrial machines.

Predictably, the top-5 states exporting to Argentina reflect where those products are strong (2011):

  • Texas:  US$2,563,263,155
  • Florida: US$1,738,007,600
  • Illinois: $483,396,402
  • California: $443,545,461
  • Louisiana: $411,135,903

Without trade to Argentina, each of those states would be so much weaker economically. (And that has a direct impact on US jobs.)

To sell these items to Argentina, the U.S. companies have to have accurate and reliable economic numbers. Other companies hoping to sell to Argentina need these same accurate and reliable numbers.

But with government manipulation of the official statistics and a campaign to intimidate the independent media, getting accurate and reliable numbers seems far-fetched.

Transparent government policies and independent media in other countries have a direct impact on what happens in the USA.

If U.S. firms cannot rely on the numbers they get from Argentina, they may not consider selling to that market. That could mean fewer new jobs in the American economy.

And fewer jobs means a bleaker Main Street, USA.

For Argentina the pressure is building to at least correct the transparency issue.

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4 Comments

Filed under Censorship, Connections, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Jobs, South America, Trade

4 responses to “Argentina: Latest example of why US should care about free press elsewhere

  1. Pingback: Argentina update: Cristina dismisses IMF criticism. But the numbers are still wrong. | Journalism, Journalists and the World

  2. This is a lot more complicated than simply “the Argentine government needs to stop lying because the US needs more jobs.” Isn’t that a little self-centered of us as USians? I’m not the world’s greatest fan of the Fernández de Kirchner administration, but one also needs to acknowledge that Grupo Clarín IS an enormous monopoly. The US has anti-monopoly laws; should other countries not have them also? There’s also a long history here that’s not being examined: Grupo Clarín was in bed with brutal military dictators responsible for the torture and killing of tens of thousands of people between 1976 and 1983, and it seems to me the current federal government may also be addressing that. This is overly simplistic, but so is your analysis of the journalism scene in Argentina.

    • Kubiske

      Absolutely the issue is greater than the US need for more jobs. The whole piece was written to explain to US journalists WHY it is important to cover the shell game Argentina is playing with its economy and the restrictions the government has placed on the media from reporting the true status of the economy.

      The bottom line is that the bean counters in US news organizations say their readers/viewers/listeners only want local news. The whole piece I wrote was showing how there are LOCAL connections in the United States to what is going on in Argentina.

      And I don’t know where the Clarins comments come in. I never argued against anti-monopoly laws nor mentioned Clarins.

      It is not over simplistic to look at what a government does — no matter the government — to restrict press freedom or to cook its books in a way that it lies to its people and to the rest of the world.

      • From your post: “The Kirchner government uses tax law, news print supplies, and anti-monopoly legislation to attack its critics.”

        You’re absolutely right that USians prefer local news, which is sad. If we only examine our own navels and have no interest in the rest of the world, we and the world suffer from our ignorance, because we don’t know what’s going on outside US borders, unless the US military is involved.

        It’s also true that Argentines are used to insane inflation rates and the government lying about it, but outsiders don’t know unless they travel there more than once.

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