As the anniversary of the return to democratic rule in 1983 rolled in, President Cristina Kirchner ironically wasted no time railing against Argentina’s Fourth Estate and judiciary. Not surprisingly, the President was the only speaker at the rally for the Day of Democracy on Sunday night at the Plaza de Mayo. She used the opportunity blast the media group Clarín and the top court’s ruling on the implementation of the Media Law, which upheld an injunction request made by Clarín on Thursday.
In her flamboyant oratory, she fused all of her perceived enemies together into a united force that is conspiring endlessly against democratic rule in her country. She referred to this enemy simply as “they” in all its forms, and that “they” sought to overthrow her democratic government.
“First came the tanks, and then came the media bullying, and when they didn’t work, they tried to appeal to judicial bullying, to knock down a government.” President Kirchner then demanded that “the judges serve the people.”
Echoing this sentiment, one Kirchnerite Senator warned that the judges could be impeached for siding with Clarín late last week. Meanwhile, Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri praised the court’s decision.
President Kirchner’s fight with Clarín began in 2009, with the passage of the country’s Media Law, which was meant on paper to create a more pluralistic and decentralized media environment but in practice only targeted those critical of the government. Freedom House, among other watchdog groups, have warned against the erosion in press freedoms in Argentina.
“What really sets Argentina apart is a very polarized situation where the government is…at war with two of the main media groups,” Dr. Karin Karlekar explained at a Capitol Hill event in July, in reference to President Christina Fernández Kirchner’s ongoing attempts to dismantle the Clarín Group, the country's largest media conglomerate, after negative coverage of her government started in 2008.
Dr. Karlekar, who serves as the project director of Freedom House's Freedom of the Press Index which tracks trends in media freedom worldwide, noted that that pressure on the media from governmental actors is particularly an issue in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, where concerns over government censorship, intimidation, harassment and retaliation in response to unwanted reporting and commentary has pushed media towards self-censorship and has restricted the space for diverse and independent critical voices.
The Kirchner Administration government employs a range of techniques to restrict and place pressure on the press. These have included: selectively directing government advertising towards certain media outlets while denying it to others with a larger market share, and controlling the printing and distribution networks for newsprint by calling it a national security issue.
Regardless of the final judicial outcome, there is already a loss to independent media in this Latin American with the government’s enforcement of the anti-monopoly law against Grupo Clarín.
“Journalists in Buenos Aires say the collateral damage is painfully evident: The quality of news coverage has declined, and media credibility is abysmal, with any effort to hold officials accountable dismissed as low blows fed by partisanship,” reported the Associated Press on Friday.