The roll-call features people with cancer, others who are insulin-dependent and those who suffered recent heart attacks. Mothers with small children, workers with 30 years of loyalty to the company. All great professionals. This week Telam, Argentina's national news agency that was created in 1945, dismissed 354 employees, almost 40 percent of its total personnel. Behind each dismissal there is a human story and a story of commitment to journalism that has now been severed.
Guarantor Of Fair And Accurate News
State media exist everywhere and serve to guarantee the sovereignty of a country's news coverage and that its regions receive proportionate airtime. Just as the BBC encourages production in the different regions of the United Kingdom so that the news does not focus solely on London, in the same way Telam, the news agency with the largest number of correspondents all over Argentina, guarantees media coverage of events outside Buenos Aires and the dissemination of what happens in the capital city to the rest of the country. Local newspapers, community radio stations, independent television channels and universities nationwide depend on the news cables and that Télam produces, as does the mainstream media.
State media are also a beacon for the private sector, which obliges them to uphold high journalistic standards and to ensure diversity of social and political voices expressed. In this age of fake news, it is a guarantee of true and fair information.
The State As The IMF's Puppet
The Argentine government has just signed a new loan deal with the IMF, which in return demands that the state imposes harsh austerity and a reduction in the fiscal deficit. The cuts are always made to whom they assume are the weakest link: the workers. While the government continues to favour financial speculators and economic oligopolies, President Mauricio Macri has decided to dismiss scientists, technicians and now also journalists working in different public sector bodies.
To justify the redundancies, Telam's board argued that in recent years there was a "bloated hiring." This is false, because although the number of employees did grow, responsibilities expanded due to the need to keep up with technological demands: in addition to maintaining and reinforcing the traditional news wire and photography services, the agency added a website, an audiovisual sector, radio and social media departments and an infographic team.
Discrediting Its Own Workforce
In an attempt to discredit its workforce, the board explained also that the dismissed workers "had no training or experience." This is also false. I will use my own case to refute that fallacy: I have a degree in Communication Sciences from the University of Buenos Aires, and I worked for ten years in private media before joining Télam. In recent years I was a correspondent in London, I trained in the use of new technologies and big data in Google and Facebook. I undertook distance and in-person courses on journalism in Mexico and Russia, and nine months ago I won an award from the Food and Agriculture Organization (a UN agency) for an article on food waste.
The most important press trade union in Buenos Aires (SiPreBA) demands the immediate reinstatement of each and every one of the workers. Condemnation of the agency's asset stripping was also made by human rights organizations, the political opposition, social associations, intellectuals, artists and other important names in Argentina.
However, all this show of solidarity is met with silence on the other side. Telam's president, vice president and managers have gone AWOL and refuse to show their faces in the newsroom to talk to us. So do editing directors. The Media and Public Information Minister Hernan Lombardi, on whom Telam depends, will not meet workers for negotiation, and has no political authority.
Kept In The Dark
No list of those who are fired has been circulated and still today, some 48 hours after the first redundancy notices were issued, some colleagues do not know what their employment status is. The only official communication received from our employer is an email sent from the Human Resources department congratulating, with much cynicism, those who will be part of "the new Telam."
In this context, in the absence of dialogue or answers from Telam management, the agency's employees decided to start an indefinite strike that has paralyzed the information service. The employees also voted to commence a peaceful occupation of the agency's two buildings: one where the newsroom is situated and the one that regulates government information campaigns that are shared with the public. The latter has effectively been closed down by a government decree. To replace it we face a dangerous situation whereby the government has decided to scrap that function and gift it to private advertising agencies for free.
Journalism Has Lost
"Today journalism has won," Lombardi posted on his Facebook page, a further sign that social media has become the government's preferred forum for political announcements of all kinds and sensibilities. My reply to the minister: today, not only did journalism lose, but 354 people lost their jobs. Today they no longer have an income for their family. Today society has lost because it is increasingly informed through private media monopolies that have their own economic and political agenda to further when it comes to choosing what to say, how to say it and what to keep quiet.