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Argentina13 July 2006

Public TV station’s decision to pull talk show sparks more controversy

Reporters Without Borders voiced surprise today at the decision by public TV station Canal 7 to suddenly withdraw the morning talk show ‘Desayuno’ (Breakfast) from its programming on 7 July, saying it feared the move could be linked to the current tension between the media and President Néstor Kirchner’s government.

“This is the second time a state-owned broadcaster has suddenly yanked a programme since the start of the year, while state advertising is being assigned in an arbitrary fashion, to reward or punish journalists,” the press freedom organisation said.

“Without prejudging the reasons for the withdrawal of ‘Desayuno,’ we have to recognise that it comes at a time when press freedom has suffered a setback in Argentine,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “Instead of letting the situation continue to deteriorate, the government should enter into a dialogue with the media.”

Hosted by Victor Hugo Morales, an Uruguayan journalist known for his irreverence, ‘Desayuno’ was broadcast for the last time on 7 July, ending a seven-year run. “I was told 10 days ago the show would stop, but I was assured that we could go on until the end of August,” the show’s executive producer, Eduardo Metzger, told Reporters Without Borders. Metzger finally got a call on the night of 7 July saying that morning’s show had been the last.

The order came from Néstor Piccone, who took over as programme coordinator after journalist Rosario Lufrano was appointed as the new head of Canal 7 on 23 May. “We analysed all the programming after our arrival and we decided this show was stale,” Piccone told the daily newspaper Clarín. “What’s more, it is a current affairs programme, and we already have one,” he added.

Metzger and Morales doubt this was the real reason. “The new management wanted to influence the show’s editorial line, but we had an independent attitude and that obviously upset them,” Metzger said. Morales added: “I have the feeling I was of no use to the management’s goals, and I take that as a complement. The government clearly has no time for anything to do with press freedom.” He turned down Canal 7’s alternative job offer.

The atmosphere at Canal 7 has been very tense since the new management’s arrival and the firing of Marcela Pacheco as presenter of the evening news programme on 6 June after she openly criticised a gathering President Kirchner had organised on the third anniversary of his inauguration on 25 May, which is also the national holiday.

Kirchner and his wife, Sen. Cristína Fernández de Kirchner, reiterated their criticism of the press during independence day celebrations on 9 July. The president lambasted the daily La Nación for colluding with the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The journalists who cover parliament were described as “ignoramuses” and “dimwits” by the first lady. Presidential chief of staff Ánibal Fernández urged the press to conduct a “self-criticism.”

Three Argentine current affairs programmes suffered the same fate as ‘Desayuno’ during the first half of this year. The privately-owned radio station Lu 12 Radio Río Gallegos in the southern province of Santa Cruz stopped its programme ‘Séptimo Día’ on 3 May under pressure from the province’s deputy governor, who threatened to withdraw lucrative state advertising.

Similar pressure seems to have been behind the decision of local TV station 5 ATS in the northern province of Tucumán to withdraw its programme ‘Periodismo de Verdad’ in March. And José “Pepe” Eliaschev learned on 30 December 2005 that the programme ‘Esto que pasa’ that he hosted on state-owned Radio Nacional, which was very critical of the current government, would not continue in 2006 “on orders from above.” Reporters Without Borders wrote at the time to the president’s chief of staff about this decision, but got no reply.

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