Argentine press: cheerleaders

As the Anglo-Argentine conflict over the Falkland Islands staggers from week to week, the Argentine press is playing the twin role of observer and cheerleader.

Like almost everyone else here, the press solidly backs Argentina's seizure of the Falklands April 2. There are no exceptions. That support is evident, without reservation, on the editorial pages - and in the news columns as well.

Objectivity gets lost in the shuffle.

There is no criticism of the government. There is no questioning of the accuracy of military communiques - even when reasonable doubt surfaces not only about their accuracy, but also about their completeness.

Headlines proclaim Britain as ''intransigent'' and ''bellicose.'' Margaret Thatcher is depicted in headlines, stories, photographs, and sketches as a vicious woman, a new Hitler seeking to return the world to colonialism.

And if the newspapers here are generally one-sided in the conflict, radio and television are even more so. On radio, Mrs. Thatcher, who is generally called ''La Thatcher,'' is seen as ''vicious and criminal,'' as one broadcast Wednesday morning termed her actions.

How much impact all this emotional hype has on the Argentine people is hard to gauge. There is no doubt they support the takeover of the Falklands and believe that Argentina has sovereignty over the islands.

Britain is generally thought to have overreacted to the takeover since, in the Argentine view, the islands were stolen by Britain in 1833. The military, in seizing the Falklands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands, was merely straightening out a historical wrong.

That point is made and remade in the press here.

Not all Argentine editors and reporters, however, go along with the process by which Argentina retook the islands. Quite a few privately expressed grave reservations about the military seizure of the islands April 2.

But their newspapers do not.

Perhaps this is due in part to press control measures imposed by the military two weeks ago ''for reasons of national security.''

Newspaper editors were told to practice ''self-censorship so that press censorship and other restrictions aren't necessary.'' The government decree warned against publishing any news that could ''damage the morale of the population.''

In the two weeks since, the reporting of events in the South Atlantic and at the negotiation table appears consistant with this dictum. Newspaper reports read very much alike. Variations, however, do exist. La Nacion emphasizes the views of the Foreign Ministry, evidence of its closeness to that government agency. Conviccios, with ties to the Navy, is heavily oriented in that direction.

Only La Prensa, the conservative morning newspaper, with perhaps the longest tradition of independent journalism in Argentina, stands out for providing extensive coverage of the British view of the conflict. And it has been criticized for ''not being patriotic enough.''

British journalists on the scene are fewer in number here today than six weeks ago. Three of them languish in jail in Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego. The trio, Simon Winchester of the Sunday Times and Anthony Prime and Ian Mather of the Observer were arrested April 13. Subsequently, charges of espionage were filed against them.

Efforts by international press groups, their own newspapers, foreign governments, and foreign correspondents here to secure their release have so far been frustrated.

Other foreign newsmen have been harassed also. A Canadian broadcasting television crew was held for more than a week in the Comodoro Rivavavia; a Colombian photographer was briefly held there; other reporters have been detained or questioned by the police; and all foreign correspondents have been ordered out of Argentina's southland for the duration of the emergency.

As a result, developments in the South Atlantic, in and around the Falklands, are largely being covered by foreign newsmen living at the Buenos Aires Sheraton Hotel.

This week, however, things got a bit rough for three United States journalists. A television reporter was abducted Tuesday in midafternoon near the Argentine Foreign Ministry by unidentified gunmen who drove him around Buenos Aires for two hours, threatened to kill him, tried to obtain a $2,000 ransom, sat on his head, beat him, and then stripped him, leaving him naked on a street corner in the Belgrano district of the city.

His cameraman and sound man were intercepted in a taxi - then, after they were taken to the port district of Buenos Aires, they were left and their camera equipment stolen.

The TV reporter, Christopher Jones of New York City's Metromedia (Channel 5), said his abductors had a police radio in their car. There was wide speculation that the abductors were policemen, although that could not be confirmed.

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