ARGENTINA
Written by Hannah Schädlich

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Profile

  • Area: 2.78 square kilometres
  • Population: 41.8 Mio.
  • Capital: Buenos Aires
  • State form: presidential democracy, republic
  • Official language: Spanish
  • Religion: Catholic (90 per cent)

  • Flag of Argentinia

    Analysis
    Abstract
    During the 1970s Argentina was a military dictatorship. Since the return of a democratic political system in 1983, the country was in a transformation process. Consequently, it has to face other problems than the regulation of the media and establishing diversity of opinions. For example, one third of the population lives below the poverty level. Nevertheless, Argentina’s media policy has been heavily changed since the 1980s. Several new laws have been implemented and media ownership structures modified. Nowadays, the Argentinean media market is characterised by dominance of private offers and strong ownership concentration. The two major companies Grupo Clarín and Telefónica rule the print offerings as well as the broadcasting sector. Because of the weak public media, politics have a small direct impact but rather indirectly influence the media via their connections to owners (Mastrini, 2009: 771, 776, 778). Consequently, in our typology Argentina is grouped together with nations like Venezuela in the Clientelism type.
    Communication policy and regulations

    The constitution guarantees freedom of expression in Article 14 by saying that all citizens have the right “to publish their ideas through the press without previous censorship” (Constituent Assembly, 1994). Additionally, as Argentina signed the Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression and freedom of the media are ensured via Article 19 (United Nations, 1948). These two general regulations are the fundament for a largely independent media system. Since 1997 there is a special law guaranteeing freedom of expression in online media. Furthermore, Argentina is a member of the “Freedom Online Coalition, which supports internet freedom and the protection of fundamental human rights”. Surveillance is very limited in Argentina. Only the DCC (Directorate of Caption of Communications) can conduct surveillance legally. Even if internet content is not generally regulated in Argentina, the government proposed bills allowing blocking or removing content in 2015 and 2016. Those laws mainly concern cases of copyright violation and the so-called “right to be forgotten”, which allows “people (…) to request removal of information directly to the search engines, without judicial review”. Critics are afraid that the government might abuse such laws and cause self-censorship in search engines (Freedom House, 2016b).

    Since 2009, defamation is not longer a criminal offense in Argentina (Freedom House, 2016a) and cross-ownership, especially in the broadcasting sector is limited via a special broadcasting bill. With this law, television should become more versatile. Actually, it rather was a try of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to limit Grupo Clarín’s impact on the media market. Because of its government critical point of view this media company was a thorn in the side of Fernández de Kirchner (Waisbord, 2010: 20). As in Venezuela, the Argentinean government has the possibility of so-called cadenas to interrupt the broadcasting programs and communicate to the public. In the era of president Fernández de Kirchner those cadenas were abused for frequent presidential addresses and also denunciation of journalists, even if they are by law means of communication in times of crisis. President Macri – elected in 2015 – announced to use public press conferences instead of cadenas for speaking to the public (Freedom House, 2016a).

    Since 2015, there is the regulatory body called National Communications Authority (ENACOM), operating within the Ministry of Communications. It arose from the two previous authorities AFSCA (Autoridad Federal de Servicios de Comunicación Audiovisual) and AFTIC (Autoridad Federal de Tecnologías de la Información y las Comunicaciones) after the presidency start of Mauricio Macri. The aim of the fusion is to generate more convergent norms. However, because of the parliaments’ interference in the directors’ proposition, especially opponents criticised this step, fearing dependencies and limitations (Freedom House, 2016b).

    Political parallelism
    In Argentina, the elite owns media offers itself or at least has quite close relationships to owners of private media. Those connections are often used to implement pro governmental or oppositional views. This leads to media being part of political camps and journalists becoming “partisan players”, who delegitimise political opponents and support their own people (Lugo-Ocando, Guedes & Cañizáles, 2011: 600). Attempts to impact political tendencies of the media’s news coverage are omnipresent. It seems like there is an implicit agreement between politics and the media about their informal connections. For that reason, the state informally and indirectly controls the media, while media owners can act freely in the market (Mastrini, 2009: 770). In the past, those strategic co-operations between the government and the media have been disguised as means of national security (Pinto, 2008: 754). There has been much criticism concerning media offers being favourable for the government receiving subsidies in form of advertising and the concurrent reduction of financial support for critical products. Especially smaller media outlets with less financial resources are vulnerable for such pressure and tend to self-censor their content (Benton, 2009). As a consequence, president Mauricio Macri announced to reduce subsidies via advertising in general. Then the states’ impact on the media would be reduced. However, this might affect traditional medias’ as well as digital medias’ financing and could lead to a dispatch of weak media outlets (Freedom House, 2016b).

    Path dependency
    Because of its past as military dictatorship with human rights abuses and a weak economy, Argentina faces other problems than the regulation of the media or the development of diversity of opinions. During the era of military dictatorship, news production was nearly completely controlled and censored by the military. After the turn to democracy, legacy tried to open the political as well as the media system (Bonnet, 2015). As in other Latin American countries, democracy is relatively inconsistent and weak in Argentina. That’s why the media’s role as watchdog of democracy is particularly important. Nevertheless, the financial and economic crisis after the millennium influenced not only the media and the profession of journalism but also the political environment. Many media companies had to face deep financial problems and some of them even depended on financial support from the state via advertising. This limited journalists’ autonomy as well as the medias’ function as watchdog. However, the opening of the formerly state controlled media market for private and foreign investors led to stronger competition between different offers and weaker influence of the government (Pinto, 2008: 751-752, 754-755). Other examples for the backlogs in the Argentinean media system arising from its path dependency are slowly expanding communication research and journalism studies as well as a missing agreement on a professional code of ethics (Rosen, Guenther & Froehlich, 2016: 329).

    Argentina in the media freedom rankings
    In the 2016 index of Reporters Without Borders, Argentina was ranked 54 out of 180 countries, at the same position as in 2012 and 2013, but twelve places worse than in 2002, when the ranking was established. RWB explains this with the strong power struggles between state owned and private media and increasing ownership concentration (Reporters Without Borders, 2016). According to Freedom House, Argentina has a “partly free” press. In 2016 the score remained 50 (with 0 as the best and 100 as the worst score). This complains with the rankings during the past ten years, where Argentina reached stable scores between 45 and 51. The NGO explains these scores with the governments’ intervention in the structure, competence and membership of the regulatory bodies AFSCA and AFTIC and their combination in the new authority ENACOM (Freedom House, 2016a).
    Media offers

    Ownership
    As in many other Latin American countries like Mexico, Peru or Venezuela, the private offers with strong patriarchal structures dominate the media market in Argentina, while public media are less important. Umpteen broadcasters, more than 150 newspapers and several hundred radio stations belong to the private sector (BBC, 2016). Grupo Clarín, Argentina’s biggest media company (national market share of nearly 44 per cent), owns one of the major dailies, a news agency, several regional and national newspapers, providers for internet and mobile phones as well as various TV and radio stations and Papel Prensa – the only print paper plant (Garcia, 2007: 12-14). As the public offers are less used by the Argentineans than their private competitors are, the government has to use other means to interfere in the media market. For example, there is just one newsprint producing company in Argentina. A law of 2011 makes newspapers an object of public interest, boosts the governments’ share in this company and therefore enables the government to regulate print (Freedom House, 2016a).

    Print
    The two major dailies regarding circulation figures and political influence are the conservative La Nación and the centrist-populist Clarín. La Nación is owned by the Telefónica Grupo La Nación, a company with major portions in the telephony and internet market, whereas Clarín belongs to Grupo Clarín (Garcia, 2007: 12-14). Circulation rates are hard to find, but according to Boczkowski and Mitchelstein (2010: 424), Clarín sells about 380,000 copies a day while the circulation rate of La Nación is nearly 160,000. Both of the big newspaper companies started to invest also in the weaker and less developed sector of magazines, where the two major competing owners are Atlántida and Perfil (Mastrini, 2009: 772, 774). Even the comparatively high usage of newspapers in big cities cannot inhibit generally decreasing newspaper circulation rates. For that reason, newspapers seek new possibilities to attract readers like establishing online versions of their offers and proposing opportunities of interactivity. The two major dailies offer the mostly read online versions, too. Nevertheless, traditional media missed the development of new technologies and started to use the web for their purpose later than newspapers in many other developing countries. For example, newspapers generally just post the same news they published in their print version on the website or their social media channels (Said-Hung et al., 2014: 583). Boczkowski and de Santos (2007: 168) found out that there is an increasing content homogenisation concerning the print and online versions of newspapers as well as regarding different online news offers.

    Broadcasting
    The broadcasting sector is characterised by an increasing ownership concentration that does away with traditional actors and receives more and more capital from foreign investors. Even if legislation limits foreign actors’ shares in broadcasters to one third, there are several cases overrunning this limitation without any consequences. The regulatory bodies are often overstrained and the program is larger influenced by the audiences’ requests. The major broadcasters are Telefé, Canal 13, Canal 9 and America 2. Some of them belong to Telefónica and Clarín (which own the major dailies as well), but all of them transmit from the capital Buenos Aires (Mastrini, 2009: 775). In Argentina, television and radio offers are the leading media and much more consumed than newspapers. With more than 60 per cent of the households having a connection, the cable television is widely spread, while fewer people use satellite television. The broadcasting sector holds also major shares of advertisings (Mastrini, 2009: 771,772).

    Internet
    According to Freedom House (2016b), Argentina’s internet access increased constantly over the past years and the country had an internet penetration rate of 69 per cent in 2015. Nevertheless, accessing the internet is easier in urban areas than in rural regions. Regarding content, Argentina has a free net because there are no filters or constraints by the government. Argentineans can freely access national and international websites and blogs as well as all social media platforms. By reforming the Argentina Digital Law, internet access shall become equal for Argentineans from all regions and social contexts. Additionally, the broadband access gets expanded. Public internet access is often chargeable and in comparison to other Latin American countries there are fewer households with a computer in Argentina (Mastrini, 2009:772).
    Journalists' autonomy

    Journalists’ education and working conditions
    Garcia’s (2007: 15-16) study revealed that the majority of journalists went through a school of journalism before doing an internship in the newspaper industry. Internships are very common in the beginning of a journalist’s career, followed by temporary employment and fewer full-time contracts. Journalists’ salaries are also rather precarious. At the online newspaper Clarín.com the payment fluctuates between 220 and 1000 US$. Regarding working conditions, the new technologies and digital media force journalists to produce more stories in less time. Published stories have to be updated constantly and new stories have to be published as soon as possible after the event took place. Therefore, deep research and complex coverage can hardly be realised in online news (Boczkowski, 2009: 106-107) and the number of working hours increases. Additionally, sensationalism and pressure from the market change working conditions (Amado, 2016: 5).

    There are no clear figures how many Argentineans work in the profession of journalism because no professional records exits in Argentina. A clear professional delimitation is also exacerbated via new journalistic types like reporters working for more than one medium, citizen journalists or freelancers (Amado & Pizzolo, 2014: 18-20). Furthermore, the media tend to assign freelancers instead of staff because of lower obligations. However, FATPREN – Argentina’s national journalists’ union – fights for fair salaries and working conditions in the profession of journalism. In 2008, the organisation reached a press related agreement for the whole country, while previously there were different directives in every region. This agreement meant a clear improvement of journalists’ payment, especially in rural areas. Additionally, journalists profit from being member of unions cooperating with FATPREN because of health insurance’ guarantees which are generated via relatively low membership fees (Hunt, 2011).

    Self-identity and role perceptions
    Argentinean journalists are relatively critical about citizen journalists and bloggers because they doubt their professional competence and awareness of their responsibilities and fear negative impact on medias’ quality and reputation. Additionally, they don’t want the readers to have a say concerning content because they already have to take into account the editors and advertisers interests (Garcia, 2007: 21). Nevertheless, new media make it more obvious for the editors which topics are requested by the public. This leads to increasing pressure on reporters to fulfil those inquiries. Additionally, editors use the readers’ reactions as indicator for the success of their editorial choices and for topics where the audience demands deeper information. This development is criticised by many journalists and editors because they doubt the audiences’ ability to differentiate between important and unimportant news (Boczkowski & Mitchelstein, 2010: 422, 424, 431). Regarding content, especially the big and profit orientated newspapers focus on public demands. For that reason, sensationalism with quick and provocative news is wider spread than deep research or complex stories (Waisbord & Peruzzotti, 2009: 702).

    Primarily, journalists see their professional task in truthful reporting, analysing events and contexts, and encouraging diversity and tolerance. Only half of the journalists name political agenda setting or the promotion of Argentina’s development as goals of their job. Instead they want to support cultural interests and provide political orientation to the reader. Even if there is no generally applicable journalistic code of ethics in Argentina, the professional principles’ capture is also very important to the vast majority of journalists. For that reason, nearly all journalists refuse bribery, the usage of unverified sources and the pretence of false identity to get information (Amado, 2016: 2-3; Schmitz Weiss, 2015: 88, 91). Nevertheless, those apparently high journalistic standards don’t lead to an independent and neutral press. As in other South American countries, opinion, sympathies and political tendencies are very pronounced in Argentina. Even if newspapers are generally nonpartisan, impartiality is not guaranteed. Especially in times of crisis and political conflicts this opinion journalism can be observed (Waisbord, 2000: 18-20).

    The organization Forum for Argentine Journalism (FOPEA) strives the aim to support democracy by supporting quality journalism and providing a code of ethics for the profession. With more than 400 journalists being members of this organisation, experienced professionals provide training sessions on journalistic practices and give advice in ethical questions. Additionally, the FOPEA monitors attacks against reporters and journalists’ autonomy (Global Investigative Journalism Network, 2017).

    Limitations of journalists’ autonomy and interference in freedom of expression
    Neither extreme violence against media agents nor official censorship is common in Argentina. Nevertheless, journalists complain about self-censorship concerning topics like drug and human trafficking, corruption or government critics. This self-censorship is mainly caused by the positions of the media outlets’ editors or big advertisers. Additionally, in some cases websites were blocked though the government because of copyright violation, selling of illegal products or harsh defamation. In 2015, there was also the case of journalist Damián Pachter, who had to escape to Israel because of his “reporting on the mysterious death of federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman (…), shortly before he was to present Congress with a report accusing the government of covering up Iran’s alleged role in the 1994 terrorist bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires”. Pachter got under the governments’ gun because of his suspicion concerning the administrations’ involvement in Nismans’ death (Freedom House, 2016a). Additionally, in 2014 some journalists needed police protection after death threats because of their reporting on organised crime or drug trade (Reporter Without Borders, 2014).

    Regarding autonomy, journalists neither perceive laws’ and politics’ influence nor pressure from competitive media offers, advertisers or colleagues as very high. Instead, the impact of their personal values, the professional ethics or the editors’ policy plays an important role (Amado, 2016: 4). Nevertheless, there are cases of editorial censorship when editors don’t publish stories about topics clashing with the business interests or the editorial line. In those cases, censorship is not directly mentioned by the publishers, but reporters are often told to find more sources and to collect more information. So instead of obvious restrictions the method of freezing stories is used (Pinto, 2008: 764). Furthermore, journalists depend on their personal relationships to the political elite as resources for governmental information. Otherwise they have smaller chances to collect data about the state discourse because press conferences or access to archives is very rare (Pinto, 2008: 769). So, restrictions of the journalistic work seem to arise mainly from limited access to sources and information (Amado, 2016: 4). The strong ties between the major media companies and politics can also lead to pressure on smaller media outlets as the case of journalist Victor Hugo Morales indicates. He reported his firing because of criticism against president Mauricio Macri and the Grupo Clarín to the Venezuelan international news broadcaster teleSUR (2016).
    Sources

    References
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    Related Links
    Recommended citation form
    Hannah Schädlich: Argentina. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. http://mappingmediafreedom.de/argentina (access date).


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