In Argentina, Falklands fantasy vies with fact

Amid the claims and counterclaims surrounding naval and air action in the South Atlantic, there are indications that Argentina is living in a state of national self-deception.

The military government here seems to have created a fantasy world in which the good guys, the Argentines, score victory after victory against the bad guys, the British.

Virtually the only information about the escalating warfare over and around the Falkland Islands reaching the Argentine public now comes from the government. Newspapers, radio, and television here have been warned to employ self-censorship.

The result is an orchestrated story that is radically different from reports out of London - but in line with most Argentines' public support of the junta's seizure of the islands. If the British are counting on the junta being pressured into surrender or brought down by public criticism, there is no sign of that occurring. The public is too well insulated from any reports of military failure.

A Gallup opinion poll issued this weekend showed that 90 percent of the public supports the government's seizure and defense of the Falkland Islands. Moreover, the poll shows that only 4 percent of the Argentine public would favor withdrawal of Argentine troops and lowering of the Argentine flag.

The military junta here issued 10 communiques Saturday, each claiming Argentine success in a series of incidents with the British. The statements painted a picture of almost total victory:

Item. The airport runway at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, which British Vulcan bombers and Harrier attack jets hit with 1,000 pound bombs, was said by one communique to be totally undamaged and ''completely serviceable.''

Item. The Harriers off the aircraft carrier Hermes were said to have suffered major losses - at least five shot down, several others limping so badly they probably didn't get back to the carrier. Moreover, two British ships, including the aircraft carrier Hermes, were said to be so severely damaged that they would have to withdraw from action.

The British account of the engagements is diametrically different.

''It almost seems we are writing about two different wars,'' comments a columnist for one of Argentina's major newspapers. ''If you read the communiques coming from the military, you get the view that the British have been repulsed. But London did not agree, and says, to the contrary, that it has scored a significant triumph.''

The junta and press here did not report British Rear Admiral John ''Sandy'' Woodward's comment that ''we've shown our colors and it has been our day.'' Indeed, there is virtually nothing being reported here about British claims of victory.

The morning La Nacion's main headline Sunday was ''British attacks on the Malvinas were repulsed.'' La Prensa had a similar headline, with a subhead reading, ''(British) boats and helicopters were damaged and Harrier airplanes shot down.''

Radio and television crowed even more about the Argentine victories. One television announcer said, ''We have totally defeated the British and our nation stands gloriously tall in justifying victory.''

As if this were not enough, television announcers were proclaiming that massive antigovernment demonstrations have taken over London in protest against the Thatcher government's action in sending the British armada to the South Atlantic.

None of this corresponds with British reports and, privately, even Argentine government sources admit that there is some propaganda hype in the reporting of Saturday's battle between the British and Argentines over and around the Falklands.

Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, Argentina's President, seemed to admit in a televised nationwide broadcast at midnight Saturday that eventually there could be some reports of Argentine losses. His broadcast, unexplicably delayed for three hours, was seen here as a rambling call to arms to the Argentine nation. He did not claim outright victory in Saturday's battle, but did not admit any Argentine losses.

The Argentine high command said the indiscriminate British attacks May 1 had endangered the civilian population of the Falklands. (Sources in London said that most of the civilian population had long since left Port Stantley to take refuge in the countryside.)

Moreover, an Argentine Foreign Ministry spokesman noted Sunday that the battle over the Falklands was still raging - an indication that the British were still able to launch a strong attack on the Falklands despite the losses said to have been inflicted on them by Argentine forces Saturday.

Whether the Argentine government will change this pattern of reporting in the days ahead remains to be seen. It is obviously causing problems for the local press, particularly some of the more independent newspapers. In its Sunday edition, the conservative La Prensa admitted that two Argentine planes had been shot down in Saturday's battle. Such an admission did not appear in other Sunday papers.

The effort to gain access to fact and balance on the Falklands story troubles many reporters here.

A senior editor at one of the local news agencies admitted last week that it is becoming increasingly difficult to collect news. ''There is a great lack of accurate information,'' he reported.

But after a pause , he added: ''There is one source we find extremely useful.

''It is the world service of the BBC.''

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