City TV, radio advertising benefits allies

Following the pattern seen with newspapers, Clarín Group is the top recipient

by Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 07-05-2014

A media outlet from the Mendoza province linked to a former PRO candidate in Mendoza was the third-largest recipient of official advertising from Buenos Aires City in the first half of 2013, according to official figures.

Following up on yesterday’s Herald report on the way the City government has favoured certain media groups with its advertising largesse, a deeper analysis on ads placed on radio, TV stations and websites receiving public advertising by the PRO administration led by City Mayor Mauricio Macri reveal that Radio Mitre and La 100, both owned by media giant Clarín Group, topped the chart after receiving almost 1.5 million pesos during the first half of 2013.

Other popular conglomerates, including the Indalo Group led by casino mogul Cristóbal López and a group of radios owned by businessman Sergio Spolszki — Metro, Rock and Pop, FM Blue and Splendid — also benefited from the City government. The former received 1.27 million pesos in the first half of 2013, while the latter got 1.07 million pesos during the same period.

But the most surprising presence in the ranking was that of Mendoza’s MDZ FM 105.5, which ended up receiving a little over 992,000 pesos for its radio station in addition to 240,000 pesos for its Internet site — a total of 1,232,590 pesos, two and a half times more than the amount received by Los 40 Principales and Continental, the flagship radio stations of the popular Prisa Group.

“Despite the existence of a law regulating official advertising in the City — that included several articles, including the one forbidding the use of partisan colours for official communications, which were vetoed by Macri — there are no clear criteria yet by which public advertising is allocated, and it’s even less clear why some media outlets are excluded from those funds,” media expert Santiago Marino told the Herald.

“You may say that one criterion to allocate public advertising would be to do it in the most popular radios, such as Mitre and FM 100 (owned by the Clarín Group) and the radios belonging to the Indalo Group, such as FM Pop, Mega and Vale,” Marino added.

“What surprises me is that the third company in the list is a radio station and a web site from Mendoza, linked to the Terranova family, which has a member — rally driver Orlando Terranova — who used to be the best-known face of the PRO party in Mendoza.”

MDZ’s Internet site is run by journalist Christian Sanz, who regularly shows ties to intelligence and police sources.

One of the figures who most benefited from the City’s policy regarding ads was radio host Mario Pergolini, whose Radio Vorterix (linked, in turn, to Spolszki) was granted 1.14 million pesos during the first six months of last year, if funds received by its Internet site are also taken into account.

These figures cannot be annualized, as advertising soared during the second half of last year, when the PASO primaries were held.

TV outlets

As the Herald reported yesterday, the Clarín conglomerate was the biggest recipient of funds after receiving 17 percent of the total funds spent by the City in advertising during the first six months of 2013.

Clarín’s flagship broadcast TV station, Channel 13, received 10.57 million pesos if all affiliates throughout the country are taken into account — a little more than Telefe, owned by the Spanish group Telefónica.

The rest of the media outlets are far behind (América TV with 3.63 million pesos and Channel 9 with 2.09 million pesos), but the most shocking figure is the one granted to state-run Channel 7, also known as TV Pública, as it only received 12,000 pesos (some US$ 1,500) during that semester.

Years ago, in a landmark report for NGO Poder Ciudadano, media expert Martín Becerra had revealed the City had placed almost no advertising on Channel 9 and Channel 7, which regularly criticize Macri’s administration, following a pattern set by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration, who has long failed to allocate a reasonable amount of resources to Clarín-owned Channel 13 and Todo Noticias (TN).

Cable TV

A review of the available data suggests that much like the trends seen in print media, Buenos Aires City heavily favoured cable TV channels that fall under the control of the Clarín Group. City advertising received by the group’s nine channels more than doubled the second-largest recipient of public funds, with the flagship TN channel receiving 1.23 million of the group’s take of 3.56 million pesos.

The FOX group, a member of the Rupert Murdoch global multimedia conglomerate Newscorp, was the next-largest recipient of City funds, mostly by way of its various sports channels.

The Vila-Manzano group, second-largest in the country, received more than one million pesos in the first six months of 2013 by way of its various regional affiliates concentrated in the Cuyo region.

In March, the Herald published that the Macri administration had more than doubled its advertising budget during 2013, according to a report by the non-profit Argentine Association of Budget and Public Finance Administration (ASAP).

This staggering 110.8 percent yearly hike resulted from comparing the 548.4 million pesos the City government spent in advertising during 2013 to the 260.1 million from the previous year.

That same month, the national government published a report that indicated the Fernández de Kirchner administration had increased official advertising spending by 45 percent in the first six months of 2013, compared to a year earlier.

The report was released following a freedom of information request filed by a number of local NGOs.

Additional reporting by Tomás Brockenshire


El Poder del Juego

El Poder del Juego
El gran negocio de la política argentina

Ramón Indart y Federico Poore
Aguilar, 2014, 256 pp.

Disponible en físico y en eBook

A closer look at crime in BA province

Thefts on the rise, but homicide figures can still be compared to those of 2009, says official report

by Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 27-04-2014

Three weeks after Governor Daniel Scioli declared the state of security emergency in Buenos Aires province, crime crashed back into the news following a number of violent robberies and a report saying that during 2013 murders in the district were up by 8.28 percent compared to a year before.

Crime in BA province has been somehow steady through the years, as last year’s 1,295 homicides were fairly similar to the 1,348 killings that took place in 2009, available figures from the provincial Prosecutor’s Office revealed.

However, lawyer Gustavo Arballo concluded this week that this means Buenos Aires province has a murder rate of 8.4 per 100,000 inhabitants — a figure 52 percent higher than the national average.

Numbers are not steady throughout the province: the province judicial districts of Zárate-Campana, the Greater Buenos Aires areas of Quilmes and La Matanza and the coastal city of Mar del Plata are “hot spots,” with homicide rates of over 10 per 100,000 people.

On the other hand, the judicial districts of Morón (that includes the western districts of Morón, Hurlingham, Ituzaingó and Merlo) and San Isidro (comprising the San Fernando, San Isidro, Pilar, Tigre and Vicente López municipalities) show better results.

Things are not that clear when it comes to measuring robberies: information from the local Prosecutor’s Office (which is subsumed to the Buenos Aires province Supreme Court) is based on Preliminary Criminal Investigations (IPP) — that is, actual reports made by the victims.

During 2013 a total 723,138 IPPs were recorded in the district, with only a fraction being robberies. Statistics also include kidnappings, scams, injuries and other damages.

But many people do not report these events due to their mistrust of the police and the judicial system, Walter Martello, the head of the Civic Coalition (CC) in Buenos Aires province, told the Herald.

According to Martello, only one in four criminal complaints were followed up with an official response — meaning that most cases lead nowhere but to dead ends.

Separating the wheat from the chaff

So what do available statistics reveal about this problem?

— The first is that even though homicides and robberies rose from 2012, last year’s results ended a downward trend in crime rates in the province that had begun in 2010, at least according to official figures.

— The second is that crimes involving underage offenders continue to represent a very small percentage of total crime, dismissing claims by centre-right lawmakers — even within the ruling Victory Front (FpV) — who during last year’s electoral campaign insisted on using this argument to lower the age of criminal responsibility, currently at 16 years.

Less than 14 percent of all murders committed in the province during 2013 were perpetrated by minors, the report published earlier this month said.

— A third conclusion is that most murders are not due to robberies. 36 percent are a result of street fights and other brawls, nine percent are domestic violence-related. Only 22 percent are crime-related (19 percent due to robberies), while causes of death of the remaining 16 percent are still undetermined.

Last november, Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni said murders in Greater Buenos Aires were “relatively low” and quoted figures from 2012 that said that “only” 788 murders were committed in the Greater Buenos Aires area where 9.91 million people live.

Comprehensive solutions

In this context, local political leaders called for a comprehensive approach to fighting crime that goes beyond the anti-crime policy package Scioli had signed by decree earlier this month.

“It has become evident that more cameras, more bulletproof vests and more police forces are not enough,” Martello said.

“I share Martello’s political view on security issues in the province,” Joaquín de la Torre, a Renewal Front lawmaker allied to Sergio Massa, tweeted this week.

Victory Front (FpV) lawmaker Guido Lorenzino, head of the Security Committee in the BA province legislature, did not deny the phenomenon but told the Herald statistics proved their stance on gun control, which included a much-criticized bill by the Scioli administration aimed at restricting the release of potential criminals found with a firearm who tried to elude police.

However, Arballo said current figures are unable to prove whether the bill — which was finally passed into law in June last year — has had any effect at all. Experts and opposition leaders claim the province does not provide enough information to help with comprehensive efforts against violence.

All sectors condemn lynching episodes

Former Security Minister Arslanian blames ‘promotion of fear’ as one of the main causes

by Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 31-03-2014

According to media reports, at least five people suspected of robbery were lynched by angry mobs last week. One of the alleged burglars was beaten to death in Rosario while the other was repeatedly kicked Saturday in the Buenos Aires City neighbourhood of Palermo, while four others were attacked in Rosario in bloody events that took place over the last few days.

Officials and local politicians condemned the phenomenon and called it a step back to the Middle Ages.

“I think it’s just barbaric. It takes us back to a past that we thought we had forgotten,” former Buenos Aires province Security Minister León Arslanian yesterday told Nacional Rock.

Arslanian, an offical who served during the 2002-2007 Felipe Solá provincial administration, linked the social phenomenon to the political climate of the last months — specifically, to the strategy carried out by Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa to attack the new Penal Code bill draft on the grounds that its amendments were too lenient on criminals.

“It’s a grotesque thing to try and stir up public opinion by promoting fear,” Arslanian told radio programme El Fin de la Metáfora.

Across the political spectrum

Kirchnerite representatives and opposition figures clearly drew a line between the current lack of state oversight and the rise of these kinds of attacks.

“We’re surely witnessing a situation of lack of state presence, but this can by no means justify nor excuse anyone taking justice into their own hands,” Broad Progressive Front (FAP) national lawmaker Fabián Peralta told the Herald.

Peralta, a representative of the centre-left GEN party, lives in the Azcuénaga neighbourhood in Rosario, two blocks away from the corner where a group of people lynched 18-year-old construction worker, David Moreyra, after accusing him of stealing.

Moreyra fought his injuries for four days and died at a local hospital.

“We’re witnessing a domino effect, because people are taking the discussion over whether the people attacked were criminals or not,” Peralta added.

“But the very fact that a group of people decide to apply the death penalty — because that’s what it is — speaks of a true process of social deterioration.”

PRO party ally Patricia Bullrich showed her consternation, but stressed an absence of the rule of law.

“I think (lynchings) are a worrying and dangerous phenomenon, because it proves we’re living in a society with no rules or law,” Bullrich told the Herald.

The Unión por Todos representative said repeated lynchings were a “typical reaction” to people’s feeling of defencelessness.

“We need to get the situation back on track, people should feel safe and protection should not be about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” the national lawmaker said.

Politicians to blame?

Like Arslanian, Kirchnerite City lawmaker Gabriela Cerruti took aim at the heated political climate encouraged by Renewal Front politicians, who during the last week challenged the Penal Code draft bill, which had resulted from a consensus between Supreme Court Justice Raúl Zaffaroni, UCR representative Ricardo Gil Lavedra and PRO lawmaker Federico Pinedo.

According to Cerruti, Massa’s stance against the proposed regulations and his “populist” statements against reduced penalties and other alleged benefits for criminals were “the serpent’s egg” that ended in last week’s public lynchings in Buenos Aires and Rosario.

Lynchings are occurring “at a time when leaders, who should be sending an altruistic message, have placed themselves on the frontline of heavy-handed discourse,” Cerruti wrote on Twitter.

But the events of the last few days are probably part of a broader phenomenon.

Victory Front (FpV) lawmaker Victoria Montenegro said there were “a lot of causes,” with only one of them being “the current political climate.” In the end, however, she limited herself to “openly repudiate all acts of violence.”

“The case of the boy that was beaten to death in Rosario was the result of cowardly and murderous citizens,” Montenegro told the Herald.

“Take justice into their own hands should not be an option and this is the society we’ve been trying to build since the return of democracy,” she concluded.

Revenge and class hatred

On Saturday afternoon, writer Diego Grillo Trubba went on a Twitter rampage to express what had occurred minutes prior in the up-scale Palermo neighbourhood.

An infuriated mob “almost lynched a pickpocket,” the man wrote on his account.

“A big man wearing a security guard’s uniform was on top of a 16- or 17-year-old and would not let him go. Suddenly, one of the people from the mob comes in running and kicked the kid in the face,” Grillo Trubba said.

“Just so that I’m understood: a river of blood was coming out of his mouth. Most of the people keep saying he should be put to death.”

It took 25 minutes for police to arrive at the scene, the writer said.

The Rosario cases also struck a nerve in Santa Fe’s political world.

“People who took part in lynch mob were actually involved in murder,” provincial Justice and Human Rights Minister Juan Lewis warned yesterday.

“It’s a big mistake to resort to the lack of state presence to justify lynching — it was plain and simple murder,” he said.

Judge: La Plata floods killed 89

Magistrate blasts Scioli, Casal for fudging the numbers, concealing death toll

by Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 27-03-2014

Almost a year after the heavy rains and flash floods that affected the city of La Plata, Judge Luís Arias yesterday determined that 89 people died during the flooding — 38 more than what the Buenos Aires province government had officially informed.

In a 191-page ruling of high political impact, the magistrate ordered the Daniel Scioli administration to “publicly reveal the result” of this new investigation “through the same media outlets the government used to reveal the information in the first place.”

After months of investigation, Arias concluded that several irregularities had taken place in the days after the flood of April 23, 2013 — and that both the local Executive and Judicial branches were to blame.

Irregularities include the signing of false death certificates by officials of the province’s Peoples’ Registry (Registro de las Personas), “which resulted in public documents that did not reflect the true nature of the event, or in showing it in a distorted way” — meaning that the goal of lying about the death certificates was to hide the true scale of the catastrophe.

“Evidence gathered so far in order to recreate the situation took a new dimension considering the context of falsehood, hiding, mistrust, confusion and catastrophe” following the floods in the province’s capital, the magistrate wrote.

The judge ordered both the local Legislature and the Executive Branch to “regulate, adapt and/or modify the proceedings and practices that allowed for such irregularities.”

According to judicial sources, Arias will explain the basis of the ruling to relatives of the victims today at 12.30pm during a press conference to be held at the journalism school at the University of La Plata.

An ‘uncomfortable’ judge

Days after the floods, both Scioli and the then-provincial Security Minister Ricardo Casal confirmed the death toll remained at 51, despite complaints by opposition leaders and victims’ relatives.

On April 6, Scioli dismissed other reports and called on people “not to distort a situation that is already dramatic.” That same day, Casal criticized Arias and Prosecutor Julián Axat for distributing a list with the names of seven other people who allegedly died during the storm.

But Arias did not take back what he said and announced that he would formally request hospitals in the affected areas to submit reports on what happened during the flood — the first step toward yesterday’s ruling.

“What Arias writes in his decision is what we’ve been saying all this time — that there was a deliberate attempt to hide the real numbers,” Civic Coalition (CC-ARI) representative Walter Martello told the Herald.

“The judge is saying that the province refused to add new names to the list of fatalities after the first 48 hours, something unprecedented and unknown in any other part of the world when a tragedy of this scale takes place,” Martello added.

On its face, the ruling coincides with Axat’s previous statements.

In November last year, the prosecutor said that there was strong evidence suggesting that a “spurious concealment method” had taken place with the Scioli administration’s attempt “to falsify the deaths caused by flooding” by making them appear to have been the result of natural causes.

Yesterday, Axat highlighted the magistrate’s decision, which — he said — proved the downside of a “self-governed” Buenos Aires provincial police force.

Local politicians “resort to the BA province police, which in turn engage in the usual tactics to prevent the public image of their bosses from becoming tarnished, at any cost,” the prosecutor wrote.

Court pushes for state transparency

Says government must release information on recipients of social programmes

by Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 27-03-2014

The Supreme Court yesterday ordered President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration to publicize information related to its social programmes, following a legal filing made by the Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies for the Equity and Development (CIPPEC), a non-partisan NGO.

The move is yet another take by the highest court on the state’s accountability and responsibility to make information public, and comes after a series of high-impact rulings over the distribution of government advertising in media outlets issued over the last few months.
Specifically, the Supreme Court ordered the national government to reveal the identity of those who benefit from social programmes, where they are located, and the total amount of money they involve.

Near the end of the 48-page ruling the top tribunal said that Congress “urgently needs to pass legislation guaranteeing access to information” and regulating the way public authorities allocate social development programmes.

“The Supreme Court has confirmed that the right to public information is a constitutional right, and that the Legislative Branch is still in debt regarding the implementation of a specific regulation on the matter,” CIPPEC’s chief judicial researcher Martín Bomer told the Herald.

A six-year wait

The case began in 2008, when CIPPEC demanded the Social Development Ministry release the registry of beneficiaries of social programmes for 2006 and 2007, arguing the organization needed to know the identity of those who received the social aid in order to carry out a comprehensive oversight of those programmes.

The ministry refused to provide the requested information by saying that making public such information would collide with the 25,326 Personal Data Protection Law by exposing the “vulnerable condition” of beneficiaries.

But the Supreme Court yesterday said that “the right to maximum disclosure of public information” should prevail over other rights in conflict and that the state was simply choosing to refuse to publicly release the information without a valid argument.

In this context, Justices Ricardo Lorenzetti, Carlos Fayt and Juan Carlos Maqueda said they believed the government is “seeking to exclude certain information from the public domain.” But the harshest words came from Enrique Petracchi and Carmen Argibay, who said that hiding those whom the govenrment was assisting was a “disgraceful” attitude by the government, who was trying to “conceal the diversion of public funds.”

Dismissing official arguments

The Association for Civil Rights (ADC), which co-sponsored CIPPEC’s legal filing, celebrated the ruling’s importance.

“It brings down the repeated argument used to deny access to public information: that the government may refuse to provide such information when it contains ‘sensitive data’,” ADC said in a news release.

ADC’s Access to Information Director Ramiro Álvarez Ugarte said the court’s ruling follows its own jurisprudence regarding the matter that was first expressed in December 2012, while dealing with a case the organization had brought against the PAMI state-run healthcare scheme.

Argentina, Cuba, Haiti and Costa Rica are the only four Latin American countries without a Public Information Access Law, according to Marcela Basterra, a constitutional scholar at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).

In that context, Justices highlighted that the Supreme Court has “repeatedly pointed out” that the right to public information “is a necessary condition for the organization of a democratic republic” and that the Constitution as well as international treaties with constitutional hierarchy consider such a right “an essential tool in helping public opinion to establish whether social policies carried out by the state are effectively helping (those in need) or if they are dysfunctional to the proposed goals.”

Paraphrasing the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the top tribunal concluded that information belongs to the people: “It is not owned by the state, and its access is not a result of grace and favour from the government.”


Gov’t advertising increases 45.24%

Uneven distribution seen between TV channels and newspapers, official report reveals

by Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 18-03-2014

Government advertising soared 45.24 percent in the first half of 2013, compared to the same period of the previous year, as the President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration allocated more cash to official ads at a time when it was getting ready for critical midterm elections, the Chief-of-Staff’s office revealed yesterday.

The report was released following a freedom for information request filed by NGO Poder Ciudadano.

The increase in state spending on official advertising benefited almost all television channels and newspapers, regardless of their ideological views.

From January to June 2013, the national administration allocated 610.45 million pesos in official advertising, compared to 420.29 million pesos during the same period of 2012.
The increase in the national government’s spending on advertising is much higher than the inflation rate, regardless of the way it is measured. Private consultancies estimated last year’s inflation clocked in at 27 percent.

“There have been significant increases in government advertising for opposition media, but those hikes only modify a ridiculously low amount previously,” media expert Martín Becerra said yesterday. “In absolute terms, they are still being ‘punished’ by the government.”

The report was released the same day the Supreme Court ordered the La Plata City government to restore government advertising to a local radio (See below) and a month after the country’s highest court ruled that the Fernández de Kirchner administration should allocate government advertising on Clarín Group’s Channel 13, following a lawsuit by the country’s largest media conglomerate.

An unwilling response

Even though the latest report brought in a flood of data, the government made it difficult for journalists to compare both years, as companies listed in the latest report of government spending on advertising were sorted by their “registration code” rather than in alphabetical order.

Moreover, the report published on the Chief-of-Staff Office’s website yesterday afternoon was in PDF format, which made it difficult to reorder numbers.

As in previous releases, the national administration classified the companies according to the medium — whether the government advertised in cinemas, radio stations, print media, broadcast or cable TV channels, or the street.

Tensions have grown recently between the national government and the Supreme Court over the allocation of government advertising and the lack of clear rules on the matter.

In 2011, the top court ruled in favour of Perfil with the same arguments it had used four years earlier with Río Negro’s most important newspaper in a case against the provincial government of Neuquén.

On that occasion, the tribunal argued that while there is no right to receive a certain amount of government advertising, there is, in fact, protection against using state money arbitrarily.

The Supreme Court is well aware that the government has “cheated” after previous decisions and is repeatedly backing rulings of lower courts ordering the national administration “to prepare and present a distribution scheme for state advertising.”

“Failure to comply with a judicial ruling means a failure to recognize the separation of powers, which leads to a serious deterioration of a constitutional, democratic state,” the justices wrote in a 6-1 decision last February.

Notas relacionadas (Telefé, Channel 9 see biggest increases, La Plata forced to restore ads, Newspapers: gov’t ad revenue up 55%) disponibles en la edición impresa del Buenos Aires Herald.