Argentine activists stage 'people's trial' in campaign to discredit critical media

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The Argentine presidency's campaign against media criticism inspired a symbolic "people's trial" Thursday against some of the nation's leading journalists.

The event outside the government palace was led by Hebe de Bonafini, an activist with close ties to President Cristina Fernandez and Nestor Kirchner, Fernandez's husband and predecessor.

Bonafini said her group, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, intends to expose a younger generation to misdeeds by some journalists during the 1976-1983 dictatorship and to vindicate those members of the media who risked their lives to report about human rights abuses.

"This trial has to do with denouncing the sellouts, the accomplices, those who never said anything when we were imprisoned," she told crowd of several hundred people. "What we don't want is for the same journalists who lied then to keep doing it now."

The event was publicized through anonymous posters around the capital that accused prominent journalists for the leading daily newspapers Clarin and La Nacion, Sunday paper Perfil and magazine publisher Atlantida of acting as accomplices of rights abusers during the dictatorship. The dictatorship killed as many as 30,000 political opponents, including 98 journalists, according to Freedom Forum, the U.S.-based media freedom group.

Fernandez herself ratcheted up the rhetoric this week, saying some journalists "need to get an anti-rabies vaccine."

Kirchner, while denying responsibility for the anonymous signs, urged union members to keep up the pressure for implementation of a law that would shake up the media industry, calling Clarin "the backbone" of his wife's political opposition.

Grupo Clarin, one of Latin America's largest media companies, would have to be sold off in pieces if courts approve the law.

Young pro-government activists also joined in, shouting down critical authors at Argentina's international book fair.

Wednesday night, the Senate unanimously declared its "most energetic rejection of all acts of violence, intimidation, hostility and persecution against the work of journalists and the media."

Senators who support the first couple joined in the vote after rejecting a measure urging the president to make Bonafini call off her demonstration. Deputies in the lower house failed to pass a similar resolution Thursday after hearing from some of the targeted journalists, who accused the presidency of fomenting hate.

"This is going to have to end with a death before the government does something about it," said Joaquin Morales Sola, a political columnist for Clarin and now La Nacion.

Opposition lawmaker Patricia Bullrich said the president's failure to stop Thursday's event in the Plaza de Mayo "shows that the government is behind this campaign of public shaming and attacks against the press."

Pro-government deputies accused their opponents of trying to do something that even Argentina's dictators failed at — to remove the mothers' group from the Plaza de Mayo, where they have marched for years demanding justice for their children abducted during the military regime.

"The president can't decide who can protest and who can't," lawmaker Dante Gullo said. "We all get to speak."


Associated Press Writer Debora Rey contributed to this report.