By John Fowler — “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write and print with freedom...”. French National Assembly, Declaration of the Rights of Man, August 26, 1789.
AGREED as an essential feature of democracy since the days of Euripides (480-406 BC), freedom of expression does not seem to be a concept that is universally understood or respected among some sections of the Argentine media.
Recently, as we have reported, (PN February 24) some 19 Argentine journalists, historians and constitutional experts published a joint statement in the Buenos Aires daily paper, La Nacion, offering what they called an alternative view on the Falklands/Malvinas sovereignty question.
Objectively the statement from the 19, which was described as an invitation to reflect contained nothing more controversial than the suggestion that Islanders should be allowed the right of self-determination and the observation that certain paragraphs added to the Argentine Constitution in recent years made meaningful discussions about the sovereignty of the Islands impossible.
Whether with a touch of irony or not, most of the Argentine mainstream press referred to the writers of this piece as intellectuals, but in El Malvinense a newspaper and web site produced in the southern province of Tierra del Fuego they were referred to as 'lackeys.' This article appeared under a reproduction of the front page of another newspaper Cronica, whose headline on February 22 shrieked, On the side of the pirates over pictures of four of the signatories.
Fair enough, you might think; it's simply freedom of expression working on both sides of the argument, but the El Malvinense article goes further. Under the title, Group of lackeys urge the government to give up the Malvinas the so-called intellectuals, supported by mediums of communication like La Nacion and Clarín are accused of having forgotten the relevant parts of the text of the Argentine Constitution, which the article goes on to quote:
First: The Argentine Nation ratifies its legitimate and immutable sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the corresponding maritime and island areas, being an integral part of the national territory.
The recovery of the said territories and the full exercise of sovereignty, respecting the way of life of its inhabitants and conforming to the principles of international law, constitute a permanent and unchangeable objective of the Argentine people.
On the basis that the group were publicly attempting to persuade people to a view which was contrary to that expressed above in the Argentine Constitution, and because it was believed that some of the nineteen were in receipt of money from the state, the nice people at El Malvinense came to the conclusion that they were traitors and therefore subject to articles 214 and 215 of the Argentine penal code and, as such, liable to prison sentences varying from ten years to life.
This kind of attempt to use the machinery of the state to enforce a 'my country right or wrong' brand of unthinking patriotism is surely more suited to the kind of repressive military rule that the Argentine nation was so glad to get rid of after 1982, than the democracy it now strives to be.
As the stories of such world leaders as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi so clearly illustrate, the state may lock up the man, but it cannot lock up his ideas or prevent them from spreading.
In a country, and indeed a continent, where it has not been uncommon for those who oppose the accepted view of things to be killed, the profession of journalism can require a remarkable degree of courage from those who follow it with integrity.
One of the nineteen called 'traitors' by Cronica and El Malvinense is the controversial journalist Jorge Lanata. I once had the pleasure of meeting Jorge here in Stanley and while I would not compare him with Mahatma Ghandi – he is far too solidly built for a start – I applaud his courage and that of his colleagues for daring to challenge the previously unchallengeable.
In speaking out against his government's policy towards the Islands and their population, – particularly on a basis of some first hand knowledge – Jorge Lanata is a much worthier representative of the Fourth Estate than those of his critics who, as peddlers of politically-inspired myth, misinformation and propaganda, betray their readers' confidence every day. (Penguin News)