Clarín, the most prominent anti-Kirchner paper, called them “the great fashion wildcard” whilst the equally critical Todo Noticias network questioned their “suitability for a head of state”. For a President so often accused of wearing flamboyant designer outfits, one might not think much of her choice to wear the item in question – the “clothing of young women” – but for the media, it was a clear violation of Argentine protocol. The Nacion even managed to criticise both her informality and more common lavish style, by highlighting the inappropriateness of her choice whilst singling out her “costly necklace”.
As President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner opened a new series of public works in the Buenos Aires district of Ezeiza, she was as ever, dressed head to toe in black. A tribute to her late husband and former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, the President has rarely been seen out of mourning clothes, a move the most cynical call an emotion-tugging ploy. On this occasion though, the breaking news was not her black dress or new job-creating project, but rather Kirchner’s choice to wear leggings.
Kirchner’s relationship with the media is uneasy at best. Her immediate reaction to the press’s response was critical. Over the next twenty-four hours her twitter-feed was filled with outraged comments raging from “Could some tights cause so much trouble?” to “As you’ll see, on top of lying and hiding, now they have added foolishness”. Kirchner has long-accused the media of anti-Personist bias and, for her, their inability to even mention the reason for her attendance at the Ezeiza ceremony is only further proof of this.
Earlier this year, protests erupted in Buenos Aires, a well-know anti-Kirchner area, in protest to both her handling of the economy and increasingly weakened democratic credentials. The latter criticism was reference to her attempts to crack-down on Grupo Clarín’s apparent “colonisation” of the broadcast media landscape, of which the conglomerate owns around 80%.
Like many established media outlets in Latin America, there is a distinct right-wing bias which has irritated the decade-long spurt of leftist leaders. Hugo Chavez demanded the closure of up to 30 radio stations in Venezuela whilst Ecuador’s Rafael Correa has overseen the arrest of journalists for ‘libellous’ portrayal of the President, which has been illegalised since he came into power.
Kirchner’s approach has been slightly more pragmatic; rather than shutting down those who merely criticize her, she plans to minimise their voice rather than silence it altogether. In a law introduced in 2009 she planned to limit ownership of the internal media market to 35%; a clear shot at Grupo Clarín. Various injunctions – particularly one claiming it would hinder “freedom of speech” – have prevented it being implemented, but a Supreme Court ruling (expected to be made in October) will settle the issue once and for all.
Both sides quite rightly have axes to grind. For Kirchner, a President who is being increasingly challenged by a dilapidating economy and shrinking base, constant character assassination by a huge portion of the press does little for her position, particularly when it gets personal. More often than not, it appears that the press wants little more than to see her toppled than commit to genuine standards of journalism, a point Info News rightly makes.
On the other hand, her laws may be seen as ‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’; an attempt to settle scores rather than establish non-bias media regulation. It was only after Clarín’s 2008 decision to back farmers in a dispute between Kirchner and the country’s vast agricultural lobby that the administration went forward with the review. By punishing papers for the way they report the news, crying “freedom of speech” violation might well be valid in this case, a point Clarín’s head Héctor Magnetto stated earlier this year: “There’s no freedom of expression without an independent press.”
Argentine media has been safe from interference since the rise of democracy in the late-1980s, but recent events do present an undemocratic threat to a country once renowned for its press freedom. The court ruling will be a watershed moment, but it is likely that by attempting to soften her critics voices she will only create even more enemies in this very vocal sector.