BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – The Clarín group, one of the most powerful multimedia conglomerates in Argentina, last week accused President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of using “lies and insults to divert information that bothers her.”
The accusation occurred hours after Fernández de Kirchner claimed the Clarín group was involved in some questionable financial practices and was leading a smear campaign against her husband, former President Néstor Kirchner.
“Once again, when presented with uncomfortable information, the Kirchner government demonstrates their low tolerance for information that doesn’t favor them,” said Gustavo Vittori, president of the Argentine association of journalistic entities (ADEPA).
The on-going feud between the Clarín group and Fernández de Kirchner is part of a bigger picture that shows how the Argentine president constantly spars with some of the country's independent media outlets.
“There is deep concern because this argument affects the quality of journalism and the freedom of expression,” said Andrés D´Allesandro, executive director of the influential Argentine journalistic forum (FOPEA).
The conflict began when Fernández de Kirchner confirmed during a media conference on Feb. 3 that the Clarín group's directors were accused of laundering almost US$300 million. She also used the stage to claim the company was trying to smear her husband's reputation. Néstor Kirchner has been implicated in a US$2 million foreign exchange operation in which he used Argentine pesos to buy U.S. dollars.
“The confrontation out in the open shows that [Nestor] Kirchner has decided to fully join the political battle even at the cost of generating a crisis,” said Rosendo Frago, a political analyst.
The Inter-American Press Association (SIP) expressed its concern “for the violence directed by the government toward the journalists, the editors and the publishers,” according to a report in the newspaper Crítica de la Argentina.
Human Rights Watch indicated that Argentina faces an “important” challenge in fulfilling its international obligations to protect and promote freedom of expression.
“The government has an intimate relationship with the press,” said Marcelo Veneranda, a political journalist from the newspaper La Nación. “It doesn’t see journalism as being part of media groups, but sees it either as an enemy or an ally.”
Ignacio González Prieto, a journalist representing Todo Noticias, a television channel run by the Clarín group said: “Knowing the government is always watching and studying us, we have to do our work under pressure. But it is very important to clarify that the directors of the [Clarín] group don’t tell us to go out into the streets and attack the government.”
Luis Majul, a well-known Argentine journalist, said the conflict between the government and the media began when Fernández de Kirchner's announced the controversial media law.
González Prieto agreed.
“This law, in theory, was designed to impede the formation of media monopolies,” he said. “But in truth, it appears to have divided the media into the hands of friendly officials. The problem is that the Kirchners want to create a media monopoly that responds to their interests. This would be tragic for those of us who believe in a free and independent press.”