Silvana Giudici, President of Fundación LED (Libertad de Expresión + Democracia)
Published in La Nación Daily, July 24, 2015
Building an Inquisitorial State
The intention of controlling criticism and manipulating public opinion has been typical of the last decade. Millionaire resources destined to advertising, permanent attacks on journalists or cooptation of the media with Government friendly tycoons have been the salient strategies of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner´s communications policy.
But the attempts at gaining control have gone beyond communications. The eager imposition of the official narrative and the utopia of a single line of thought have pierced all institutional barriers, almost pushing democracy back.
With a certain group of laws that were passed plus several bills in the pipeline, the Government is trying to implement an inquisitorial state in which people´s privacy and freedom of expression, as well as the free circulation of ideas, have been locked up into parameters which are as ambiguous as discretionary.
The Anti-terrorist law, the new doctrine of national intelligence and the recent opinion in favour of amending the Non-Discrimination Law are all part of the body of laws that extend the discretionary powers of the State, enabling the latter to take action against anybody that is supposedly against the interests of those in office.
Who decides when an opinion is terrifying, when it may cause a market coup or when it discriminates an individual or the political sector? They themselves, naturally. Against all Supreme Court recommendations regarding the “restrictive interpretation of any restriction, sanction or limitation to freedom of expression,” the wording of the Kirchnerist bills is so broad and vague that the official´s discretion at the time of acting shall be absolute.
According to Section 5 of the opinion issued on the basis of Representative Andrés Larroque´s bill, “the act of restricting or impairing individuals or groups of individuals, whether temporarily or permanently, for the sake of race or of ethnicity, nationality, language or linguistic varieties, religion or ideological beliefs, political or union opinions, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, age, skin color, marital status, familial status, filiation, pregnancy, disability, family responsibility, criminal records, work or occupation, place of residence, body features, genetic traits, psychophysical capabilities, health conditions, financial or social standing, personal habits or any other circumstance entailing difference, exclusion, restriction or preference” may be deemed discriminatory.
Such comprehensive line of thought would lead us to ask ourselves what would happen if anybody, for instance, expressed in some of the online media his or her opinion on the charges pressed on Vice President Amado Boudou. Would that person be subject to penalties for discrimination? And, if so, should the media in question censor such comment at once, according to such party-liner opinion? Or even worse (in line with Diana Conti´s proposal), the online media in question might be immediately shut down by INADI.
It is not just a question of rejecting the attempts at regulating contents and Internet censorship, our concern also extends to other areas. We perceive the intention of conditioning opinions and controlling dissent by means of unconstitutional laws (such as the so called Anti-Terrorist Law) in a context in which journalists are accused of spying and communicators and political leaders denounce having been hacked. And all of it in an atmosphere of permanent irritation, aggravated by Mrs. President addresses to the nation which are broadcast live on nationwide radio and TV.
The attempts at controlling public opinion should certainly not go unnoticed. The document issued on July 21, this year, by the Office of the OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression warned about purchases of technological equipment and electronic communications surveillance programs which could cause serious harm to the rights to privacy and freedom of thought and expression in the region. Almost simultaneously, only a few days before, different Argentine media disclosed alleged contacts between suppliers of this software and AFI (the local Federal Intelligence Agency).
The combination of espionage practices, monitoring private communications and politically biased laws used to hunt down public opinion might corrupt the foundations of the Rule of Law and jeopardize the exercise of individual liberties and life in democracy.