The Liberty of Expression and Democracy Foundation (Fundación LED) is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to monitoring freedom of speech in Argentina as well as topics related to access to public information and the protection of individual rights within the context of freedom of expression and thought.
In a recent report, Fundación LED provided an in-depth look at events and laws that threatened or weakened freedom of expression in Argentina in 2011. The following is a summary:
Implementation of Audiovisual Communications Law – In spite of continuing legal challenges and questions over the constitutionality of the law, the Executive Branch initiated implementation of a law that drastically changes the media environment in Argentina. The law grants the government a stronger role in determining which stations are allowed to broadcast by placing limits on the number of broadcast licenses a company can hold and reducing the renewal period from 15 years to 10 years. The law also establishes a new broadcast regulatory body to control licenses and mandates that broadcast licenses are to be split more equally between outlets run by the government, the private sector and nonprofit organizations including universities and indigenous groups.
Disproportionate increase in government-sponsored advertisements – The federal government of Argentina continues to increase the amount of money it spends on advertising in the media. The money also appears to be arbitrarily allocated among the various media outlets leading some to question whether the government favors those who provide positive coverage.
Delay in addressing access to public information – A 2009 law that modified the legal definition of libel and eliminated the possibility of criminal prosecution against journalists for their opinions has yet to be fully enacted. Laws related to the distribution of government advertising and access to public information are essential to completing this modification, yet they continue to be delayed in Congress.
Soccer for All program – In 2009, the Argentine government signed a contract that allowed them to broadcast all top level soccer matches in the country. The government policy of broadcasting the matches for free has led to lost advertising revenues for private media companies and allegations of government related “propaganda” being shown during the matches.
Approval of policies that have little constitutional backing – On December 22, 2011, the National Senate passed a law that declared cellulose pulp paper a public interest. The paper is used for printing newspapers and government control has media outlets worried that political considerations may affect what they are allowed to use. On the same day, a law was amended to increase penalties for activities related to terrorism. Controversy emerged when the Director of the Financial Investigations Unit, José Sbatella, stated that the law could apply to the media or journalists that “terrorize the population.”
Thwarting efforts by publications to print and distribute their products – 2011 saw instances where labor leaders organized blockades of media printing and distribution outlets. These blockades affect the free movement of media, violate the basic rights of citizens to be informed, and go against the principles of press freedom enshrined in the Argentine Constitution.
Raids on media companies with support from the National Gendarmerie – Police raided the offices of a cable television company owned by Argentina’s Clarin group. Police officers entered the headquarters of Clarin’s Cablevision to enforce a court order following a complaint over unfair competition by a rival company.
Threats and attacks on journalists – Reporters and journalists continue to face harassment, threats, and direct attacks throughout Argentina. Details of over 80 incidents ranging from intimidation to physical assaults, on individuals and major media corporations, are included in the report.