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WORLD | 08-05-2023 22:51

Argentina’s drops 11 places in Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking

Reporters Without Borders calls out consolidation of media ownership, polarisation, gaps in public policy, and low pay as primary threats to press freedom in Argentina.

Argentina’s press freedom ranking dropped 11 places – from 29 to 40 – in 2023, according to a report released by the Reporters Without Borders. 

The report, released last Wednesday to mark World Press Freedom Day, indicated significant drops in economic, social, and security indicators for press freedom. 

“Heavily concentrated and opaque media ownership, polarisation, the lack of governmental policies guaranteeing media pluralism, and low pay for journalists are the main threats to freedom of expression in Argentina,” the NGO stated. 

The report describes the setup of the journalism industry as one that “encourages de facto power relationships, makes it easier for both the government and the private sector to use the allocation of advertising to pressure the media, and facilitates a partisan use of national, regional, and municipal state-owned media.”

The allowance of such outside influence leaves journalistic pluralism vulnerable to  “public policy shortcomings and the concentration of media ownership in a few hands,” Reporters Without Borders continued. 

Furthermore, according to the report, the “small number of conglomerates” that control the “most powerful media” are also “linked to the telecommunications and petroleum industries and the public works sector.” 

Although freedom of expression was found to be a principal value of “almost the entire political class,” the report accused the state of playing a “murky role in the way it awards advertising, tax exemptions and contracts,” suggesting that perhaps the reliance of “entities that are supposed to defend the public” from the current government might inhibit these groups from ensuring the media remains outside of government influence. 

 

Polarisation and violence

The influence of political groups on the operations of the media is only further exacerbated by the extreme polarisation and political confrontation that has taken hold in recent decades and “impoverished the quality of reporting and analysis.”

“The promotion of hatred and violence have found an echo in the media of various tendencies. Sensitive issues associated with a range of social, economic and political aspects of the country have been excluded from the public debate and the media’s agenda is now extremely focused on the big cities, especially Buenos Aires,” the report explained. 

The security indicator ranking dropped a whopping 47 points in the last year, from 39 to 86. However, despite the shift, Reporters Without Borders highlighted that no reporters were killed or detained in the last year, unlike in other Latin American nations. However, it warned that widespread violence in Rosario posted a real threat to journalists investigating crime and corruption.

“Journalists can be the targets of police violence during major demonstrations or intimidation by criminal organisations (drugs, human trafficking, corruption of security forces). In Rosario, the country’s third-largest city, drug-traffickers have begun targeting the media and journalists,” said the NGO.

For most of the nation, however, the targeting of reporters takes on another form: “Attempts are still made to silence journalists by more subtle means such as economic pressure. And little or no legislative progress has been made in limiting the power of censorship, data commercialisation, privacy violations and the dissemination of fake news,” Reporters Without Borders explained. 

The economic indicator ranking for Argentina saw a drop of 21 places, from 50 to 71. This rating comes in the midst of economic crisis as Argentines face a terrible drought and soaring inflation, with consumer prices up 104 percent over the past year, according to government data. The report stakes that such “persistent economic difficulties” have made “employment and resources more precarious.”

 

Disinformation in the media

The RSF named disinformation a threat to press freedom globally, calling out the “deception industry in the digital ecosystem” as dramatically harming journalism practices. 

The RSF warned that "the disinformation industry spreads large-scale manipulative productions" through specialised companies, sometimes on behalf of governments.

"It is the industry that allows disinformation to be produced, distributed or amplified," Christophe Deloire, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general, told the AFP news agency.

The RSF points to a combination of propaganda and AI technology as inflaming the problem. 

"Midjourney, an AI programme that generates very high-definition images, supplies social networks with increasingly credible and undetectable fakes," the RSF highlighted.

"Reliable information is submerged under a deluge of misinformation," Deloire explained, as such "we see less and less the differences between what is real and what is artificial, between what is true and what is false."

 

Press Freedom in Latin America 

The RSF cited political instability in Latin America as aggravating concerns regarding disinformation within the region. 

The status of press freedom in Latin America has become increasingly rocky as the region no longer has a country in the green, that is, with a “good” press situation, after Costa Rica dropped 15 places in this year’s ranking. 

Furthermore, in seven out of 10 countries, conditions for practising journalism are “adverse,” while in three out of 10, the conditions are simply “satisfactory.”

The Mercosur Institute for Public Policies on Human Rights seconded regional concerns surrounding disinformation in an article published on World Press Freedom day. 

In light of the deep-rooted issue, the institute called for the implementation of “public policies and effective measures that encourage freedom of expression as well as freedom of the press, the promotion of independent and plural media, and the protection of the integrity and security of communication professionals.”

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