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Argentina24 February 2006

Provincial journalists threatened and bullied by local authorities

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern at escalating threats and violence towards the provincial media on the part of officials or local politicians since the beginning of the year.

The press freedom organisation said it feared that local journalists were paying the price for growing tensions between the press and government at a national level.

“Reporters Without Borders does not wish to make itself the judge of these tense relations between press and power. However we deplore the fact that this climate spills over into the provincial press, which is more exposed, economically vulnerable and dependent for advertising on local authorities.”

“We react even more strongly to the attitude of some local politicians who think they can subdue the press by bullying. We hope that a debate could be held to help ease this conflict,” it added.

Angel Ruiz, of the weekly El Este Rionegrino in Río Negro province, recently revealed the existence of fossil-smuggling between Argentina and Italy and he pointed the finger at Marcelo Solorza, provincial official for culture but also at the provincial governor Miguel Angel Saiz.

Following these revelations, the journalist has been subjected to constant pressure from the local authorities. He was also approached by the provincial secretary for the media, Claudio Mozzoni, wanting to know the source of his information. After Ruiz refused he started receiving telephone threats, threatening the closure of El Este Rionegrino.

Marcelo Solorza laid a complaint against him for “libel” and “insult”, claiming 24,000 € in damages, three years in prison for the journalist and a retraction in his own weekly and two other regional media. There will be a first hearing in the case on 28 February.

On 18 February, Juan Cruz Sanz and the photographer Juan Obregón, of the daily Perfil, were beaten up by three men who came out of President Néstor Kirchner’s residence in Río Gallegos, capital of Santa Cruz province, while they were trying to take photos or obtain a statement from the president.

Their assailants ordered the two journalists to leave because they were on private property and to tell them who they were working for. Cruz Sanz recognised among the three men, a cameraman from Canal 2, a personal friend of Kirchner. The journalist said they tried to snatch his colleague’s camera and struck him in the face. When police arrived the three assailants laid a complaint against the two journalists. Perfil takes a very critical editorial line towards the current government.

On 18 January, Alberto Callejas, editor of the local daily El Nuevo cambio, was brutally assaulted by Omar García, president of the ruling Justicialist (Peronist) party in Lanús, Buenos Aires province.

First he was punched in the face and then assaulted by two municipal employees. According to the victim, one witness apparently saw Omar García going to fetch his gun from his car during the assault. Callejas told Reporters Without Borders that Omar Garcia was always armed.

Callejas has not so far lodged any complaint because he was waiting for an apology. Since this has not been forthcoming, he says he wants to take the case before the courts. He said that the local politician had already beaten up colleagues on several occasions.

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