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ARGENTINA | 11-04-2024 15:25

President versus the press: Milei slams 'corrupt' journalists

Taking a page from the populist playbook, President Milei this week criticised a number of high-profile journalists in a lengthy radio interview with TV and radio presenter Alejandro Fantino. 

President Javier Milei has opened up a new front on the culture wars, singling out journalists as his latest enemy and expressing delight at the angry pushback he has received.

Taking a page from the populist playbook, President Milei criticised a number of high-profile journalists in a lengthy radio interview with TV and radio presenter Alejandro Fantino. 

Criticised for the targeting of individuals by industry groups, he doubled down on his remarks later in the week, describing those who practise the profession as “corrupt” and accusing them of prostituting themselves for money.

The furore began on Monday, when Milei used his three-hour interview to rail against the coverage he and his party received in the press. 

Quizzed about controversial remarks by La Libertad Avanza lawmaker (Alberto ’Bertie’ Benegas Lynch – who suggested that parents shouldn’t be obliged to send their children to school), the President turned on Romina Manguel, the journalist who conducted the interview with his party peer, accusing her of attempting to trip up his colleague.

"It was an unfortunate phrase, but it was also taken out of context by a journalist who systematically plays against us, who lives by talking trash," said the president. 

"Journalists play games. There are a lot of them who play to destroy and that's why you don't have to go and give notes to those guys,” he declared.

Fantino, who works regularly with Manguel on a radio show, did not challenge the remarks.

President Milei also went on to attack the Editorial Perfil SA publishing house (which publishes the Perfil newspaper and the Buenos Aires Times), namely through its co-founder Jorge Fontevecchia. 

Alleging that the company was on the verge of going bankrupt, he delighted in the prospect of the firm shutting down and hundreds of workers losing their jobs.

“Perfil has already gone bankrupt once and was saved by a businessman, then it was saved by politicians and now, as it has no [state] advertising, it is going bankrupt,” Milei chuckled gleefully.

Aping the style of former US president Donald Trump, Milei then gave Fontevecchia the nickname ‘Tinturelli.’

Without naming him, the President also criticised La Nación journalist Jorge Fernández Díaz and described veteran football commentator and writer Víctor Hugo Morales as "a literally despicable guy."

Milei has a history of reacting strongly to critics. Just last week, he reacted fiercely to a Paraguayan journalist during a panel event hosted by LN+ presenter Eduardo Feinmann. 

The remarks were slammed by industry groups and several high-profile journalists, several of whom said the verbal attacks ran contrary to the La Libertad Avanza leader’s proclaimed views on freedom of expression.

FOPEA, a forum that groups together Argentine journalists and publishers, condemned the “authoritarian” remarks.

"We must emphasise that the generalisation and systematic disqualification that is evident in the President's statements, but especially in his latest post on X, constitute an authoritarian methodology that disregards the most elementary principles of a democratic society," said FOPEA in a statement.

It said the remarks were "gratuitous and unjustified insult to a majority of journalists who carry out their work with rigour and professional ethics."

Following the criticism, Milei used some downtime on his trip to Miami this week to take to social media and further denounce “corrupt” reporters who “make money by extorting.”

Since taking office, Argentina’s libertarian leader has trimmed the state’s official advertising budget, though some firms have been hit more than others. The President regularly appears on selected news channels and radio stations, preferring reporters who are more favourable to his government.

Proclaiming himself to be delighted by the response to his remarks, Milei on Wednesday called for “freedom of expression of all” in a post on the X social network.

"They tell me … the corrupt, those who lie, slander, insult and make money by extorting are angry with my post. I LOVE IT !!!", he wrote.

Milei said he would “bring them [journalists] down from that Ivory Tower they think they live in.” Admitting that the exercising of the profession “is indeed noble,” he accused journalism of having been “corrupted, soiled and prostituted” by state advertising.

"Journalism has become accustomed, over the last few decades, to being treated as prophets of unique and incontrovertible truth, who cannot be criticised, denied or corrected," he said, adding: "If anyone dares to commit this imprudence, they are punished in unison by all the members of the corporation and its groupings.”

"Extortion is commonplace. Lying, defamation and slander are also commonplace,” he declared.


– TIMES/NA

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