Thursday, April 10, 2008

Kirchnerism and a Free Press: Oil and Water

Anselm Kiefer
Book with Wings, 1992–94.
From the collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

I'm sorry for posting another political post. I promise I'll return to more pics and travel commentary from around Buenos Aires soon.

However, the above sculpture is one of my all time favorite works of art. It is called Book with Wings from the Museum of Modern Art Fort Worth. The wings give freedom to the printed word, something we are seeing less of here in Argentina.

I was shocked the other day, when a fellow blogger and Argentine rancher deleted all of his posts about the farm strike in fear of reprisals from the government. To keep his ID secret, we'll just call him Dandy Michael—not a reference to his sexual orientation, but to his well known moniker.

It seems that actions by the government towards neighboring farmers have served their purpose of silencing a wonderful and balanced viewpoint about life on the farm here in Argentina.

While the government's decision to seize farmers livestock is not a direct attack on freedom of speech, the end result is the same. There are plenty of recent examples that are direct attacks on the freedom of the press.

Cristina no le gusta. This cartoon by Sábat shows a two faced Cristina with her husband (side profile of the face) the hidden voice of the government.

In Cristina's recent rally in the Plaza de Mayo before the rent-a-crowd audience, she held up a very unflatering political cartoon of her and publicly criticized it as a "quasi-mafioso message". Before singling out the cartoon by Hermenegildo Sábat (see image above), she compared the current farm strike to a farm strike right before the 1976 coup that brought in the right-wing military dictatorship responsible for the murder of thousands of Argentines and the suspension of most liberties.

She added, "This time farmers have not been accompanied by tanks, this time they have been accompanied by those large media corporations that in addition to supporting the lock out of the people by the farmers, have locked out the information, changing, misrepresenting, and showing a one-sided opinion."

And soon after that speech, she met with the Social Sciences department at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) to announce the relaunching of a commission called Observatorio de Discriminación en los Medios (Discrimination Observatory in the Media). Its purpose is to investigate the "truthfulness" of the press and make sure it is "fair and balanced" as seen by the government. Yeah right! Kinda of like what FOX News does for our government.

It all sounds like a witch hunt to go after journalist that disagree with the government to me. I don't think Stephen Colbert could make up such a bit.

Need more proof? A report by Reporters Without Borders noted that journalists in the provinces were threatened and harassed by police and the courts. The press was also blackmailed by withdrawal of local government advertising. That was in 2007. In terms press freedom, Argentina ranked 82 out of 167 nations as tracked by Reporters without Borders. After recent events, it will surely drop further.

This trend is troubling because the freedom of the press is a critical foundation for any democratic government. Unfortunately, here it is the only vehicle for people to be heard outside the Kirchners who strongly control congress and all local governments. If you don't like what the government is doing, you can't rely on the traditional separation of powers a strong democracy has. That just does not exist here.

The weak Judiciary is slow and ineffective. Congress is in bed with the government and is just a rubber stamp for whatever the Kirchners want. What the government says here, goes. That only leaves the press to keep citizens informed and to give them a voice.

Hopefully, the Argentine press will continue to stand up for the truth and won't be bullied by the Kirchners when the truth goes against the Kirchners' wishes. The press is the last line of defense for this democracy.

All of this is ironic. Cristina and her husband were once part of the underground movement against the right wing dictatorship and the lack of freedoms that government was known for. Maybe they learned a few too many things from their enemy.

Irony... like the wings above made of lead.


Anonymous said...

My ex-novio had worked at the Casa Rosada for over 15 years. So you can imagine all the various Presidents he saw come and go. The K´s were his absolute least favourite. Apparently it was a dictatorship from the get go.

Longhorn Dave said...

I'm glad Spain and other countries are calling her on this. It is always sad when then freedom of press is compromised. Especially for Argentina where the people feel they have a week voice in government.