Journalists talk in the newsroom of the newspaper Tiempo Argentino after it was vandalized on Monday, July 4, 2016. AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano.
The scene, with its traces of violence, takes us back to the seventies, a decade that the Argentines disagree on how to view. The night of Monday, July 4, in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires was being quite an uneventful one until 20 black-clad men, some of them wearing masks, stormed into the offices of the cooperative Tiempo Argentino newspaper and Radio América. And then, all of a sudden, the past burst back.
The patota (gang of thugs) was not alone. They were led by an entrepreneur, Mariano Martínez Rojas, who had brought with him a locksmith to open the door. What happened then on that rainy night had nothing at all to do with kindness. The hooded men punched and kicked out of the office the three workers there and began smashing the newsroom. The sounds of the computers crashing, the furniture, the paintings, the information-discs being destroyed could be listened to as a premonition: no one would come to stop the assault.
The Federal Police never came. It was a sheer correlation of forces that ended the attack, when members of the cooperative, supported by people from other recovered companies in the building "conquered back” the newsroom in a melee. Prosecutor Verónica Andrade accused Martínez Rojas of encroachment. The businessman said he had acted with police consent, claimed to be the owner of Tiempo Argentino and declared that the cooperative was clandestine. Strictly speaking, he is a repeat offender: a month ago he took Radio América’s transmission plant by force and shut it off the air.
A political plot emerges behind these incidents, the responsibility for which splashes Kirchnerism and a particular way of conceiving the relationship between power and the media. Tiempo Argentino "belonged" to the Szpolski-Garfunkel group, a holding of staunchly “officialist” companies that received huge amounts of public funds through advertising and had links to the intelligence services.
The end of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government meant the end of this shady financing and that, in turn, led to the immediate closing down of the group’s companies. Szpolski-Garfunkel left the ship without paying the workers’ wages and the printing press bills. But the previous management’s responsibility does not explain it all. One of the alleged owners of the failed multimedia group is Darío Richarte, who continues to be linked to the intelligence services and to Boca Juniors, the main football team in the country, whose president, Daniel Angelici, is considered to be the secret intermediary between Mauricio Macri and the judiciary.
Garfunkel left the country. Szpolski got lost in a cloud, under obvious political protection. Martínez Rojas, whose background has to do with organizing concerts, presented himself as a buyer in the midst of the newspaper’s terminal crisis. He never complied with the plans he presented to the Ministry of Labour for the payment of the labour debts. Nor did he pay the old suppliers. Tiempo Argentino closed down and 130 workers re-launched it in a weekly format.
The company proved to be sustainable. "This is very serious: it is an unprecedented attack on freedom of expression", the newspaper's director, Gustavo Cirelli said. The characteristics of the attack, he added, suggest a clear objective: preventing the paper, which strongly opposes the government, from getting published.
"It was an attempt to neutralize a newspaper that is the worker’s voice", María del Carmen Verdú, a lawyer for the Platform Against Police and Institutional Repression (Correpi) said. For her, the attitude of the security forces was, to say the least, suspicious.
The events at Tiempo Argentino take place at a time of profound communicational asymmetry: most of the media are aligned with President Macri and his program of neoliberal restoration. The companies which were "friendly" to Kirchnerism have proved to be opportunistic and predatory.