Nov. 23, 2011 - Diario Clarín of Buenos Aires Publishes WPFC-FH Op-Ed Piece
Diario Clarín of Buenos Aires, the world's second largest Spanish-language newspaper and one of the most influential in Latin America, published an op-ed article by WPFC-FH's Javier Sierra about the state of press freedom in Argentina.
Because of President Cristina Fernández's recent landslide re-election victory, we fear her government harassment against independent media will only increase. Therefore, we feel wide distribution of this article will somehow help deter this temptation to aggravate an already disturbing situation.
What follows is an English translation of the article.
A Failing Grade
Special for Clarín Newspaper
By Javier Sierra
As Europe peers into the abyss and the US deals with the worst recession since the Great Depression, Argentina has been able to maneuver so far through the global tempest. At least for now, the Argentine ship has made it to port safe and sound.
Thanks to this economic performance, President Cristina Fernández won re-election in a landslide victory of historic proportions. But amidst the euphoria, we should recall that her government must still deal with a failing grade: the regression of press freedom in Argentina.
According to Freedom House's 2011 annual report on press freedom in the world, at the beginning of the presidency of Néstor Kirchner, Argentina was ranked No. 35. Now its score is down to No. 51. This 16-place drop is one of the steepest falls in the global index over this period of time.
Freedom House identifies four main causes of the decline:
The government's hostility toward independent media,
Its reluctance to engage with the media,
The rise in attacks and harassment of media,
And favoritism in placement of government advertising in the media.
Since 2008, Grupo Clarín, owner of Clarín newspaper, has recorded more than 300 cases of government harassment against them. Perhaps the gravest took place March 27 when workers in a union sympathetic to the Fernández administration blocked distribution of that day's editions of both the Clarín and La Nación newspapers. Just a few days ago, journalist Jorge Lanata was insulted and rocks were thrown at him by government sympathizers at a public meeting; and Minister of Economy Amado Boudou accused Clarín of being “an enemy of the Argentine people's common interests.” This long list goes on.
Throughout this obfuscation and permanent feuding with the independent media, the Fernández government ignores a fundamental aspect of the controversy: Its members chose to enter public life, implicitly accepting that they would be major targets of criticism by the country's news media and the rest of society. It is a basic tenet of democracy that public officials, especially heads of state, must grow a thick skin and accept that criticisms will be hurled at them.
The inter-American justice system, in which Argentina takes part, considers this principle a basic element of transparency and good governance. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in the Herrera Ulloa vs. Costa Rica case, ruled that, “In a democratic society, public officials are more exposed to the rest of society's scrutiny and criticism. This different protection standard is explained by their voluntary acceptance of a more demanding scrutiny. Their activities, therefore, fall outside the private sphere and enter the public debate sphere.”
Further, in its 1994 Annual Report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said, “Freedom of expression and opinion is the touchstone of all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated and one of the soundest guarantees of modern democracy.”
In the climate of hostility toward news media considered critical of the government, those who suffer most are not Clarín or La Nación. It is the Argentine public, whose right to be fully informed on issues of social relevance is thwarted. A supine or spineless press could not fulfill that obligation to society.
That is why President Fernández and her government need to improve their failing press freedom grade, so that they can guide the Argentine ship of state into a safely democratic harbor.
Javier Sierra is Projects Director of the World Press Freedom Committee of Freedom