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Video Tar employees receive death threats, station equipment damaged

(FOPEA/IFEX) - FOPEA (El Foro de Periodismo Argentino) condemns the threats, harassment and attacks suffered by the TV station Video Tar, in the city of Tartagal, Salta province. The incidents have been linked by the station's management to the publication of a report that uncovered irregularities in the way a public works project was contracted out by the local municipality. The story that Video Tar exposed motivated the local council to demand an explanation from Mayor Sergio Leavy, a member of the Front for Victory (Frente para la Victoria, FPV), who was forced to suspend the project in question and then held a press conference during which he blamed Video Tar for the suspension.

On 2 July 2009, three death threats were received at the station via telephone. They were directed at the manager and owner of the channel, Mario Andreani, and journalists Mabel Carrizo and Julio Marín, who were on the air at the time the threats were issued. On the same night, a fourth call was received during which the caller threatened to set fire to the station. Andreani reported this threat to the No 42 Tartagal police station. In his report, he said "there is a strategy here to blame the channel for the suspension of the public works project, and this has generated a lot of anger from people who are out of work because the project is on hold".

On 3 July, the station's management received a notice from the city warning them that there was a problem with their building's emergency exit, because it borders on public property. Andreani confirmed that this is the case, but explained that when he submitted the plan for the offices two years ago, he received no objections from the city.

Finally, in the early morning of 14 July, a group of unidentified people interfered with some of the station's transmission equipment, which resulted in the region south of the city not being able to receive the station's broadcast for some hours. Andreani told FOPEA that technicians brought in to repair the signal verified that it was not a random flaw in the system, but rather intentional damage by someone who was familiar with that type of equipment. Andreani decided not to report the matter to avoid further confrontations with the local government.

In a conversation with FOPEA, Leavy denied having publically blamed Video Tar for the suspension of the public works project. He said that the channel's journalists take delight in harassing him, so they edited a video to make it look like he said things that he, in fact, did not, and that he is going to file a complaint about the publication of the video with the Federal Broadcast Committee (Comité Federal de Radiodifusión, COMFER). FOPEA asked to see the content of his complaint, but Leavy declined the request, as he is still discussing the matter with his lawyer.

Leavy also said that his understanding of the situation is that Video Tar began targeting him after 22 June when the municipality began broadcasting test transmissions for a public-access channel that would compete with Video Tar. Andreani told FOPEA that his station is a cable channel and that he has no problem with the fact that the municipality is creating a public-access channel and that he has offered to collaborate with the government on this initiative.

FOPEA condemns the actions against Video Tar and urges the local judiciary to investigate what occurred and to shed light on the incidents. FOPEA has also appealed to the Tartagal and Salta political authorities, asking them to guarantee freedom of expression and the safeguarding of Video Tar employees and their equipment.

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