Trench warfare between government and media is not new in Latin America, but recent developments in Argentina illustrate the dangers when politicians promote divisions within journalism.
Argentina’s combative President Christina Kirchner is a focus of media attention over the country’s increasingly polarised information landscape where major news outlets line up on either side of bitter argument for or against her government.
The atmosphere created by Kirchner’s robust treatment of journalists and her cat-and-mouse tactics of dealing with media critics has led to much criticism from press freedom watchers in the region. And this week there were reports of a number of attacks and threats against journalists.
A report from the Committee to Protect Journalists claims the authorities have been taking aim at one of her sternest critics, the Clarin Group. The company was raided by tax agents immediately following the publication of an article critical of the government; its offices have been vandalised; its printing facilities blockaded; and it has been the target of negative posters and graffiti.
The government has sought to break up media conglomerates and also punished opposition media by withdrawing access to millions of dollars in official advertising. The President added to fears that the government is seeking to tame its media critics earlier this month when she proposed an ethics law for journalists, setting off alarm bells within the press. However, according to local reports she says her government will not push for legislation.
It should be for journalists themselves to self-regulate, she says. That is how it should be, but is this feasible in a climate of bitter hostility and when media are used as weapons of political infighting?
This will be one of the questions posed by the EJN at a special session being organised on good governance, transparency and media regulation In Buenos Aires on September 29 at a meeting of editors and media leaders to discuss a much-needed regional campaign in support of ethical journalism. Given the recent history of conflict between Latin American governments and independent media involving Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador – despite its publicity rush in the Julian Assange affair – and now Argentina, this will not be easy.
However, governments can play their part by toning down the rhetoric of confrontation. Ethics in journalism make democracy work, but they never take root when media operate in a climate of threats and violence.