Heavily concentrated and opaque media ownership, polarisation, the lack of governmental policies guaranteeing media pluralism, and low pay for journalists are the main threats to freedom of expression in Argentina. This framework encourages de facto power relationships, makes it easier for both the government and the private sector to use the allocation of advertising to pressure the media, and facilitates a partisan use of national, regional, and municipal state-owned media.
The right to information and freedom of expression are guaranteed by liberal-inspired laws, but journalistic pluralism suffers from public policy shortcomings and the concentration of media ownership in a few hands. The Clarín group, the media industry’s biggest player, wields a great deal of influence over the media landscape. The daily La Nación, the news site Infobae and the privately owned TV channel Telefe are very popular. In some provinces far from Buenos Aires, a close relation between government and business interests impacts freedom of expression and limits press freedom even more.
Freedom of expression is a principle valued by Argentines and supported, out of conviction or convenience, by almost the entire political class. In recent decades, political confrontation and polarisation – driven by both political and business interests – have had a direct impact on the media and have impoverished the quality of reporting and analysis. The promotion of hatred and violence have found an echo in the media of various tendencies. Sensitive issues associated with a range of social, economic and political aspects of the country have been excluded from the public debate and the media’s agenda is now extremely focused on the big cities, especially Buenos Aires.
Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the constitution. Since 1983, when democracy was restored, legislation has freed itself from the authoritarian principles of the previous decades. The crimes of contempt, slander, and insult have been eliminated from the penal code. Redress for false information or defamation is restricted to the civil sphere. And the confidentiality of sources and professional secrecy are guaranteed. Nonetheless, attempts are still made to silence journalists by more subtle means such as economic pressure. And little or no legislative progress has been made in limiting the power of censorship, data commercialization, privacy violations and the dissemination of fake news.
The Argentine media still suffer from the persistent economic difficulties of the past decade, which have made employment and resources more precarious. The most powerful media belong to a small number of conglomerates linked to the telecommunications and petroleum industries and the public works sector. Almost all regulations designed to combat media ownership concentration and media conflicts of interest were scrapped between 2015 and 2019. Despite its official support for pluralism, the state plays a murky role in the way it awards advertising, tax exemptions, and contracts. Entities that are supposed to defend the public and oversee the telecommunications market are very dependent on the current government.
Argentina is a country marked by sharp contrasts, with the huge metropolis of Buenos Aires, which is home to 30% of the population, 20 medium-sized cities, and vast regions with low population density. While the entire country has access to contemporary culture, the conditions in which journalism is produced and disseminated vary greatly.
Physical attacks against journalists are rare and no journalist has been imprisoned or murdered since 2000. Attacks or threats against the media and reporters are condemned by both the public and politicians. Journalists can, however, be the targets of police violence during major demonstrations or intimidation by criminal organisations (drugs, human trafficking, corruption of security forces). In Rosario, the country’s third largest city, drug traffickers have begun targeting the media and journalists.