Press freedom in Argentina — On the silencing of Página 12 and Diario Registrado

Mired in political chicanery, the presidential handover was not up to the standards of an advanced democracy. But suspicions of maneuvers trying to limit press freedom are much more worrying. Español

Fernando Sdrigotti
15 December 2015

Mauricio Macri sworn-in. Magalí Iglesias/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Winds of change are blowing in Argentina. December 10 saw the government of President Mauricio Macri take the baton from Cristina Fernández de Kirchner — a left-leaning government replaced by a centre right one, twelve years of "Kirchnerismo" coming to an end, state-centred populism replaced by free-market utopianism. In typical Argentine fashion half the country welcomes these new airs while the other half regrets them. Time will only tell which half is wrong, not that they will manage to agree among themselves.

Although celebrated in peace the presidential handover was mired in political chicanery. The disagreements began around where to host the swearing-in ceremony — in the Casa Rosada or in the Senate — and they extended over the time at which the departing president's mandate should end. The latter, after the initiative of the then elected president, was decided by a court injunction that ruled that Fernández de Kirchner would officially end her mandate at 23:59, December 9. The dialogue broke down after this point and CFK, as she is known in political circles, was missing from the official proceedings on December 10, with the provisional president of the senate — Federico Pinedo — tasked with leading the inauguration ceremony.

Half the country blames this farce on Macri, the other half blames it on Fernández de Kirchner, in typical Argentine fashion. The international press meanwhile has been having a field day seeing the “botox queen” walk into her bunker in the Argentine south. Macri’s non-confrontational gospel seem to have pleased editors and creditors the world over.

Now all this — beyond one’s ideological leanings — should be rather anecdotal. What matters here — for any Argentine with memories of president Fernando De la Rúa escaping the Casa Rosada in a helicopter in 2001, or of the four presidents that followed afterwards, in just under two weeks — is that the handover was relatively uneventful, at least in appearance.

For a different type of chicanery, much more serious due to its possible implications, is also being played out right now. Since at least December 1 the Argentine daily Página 12's website has been under a cyber attack — the paper was only accessible through a mirror site for most of the part of the past two weeks. Since December 12, the same was happening to Diario Registrado's website. At least in the case of Página 12 everything seems to point to a DoS attack, with the website registering at least twenty times its normal traffic. That both newspapers have been openly supportive of the Kirchnerist administration, that they are opposition papers since December 10, raises many flags.

Argentine organisations have voiced their concern regarding these "interferences", among these the Association of Journalism Entities of Argentina (ADEPA), the Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA), the Freedom of Speech Foundation (LED), and PEN Argentina. The scant coverage in the Argentine press, on the other hand, is a stark reminder of the complex relationship between the Argentine media and the country's democratic institutions.

The attempt to end the quasi-monopoly of media in Argentina,  where a few key names control most of the market, was after all one of the driving forces of the Kirchnerist administration. This attempt was many times painted as authoritarian by the oppositional press and politicians, even if newspapers never "disappeared" during the past twelve years. In this quasi-monopolistic scenario — where most media outlets will be supporting the new administration — the absence of these two oppositional voices, for however long, has been a serious attack to the Argentine press freedom.

At the time of writing, Diario Registrado's website remained inaccessible. An investigation has been launched into the Página 12 hack and the site has been running without problems, at least when accessed from abroad. The new administration has yet to officially address this matter.

It would be misleading to suggest the Macri government is in any way guilty of these attacks. But it is only sensible to expect some kind of official reassurance that Argentina is not resorting back to the old, dark, tradition of silencing oppositional voices, now by digital means.

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