Argentina: Milei’s first six months threaten freedom of expression and cultural rights

“Argentine President Javier Milei and his administration must immediately end their campaign against press freedom and foster an environment where writers and journalists can pursue their vital work unimpeded. Writers and journalists must not be intimidated. At PEN International, we stand unwavering in defence of these fundamental liberties.” Burhan Sonmez, President PEN International

7 June 2024: PEN International is concerned by President Milei’s stigmatising speeches against journalists, writers, publishing houses and media outlets. Since January 2024, at least 61 attacks against the Argentine press have been recorded, according to the Argentine Journalism Forum. Of these attacks, the president was responsible for at least 30%, while 13% were carried out by police and 10% by municipal and national officials.

Since 10 December 2023, the day Milei assumed the presidency of Argentina, freedom of expression and cultural rights have been violated, jeopardising the work of reporters, writers and cultural workers. Government advertising contracts with media outlets have been suspended, causing many, particularly those critical of the government, to consider closing.

So far this year, Acequia TV has shut down and in March the government suspended Télam, Latin America’s largest news agency, after the president announced its closure for allegedly being a “propaganda” tool. Later, in May, the authorities paused content on social media for “reorganisation” reasons.

President Milei has continuously and publicly disqualified journalists, using derogatory terms such as ‘corrupt’, ‘liars’ and ‘blackmailers’. He has also described the media as “blackmailing”, “lying, defaming and slandering”, and warned on his X account that his government’s task will be to “bring them down from the ivory tower they think they live in”.

On 17 March 2024, the non-fiction publishing house Marea, specialising in journalism and human rights, was the victim of a troll attack on its Facebook account. The aim of the attack was to discredit the book Delia, bastion of resistance, by Soledad Ipaguirre, about Delia Giovanola (1926-2022), one of the founders of the group Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. With more than 800 hate messages and comments, the attack occurred on the eve of the Day of Commemoration for Truth and Justice on 24 March. The majority of these messages defended the last military dictatorship, supported Milei, contained hate speech against the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, and included threats of disappearance or death against the editor or contributors. Meanwhile, President Milei has publicly insulted and discredited writers and intellectuals such as Jorge Fernández Díaz for criticising him.

Later on 9 April, Editorial Perfil, a 47-year-old media group, was targeted by President Milei during an interview,  where he “celebrated” its possible bankruptcy.

In addition to this, Argentina has also seen an increase in arreststhreats, in some cases death threats, and attacks on media workers covering protests, exemplified by the protests between 31 January and 2 February, when at least 35 reporters were attacked by the authorities with rubber bullets, burned with irritating gases or beaten for simply reporting on the citizens’ demonstration.

These assaults, combined with economic pressure, job insecurity for cultural and media workers, and civil lawsuits against journalists, represent subtle attempts to stifle work that is crucial to a functioning democracy and society.

Six months into President Milei’s administration, a clear pattern of attacks, disqualifications, threats and sudden media closures, among other actions, has emerged, creating a chilling effect and a hostile environment for journalists, writers, publishers, media and cultural workers. This underscores a critical juncture in ensuring the right to access information and freedom of expression in Argentina.

PEN International calls on the President of Argentina and his administration to:

·       Stop all acts of discrimination and stigmatization by officials against media and journalists, which impede freedom of information.

·       Guarantee the full exercise of freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 14 of the Argentine National Constitution.

·       Ensure the necessary security measures for journalists to carry out their work freely and without the risk of being threatened or attacked.

·       Guarantee the right of cultural workers to work without fear of repression.

·       Honor the commitments made by the State of Argentina to international law treaties and standards such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Declaration of Chapultepec, among others.