Reporters Without Borders expressed deep concern about death threats made against two journalists who voiced opposition to the government and a climate of fear which has also left another journalist targeted in a shooting holed up in a hotel for the past three months.
Joaquín Morales Solá, political columnist on the daily La Nación, and Jorge Fontevecchia, chief executive of publishers Perfil and owner of a daily of the same name, were threatened on 28 September in Buenos Aires after criticising the government of Nestór Kirchner.
The worldwide press freedom organisation also expressed alarm about the plight of Carlos Elías Furman, of the 2 de Octubre radio station, who survived a shooting attack on 10 June after revealing local corruption. He has spent the last three months wearing a bullet proof vest in a hotel in Santa Elena, Entre Ríos province in the north-east.
“We cannot directly blame the government and its officials for these threats and intimidation,” it said. “Nevertheless the attitude towards the press of the Kirchner administration has contributed to the creating a poisonous climate in which anyone could be prompted to settle scores with the press with complete impunity.”
“It would be useful if President Kirchner himself would make a point of condemning these violations of free expression, as have some parliamentarians, including in his own party”.
Elsewhere the unfair distribution among the media of the benefit of public advertising, the absence of press conferences at Casa Rosada and the president’s personal targeting of a journalist reveal the authoritarian and reductive conception of the role of the press, it said.
“The Néstor Kirchner government cannot at the same time defend this view and pretend to fight against the continuing sequels of the military dictatorship.”
On 28 September, Joaquín Morales Solá, columnist on La Nación, received two anonymous phone calls at his office. The first warned him, “This is just the beginning. Three hours later a second call warned him, “The next one you will feel in your body”. The threats came a day after the president publicly criticised the journalist, whom he accused of publishing an article in 1978 in praise of then dictator Jorge Videla.
Jorge Fontevecchia received similar threats on the same day after harshly criticising the Kirchner administration in the daily Perfil and the magazine Noticias. The first message said, “This email is just the beginning. Stop harming the national government. Do you know the story of the father who lost his son? We know everything about you. Unless you change, you will suffer because of your family”. Threats from the address “firstname.lastname@example.org” ("you have got very little time left"), were even more macabre: “What a beautiful house, it would be a pity if was blown up by a bomb.”
Fontevecchia had hit back in his articles against diatribes by the president and his entourage against the media. He particularly condemned the withholding or awarding of official advertising as a means of pressure or reprisals against press seen as unruly. The head of state still refuses to give a single press conference at his office, the Casa Rosada.
Meanwhile, Carlos Elías Furman of radio 2 de octubre has taken refuge for the past three months in a hotel in Santa Elena, in Entre Ríos province and is forced to wear a bullet proof vest. He exposed mismanagement by the mayor, Domingo Daniel Rossi, a member of the ruling Peronist party who was shortly afterwards sentenced to a suspended three-year prison term with an eight-year ban on public office for “illicit enrichment”.
Shortly before an appeal launched by Rossi, on 29 May, Furman was attacked by a man who warned him, “We will kill you if you continue to piss off Rossi”. On 10 June, three bullets were fired at the front of his house, which was luckily empty at the time. The journalist has decided to give up the profession and is currently seeking to emigrate to Israel.