Analysis of FOPEA Monitor Program

By JANIE WILLNER Post date: May 12, 2014

Location

1)      Argentina’s Constitution guarantees a freedom of expression, but it is necessary to remain vigilant against the still frequent challenges to the freedom.
2)      The Foro de PeriodismoArgentino(FOPEA) established its Monitor program with the main goal of investigating, reporting, and combatting those challenges.
3)      The source and nature of each case is distinct, but most reflect a fundamental conflict between journalists and authorities with connection to the government.
4)      FOPEA members share a set of values and standards, and are united by the goal of defending the freedom of expression. This freedom is considered a key component of democratic society.
5)      FOPEA’s leadership and members come from many different media organizations, contributing to the expansive support network to which it belongs.
6)      FOPEA’s Monitoring program addresses hundreds of cases per year, and generates interesting and useful data about the conditions of the journalism industry and the status of the freedom of expression in Argentina.
7)      Several adjustments and additions can be made to the Monitor program to strengthen the information derived from the program and the network that supports it.

Background

            About thirty years after the democratization of Argentina, the nation has come a long way in defending the freedom of speech and expression for its people. The Constitution, last updated in 1994, guarantees the freedom of speech and freedom of the press to all Argentineans. In addition to explicit statements regarding the freedom of expression, Article 19 of the first section of the Constitution establishes that the government does not have authority over the private actions of citizens that do not cause harm to society or to other individuals. Furthermore, the Article states that citizens cannot be obligated to do anything that the law doesn’t obligate them to do, and that they cannot be prohibited from doing anything that the law doesn’t prohibit (Argentina).

            However, not everyone sees the level of freedom of expression in Argentina through such rose-colored lenses. Many cases of violation of these freedoms occur regularly. These violations come from multiple sources in varying degrees of severity, keeping Argentinean journalists in all media outlets on edge. In response to this threat to free expression, the Foro de PeriodismoArgentino (FOPEA), or Argentinean Journalism Forum,has established a monitoring service to research the working conditions under which journalists work in Argentina, and to report and counter attacks on their freedom of speech.   In 2013, FOPEA tracked nearly 200 cases of attacks and violations of freedom of speech in Argentina, demonstrating a 12.79% increase from the previous year. These cases directly affected 239 journalists, and likely affected their family, friends, and industry colleagues due to the intimidation and instability they bring to the lives of journalists.  While the majority of cases occur in and around Buenos Aires, the capital (Figure 1), they are not restricted to any one place in the country. Attacks on freedom of speech occur in regions of Argentina both urban and rural, as depicted in Figure 2 (Baumgratz 2013).

 

Figure 1.Map of Intensity of Cases (2010-2013)

Red indicates highest frequency of cases.

Figure 2.Map of Cases (2010-2013)

Blue: 2013, Red: 2012, Yellow: 2011, Violet: 2010.

            These attacks on the freedom of expression occur for many reasons, but one of the most commonly cited reasons is the ever-increasing polarity of opinions toward the federal government under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Argentinean citizens have many criticisms of the Kirchner administration, but Kirchner has gained notoriety in particular for lack of communication with the public and suppression of expression of dissent. In a recent question and answer session with Kirchner hosted by Harvard University, several students from Argentina prefaced their questions for Kirchner with remarks about the rarity of the opportunity for Argentinean citizens to communicate directly with their President about important political issues. Kirchner’s reply, that this communication gap is merely a rumor created by the opposition media, is viewed by many Argentineans as an insincere, nonchalant dismissal of the grievances of the people (Kirchner).

            GrupoClarín is a large media conglomerate in Argentina that vehemently opposes the Kirchner administration. The conflict between these two entities is so intense that the Argentinean Secretary of Commerce Guillermo Moreno has taken to publicly distributing paraphernalia embossed with the phrase, “Clarín Lies.” However, the government’s main tactic against Clarín is “official publicity.” The Kirchner administration spends large sums of money on pro-government advertising campaigns, and in 2010 even overtook Unilever and P&G to become Argentina’s largest spender in advertising. In 2009, the government famously began the “Soccer For Everyone” campaign, which broadcasted coverage of high-profile soccer matches on the public networks. This was very popular among viewers, but critics recognized it as an opportunity for the government to take business away from Clarín and advertise for the coming election. While the government is criticized for its anti-media tactics, GrupoClarín is criticized for reporting from the biased perspective of the opposition to the government, and for leveraging their position in the industry to maximize profits (Rafsky 2012).

            The battle between the media and the authorities is not confined to large corporations and the federal government. FOPEA is also concerned with local cases such as the beating of a photographer on November 10th, 2012, by police officers in Misiones, Argentina. Mario Fedorischak was reporting on the arrival of a group of inmates from the police station when he was surrounded and beaten by police officers, allegedly seeking retribution for his previous coverage of another police beating (Higuera 2012).

            Some cases involve violation of rights not by government authorities but by influential business moguls. In one famous case, wealthy entrepreneur LázaroBáez requested that newspaper La Nación be prohibited from publishing information related to his businesses’ enterprises, especially the hefty investment he made in the hotels in the South that are managed by the Kirchner family. FOPEA immediately denounced and rejected the request, stating, “The journalistic investigation of private businesses and their relationships with the State is part of the most basic duties of journalism in a democracy. When 30 years have passed since the return to Democracy, accommodating this cautionary measure would be a reversal of history” ("Adepa Y FopeaRepudiaron La Cautelar De LázaroBáezSobre LA NACION." )

Motivation and Objectives

            FOPEA believes that free speech is a key feature of successful democracy, and is dedicated to the preservation of this value in order to protect democracy in Argentina. In its 2013 Report of the Monitoring of Freedom of Expression in Argentina, FOPEA leaders explain that they are motivated by their certainty that “the quality of journalism is decisive for the quality of democracy” (Baumgratz 2013).

            FOPEA outlines the objectives of its Monitoring program as follows:

“Analyze and intervene in the face of attacks on freedom of expression and assist the victims of different types of censorship

Establish a national network of journalists that detect and investigate cases of violation of the freedom of expression

Build a register of observed cases to identify systematic obstacles in the way of the exercise of this right

Work with other organizations and individuals to formulate public order initiatives in the area of freedom of expression”

            FOPEA also has a written Code of Ethics with which all members must comply. The Code of Ethics enumerates the values associated with honest journalism to which FOPEA members must adhere, and in particular demands that members of FOPEA “respect the principles of democracy, honesty, pluralism, and tolerance.” The Code of Ethics, in addition to a list of values, contains an extensive explanation of methodology FOPEA members must follow in their journalistic endeavors and in their service to FOPEA. This includes the use of strong writing skills, transparent investigation tactics, and accurate representation of the truth (Baumgratz 2013).

Key Actors

                FOPEA’s president and main figurehead is Fabio Ladetto. MónicaBaumgratz is responsible for the FOPEA’s monitoring program. All of FOPEA’s executive officers are experienced journalists from various media sources around the country, providing a built-in network for FOPEA communication and cooperation to span the industry on a national scale (Baumgratz 2013). FOPEA is a member of IFEX, a global support network of organizations interested in promoting the right to free expression. FOPEA has also received support from Latin American and even locally based organizations such as the AVINA Foundation and the University of Palermo (“Política De Financiamiento De Fopea”). Finally, FOPEA applies for and receives grants to fund its multifaceted programs. In 2013, FOPEA received a grant for $30,000 from the National Endowment for Democracy, to monitor and report cases of rights violations, launch a social media campaign encouraging the protection of freedom of expression, and conduct research to generate data relevant to the Monitor program, including time and location of violations, identification of perpetrators of violations, nature of violation, etc. (“Argentina”).

Methods and Results

            The key item of FOPEA’s Monitor program is the investigation, denunciation, and combat of infringements on the freedom of expression in Argentina. In 2013, up to 30 cases were reported each month, causing the organization to constantly be juggling several investigations, reports, and legal battles at the same time. Another key job FOPEA’s Monitor program performs is the recording and analysis of all cases. FOPEA maintains a massive database containing the details of each case so that they can be read and referenced whenever necessary, and they collect data on the cases to determine patterns and trends in the cases. For instance, FOPEA categorizes cases into 12 different types of attack, including physical aggression, threats, censorship, hostage crises, unfavorable legislation, and more, and data is collected to determine the frequency of each kind of occurrence. FOPEA also has useful data on the type of aggressor, the type of journalist subject to aggression, and the time and location of each occurrence. This data is combined, analyzed and presented to the public in an annual report of the Monitor program. One interesting finding in the 2013 report is that roughly 85% of victims of aggression were male, while only 15% were female. Another important observation was that the most common type of aggression by far was physical or mental attacks (Baumgratz 2013).

Finally, the program interviews and collects information from journalists about the challenges they are currently facing as individuals, and as a category. One important piece of information gathered from this research was that journalists are beginning to accept the threat of rights infringement and even censor themselves in order to avoid provoking aggressors. This trend will prevent journalists from providing much needed information to the public, and may lead to government implicit or even explicit control of the content that is communicated (Baumgratz 2013).

Lessons Learned and Future Considerations

                The FOPEA Monitor program has successfully identified and pursued hundreds of cases over the past year, and protected the rights of countless journalists. Through this project FOPEA has gained an understanding of the nature of the cases of aggression, and an understanding of the conditions under which Argentinean journalists regularly live and work.

           Despite the successes of the Monitor program, FOPEA has room for improvement in several important categories. First, FOPEA must be extremely careful with the interpretation of their data. While FOPEA certainly addressed many more cases this year than in the previous year, this may actually be due to the improved investigative skills of FOPEA researchers rather than an true increase in the number of cases. FOPEA could also create a more organized, more searchable online database to provide easier access to important data for the public. FOPEA would also benefit greatly from the translation of their work into foreign languages, so that foreign organizations can easily learn about, support, or even partner with FOPEA. Finally, FOPEA ought to place more of an emphasis on contextual examination of cases. Several organizations that FOPEA has intervened to defend are rumored to have questionable histories and even current corruption that may instigate conflict with other institutions and tarnish the credibility and integrity of FOPEA by association.

References

"Adepa Y FopeaRepudiaron La Cautelar De LázaroBáezSobre LA NACION." Adepa Y FopeaRepudiaron La Cautelar De LázaroBáezSobre LA NACION. La Nación, 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

Argentina. Senado De La Nación Argentina. ConstituciónNacional. ConstituciónNacional. Senado De La Nación Argentina. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

"Argentina." National Endowment for Democracy. National Endowment for Democracy, Web. 25 Mar. 2014.

Baumgratz, Mónica. MONITOREO DE LA LIBERTAD DE EXPRESIÓN En Argentina Informe 2013.Rep. no. 2013.CiudadAutónoma De Buenos Aires. 2014. Print.

Higuera, Silvia. "FOPEA Denounces Police Beating of Photographer in Argentina | Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas." Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. University of Texas, 15 Nov. 2012. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.

Kirchner, Cristina. "Conferencia De La Presidenta Ante Docentes Y Alumnos De La Universidad De Harvard." Conferencia De La Presidenta Ante Docentes Y Alumnos De La Universidad De Harvard. Boston, MA. 27 Sept. 2012. Casa Rosada: Presidencia De La Nación Argentina. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

Mosto, Cecelia. Clima De La ActividadPeriodística En Argentina. Rep. Ciudad Autónoma De Buenos Aires: Foro De PeriodismoArgentino, 2011. Print.

"Política De Financiamiento De Fopea." Financiamiento / Acerca De FOPEA / FOPEA.Foro De PeriodismoArgentino, Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

Rafsky, Sara. "In Government Media Fight, Argentine Journalism Suffers." CPJ. Committee to Protect Journalists, 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.