Milei government closes Argentina’s state news agency Télam, reporters say it’s “an attack on democracy”  

By March 6, 2024

Buenos Aires, Argentina — Argentina’s government on Monday closed Télam, the country’s public news agency that has been operating since 1945 and is the second-largest Spanish-language news agency in the world after Spain’s EFE. President Javier Milei had previously called Télam a “propaganda agency” but journalists who work there said the move is an “attack on democracy and freedom of speech.”

Last Friday, in his first address to Congress, President Milei said, “We’ll close [Télam] because it has been used in the last decades as a Kirchnerist propaganda agency.” That night, the agency reported about its impending closure. Télam is one of many government agencies that hit the chopping block under Milei’s — a self-described anarcho capitalist — shock economic reforms. 

Read more: Nationwide shutdown in Argentina to protest President Javier Milei’s economic reforms 

On Monday, journalists heading to work found that police had fenced the entrance to the agency’s building in downtown Buenos Aires and weren’t letting in workers. They also reportedly received an email announcing a seven-day, paid suspension for all 760 journalists and agency workers, who protested, saying that the decision implies an “attack on democracy and freedom of speech.”

After giving a “a hug of solidarity” to the building they could no longer enter, Télam journalists decided to camp out in front of the fence to watch for any attempts from government officials to enter the newsroom. 

“Archives here belong to all Argentine people. We must defend them,” Télam union representative Tomás Eliaschev told Argentina Reports from the door of the newsroom building. 

Eliaschev said there are no negotiation channels open between the workers and the government. “We invite the society to know what Télam is and why it matters in terms of public information rights,” he said.

Almost instantly following the agency’s shuttering, a backlash from journalists and academics flooded social media.

Candela Ini, a politics reporter from news outlet La Nación, posted on X, “Télam does have a reason to exist. Its closure, without giving a serious and responsible discussion regarding how it should work, is an attack on freedom of expression.”

Academic and professor at University of Buenos Aires Martín Becerra argued that without Télam, news production from far-flung parts of Argentina would be almost non-existent. “The majority of Agencia Télam’s clients are private media outlets from all over the country. Télam correspondents, deployed in all Argentine provinces, are a critical information resource in a context of ‘media desertification,’” the scholar wrote on X.  

“We are going to defend Télam because it is not only about our jobs. Democracy is guaranteed in Télam,” said Carla Gaudensi, General Secretary of The Argentina Federation of Press Workers (FATPREN) and a radio journalist with Télam.

The Journalism Forum of Argentina (FOPEA) said regarding the shutdown, “in a context of growing misinformation, public media can and must play a decisive role in building more critical and better-educated audiences, with inclusion and balance of voices.”

Télam’s uncertain future 

Télam’s existence as a state-owned company is now uncertain. After taking office, President Milei announced a sweeping economic reform decree that included drastic cuts to nearly all government agencies. Many state-owned companies must either be closed or sold to the private sector.

“There is a reorganization plan developing for the agency,” Manuel Adorni, a spokesman for the president’s office, said on Monday referring to Télam. He said a plan from the government should be delivered in the coming days. According to Adorni, the new administration discovered that Télam has a budget shortfall of 20 billion Argentine pesos (USD $18 million). 

Latin America Reports contacted Javier Lanari, communications undersecretary in the president’s office for more details on the plan for Télam. Lanari responded that Chief of Staff legal advisors are in charge of any further agency restructuring.

Sabino Cabrera, a Télam journalist and a delegate with SIPREBA, a journalists union in Buenos Aires, told Argentina Reports that Télam’s closure is illegal. “SIPREBA reported to the court that the government decree is unconstitutional because it’d have to pass through Congress before actually being able to close the agency. The attempt to intervene in the agency then becomes illegal,” he said. 

Despite its costs, Télam’s work and archive is vital to the press ecosystem in Argentina. The agency counts hundreds of reporters all over the country, and customers from large media outlets such as Clarín, La Nación and Infobae, to small local radio stations, all use photos and newswires from the agency at a very low cost.