Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the obstacles being encountered by three proposed federal laws that would regulate the allocation of state advertising to the media, which governments too often use to reward supporters and punish critics.
“Assigning public advertising in a discriminatory manner seriously affects the functioning of some media, especially in the provinces, and constantly fuels tension between the press and the government,” the press freedom organisation said. “It is high time this situation ended, and the bills submitted to the federal parliament could help achieve this.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “It is rather paradoxical that the government and its parliamentary majority envisage an increased advertising budget but balk at accepting improved guarantees as regards its distribution.”
According to the organisation Poder Ciudadano (“Citizen Power”), state advertising increased to 127 million Argentine pesos (32.7 million euros) in 2005 - 43.8 per cent more than the amount originally envisaged. The proposed advertising budget for 2007, currently being discussed by the federal chamber of deputies, is 225 million pesos (58 million euros).
Three bills have surfaced in parliament with the aim of ensuring a fairer distribution of this windfall. The first one was submitted to the senate by Ricardo Gómez Diez of the Renewal Party, and is backed by Ernesto Sanz of the Radical Civic Union (UCR) and Hilda González de Duhalde of the ruling Justicialist (Peronist) Party (PJ).
It would guarantee that 15 per cent of the amount would be shared out among all the media that are on a state advertising register, while the rest would be distributed to radio and TV stations according to their ratings, and to newspapers and magazines according to the number of copies sold.
This bill has run into opposition from the Peronist president of the senate’s media and freedom of expression commission, Guillermo Jenefes, who told the daily La Nación on 17 October: “I don’t think this is a matter we need to legislate on. What’s more, there is absolute freedom of expression in Argentina”
Senator Gómez, the bill’s proponent, told Reporters Without Borders there was “evident discrimination” in the distribution of state advertising. He also spoke of the need “to reduce the difficulties for journalists to access information, and the lack of communication mechanisms such as news conferences by government officials, which currently do not exist.”
A bill that was presented to the chamber of deputies in 2004 by Federico Pinedo of the PRO bloc and was revived this year also proposes the creation of a state advertising register but stipulates that the criteria for allocating advertising should be the geographical location of the media’s readers or audience, and their degree of interest in its subject matter.
However, this bill has never been registered on the chamber’s agenda. The same applies to a third bill presented by deputy Silvina Giudici of the UCR.