Reporters Without Borders today protested at the violation of the emails of Fernando Ayude, of the daily La Arena in Santa Rosa, La Pampa province in central Argentina, which it termed “an outrageous abuse of press freedom”.
The journalist, who specialises in local politics, made the breach public on 23 February. He said it appeared that an exchange of emails had been spied on between himself and known opposition figures from the offices of the mayor of the provincial capital, Juan Carlos Tierno.
Ayude was told by an unknown informant on 15 February that his emails were under surveillance. The individual proved it by showing him a printout giving his password for his email box and two messages, one sent to an opposition councillor and the other to an ex-councillor responsible for budgetary questions.
“I believe the objective of this kind of operation is to spy on the opposition through me,” Ayude told the worldwide press freedom organisation.
A colleague at La Arena, Leonardo Santestebán, confirmed the fact that the Santa Rosa mayor had been putting pressure on journalists and the political opposition. He added that the daily’s website had been targeted by hackers at the end of January 2008.
Ayude, who has been covering the municipal council for six years, said that journalists’ work had become much more difficult since the arrival of the new mayor of Santa Rosa, Juan Carlos Tierno. “Media which are critical are no longer admitted to press conferences and getting to speak to the mayor is virtually impossible,” he said.
“We express our solidarity with Fernando Ayude and his colleagues on La Arena” Reporters Without Borders said. “The early indications from this case, even if they do not prove the direct involvement of Juan Carlos Tierno, certainly point to a much degraded political climate. This violation of correspondence constitutes an outrageous abuse of press freedom. If it is also a clumsy political manoeuvre as Fernando Ayude believes then there is even greater reason for the mayor and his aides to explain themselves”, the organisation added.
This is not the first time that Juan Carlos Tierno has tangled with the press. When he was interior minister for La Pampa province between 2003 and 2006 he sued three journalists from the magazine Lumbre, who had investigated property scandals in which he was implicated. The Supreme Court found in favour of the journalists.
Some sources said that opposition politicians no longer dare meet, telephone, or leave their details on the computers within the municipal council. Some have even paid for protection.
Discouraged in advance by links between the provincial justice system and the Santa Rosa authorities, the management of La Arena has decided not to take any legal action in the hacking and email violation cases.