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In government-media fight, Argentinian journalism suffers

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, September 27, 2012 - The bitter confrontation between Argentina's government and its critical press has resulted in a climate of polarization that is depriving citizens of objective information on vital issues of public interest, the Committee to Protect Journalists found in a special report released today.

"One serious challenge facing Argentina's press is dependence on official advertising, which leaves outlets vulnerable to soft censorship," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's senior Americas program coordinator. "The government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner must stop discriminating against media groups that criticize the administration. We call on the Argentine Congress to promote legislation that would limit the government's discretionary authority in allocating official advertising."

CPJ found that Kirchner has taken advantage of economic tools at her disposal in the fight, withholding federal advertising in direct retaliation for anti-government reporting by critical media outlets and heavily rewarding those with favorable coverage. The Argentine federal government is the single largest advertising spender at 9 percent of the total market, according to a report published by the nonprofit group Poder Ciudadano, making media groups susceptible to government influence.

Kirchner's main adversary is the largest media conglomerate in Argentina, Grupo Clarín. A broadcast law passed in 2009 is aimed at diversifying ownership of television and radio outlets, but critics say Kirchner is trying to exert greater control over news content and force Clarín to give up some of its vast holdings. Clarín continues to battle in court the provisions that would require divestment, but the government has vowed to enforce the measure in December, setting the stage for a major confrontation.

The president and her supporters also carry out smear campaigns against critical journalists, often on publicly funded media. Meanwhile, the critical media have fired back relentlessly at the Kirchner administration. The result has been the discrediting of the entire field of journalism, leaving Argentine citizens deprived of objective information on issues such as inflation, insecurity, and a possible run by Kirchner for a third term in office.

"In Argentina today, some journalists keep silent for fear of being labeled an enemy of the government, while others devote their effort to smearing colleagues. Crucial reporting is suffering as a result," said Lauría .

The report is also available in Spanish and can be downloaded as a PDF.

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