The Global Editors Network (GEN) today called on the world's media to focus attention on a press freedom crisis in Argentina where independent journalism is facing a major threat on 7 December 2012 - the day announced by the government for the break-up of the Clarin Group, the country's main independent media organisation.
"7 December is a deadline day for press freedom. Media should speak with one voice against this intolerable threat to independent journalism," said Alejandro Miro Quesada, the Network Board Member from Peru, after a meeting of the GEN board in Buenos Aires. "The attack on Clarin is symbolic of the political pressure which media are facing throughout the region."
The GEN call comes at a critical point in the three-year campaign against Clarin Group's press and audiovisual media by the administration of President Cristina Kirchner and only days after the government took to the airwaves to announce that on 7 December it will revoke its licenses, and take control of its assets under a controversial new media law, which is currently being judicially challenged for its violation of basic constitutional rights.
Although the law is supposed to strengthen diversity and pluralism by limiting monopoly ownership of media - and it is a legitimate goal - its critics say it has only one intention - to stifle dissent and, in particular, to dismantle the Clarin Group, which has been a consistent critical voice of the Kirchner government.
It was particularly evident when - on 13 September 2012 - the nation-wide demonstration against the government was deliberately uncovered by official media or media depending on official subsides.
GEN highlights that already more than 450 legal and administrative actions, - as well as blockades, intimidations and other attacks - were brought against the Clarin Group. The number of actions suggests that harassment was the government's strategy.
GEN is also highly concerned that by investing huge amounts in preferential state advertising with medium sized media companies the government has effectively bought itself control of media content.
Now the use of law is seen as a further act of intimidation to keep media in line, even if - according to different international reports - 80 percent of Argentinian audiovisual media are directly or indirectly controlled by the government.
"This crisis for press freedom and democracy will come to a head on 7 December," said Miro Quesada. Even though it is not yet certain that the government will carry out its threat, the Global Editors Network will be organising an international petition and is calling on media leaders from the region and around the world to voice their protests.
The long-running campaign against the Clarin Group undermines a viable businessmodel that can secure the future of journalism and independent media in Argentina and across Latin America.
Our last word is that what happens today in Argentina can happen in all democracies when governments are willing - through a large range of actions - to limit freedom of expression.