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It came as no surprise that Cristina Fernández, wife of outgoing President Néstor Kirchner, was elected Argentina's president over the weekend. "News for Sale", the latest report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), looks at one of the secrets behind her success: how her husband rewarded "friendly" news outlets with lucrative government advertising contracts.

No president in history has invested as much as Kirchner in official advertising. Since he became president in 2003, his administration's advertising budget has jumped 354 percent, says CPJ. And because national and local governments are not bound by clear rules governing the placement of advertising, the targeted ad dollars influence coverage - including news about the presidential and legislative elections. "News outlets that provide favourable coverage of incumbents get lots of ads; organisations that are critical get few or none," says "News for Sale".

CPJ looks at Kirchner's influence in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, a town he governed and where he rose to national prominence, where nearly all local media rely on government ads. As governor, Kirchner imposed a system of rewards for friendly media outlets and advertising embargoes on critics.

"Without state advertising it is almost impossible to survive," said Daniel Gatti, host of two FM radio shows, a Congressional candidate, and one of Kirchner's harshest critics.

Although "this year's discriminatory advertising practices have accomplished their purpose at the polls," not all hope is lost for the future. "News for Sale" also examines recent court cases challenging Argentina's current advertising practices that could lead to reforms, and how, in Santa Cruz, highly critical FM radio stations emerged as an alternative to the traditional press.

Read "News for Sale" here:
(30 October 2007)

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