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Government officials blame the press for a massacre



(Periodistas), Buenos Aires




(Periodistas/IFEX) - On Thursday 16 September 1999, at 8:10 a.m. (local
time), three individuals broke into the Banco Nacion subsidiary in the city
of Ramallo, Buenos Aires province, and took six people hostage. A few
minutes later, the provincial police and other special security forces
surrounded the bank. After approximately fifteen hours of negotiations,
three hostages were released. On Friday 17 September, at 4:10 p.m. (local
time), the assailants decided to escape in a vehicle, using the hostages as
human shields. For reasons still unclear, the police fired at the vehicle,
killing two of the hostages and one of the criminals.

The whole incident lasted about twenty hours and throughout that time
thousands followed what was happening minute by minute from news broadcast
constantly on radio and television. A number of journalists from different
media were able to communicate with the assailants and the hostages and
speak to them over the telephone.

Some hours after the shootings, three government officials told a number of
media that they blamed the media for the tragic outcome. The provincial
governor and presidential candidate for the Justicialista political party
(PJ), Eduardo Duhalde, told channel CVN that negotiations may have been
negatively affected by the assailants' constant communication with radio and
television reporters. Minister of the Interior Carlos Corach was even more
direct in his criticism of the press. "As we expect that security forces
will act in a professional manner, we should also look at the role played by
social sectors, like reporters, in this incident," he stated and later
added, "the press should examine its actions." Similarly, Secretary of
Security Miguel Angel Toma told a TV station: "At one point, I was
frightened. When I heard the assailants speaking on television and on the
radio, I was overcome by the sad sensation that the hostages' fate was being
put in the hands of god."

In a press release, PERIODISTAS discounted the officials' statements,
"because they are clearly trying to confuse public opinion and equate the
journalists' actions with the police forces' failure to respond
appropriately." "What is clear from the Ramallo incident is the police's
ineptitude and inability to subdue three criminals or at least to save the
hostages' lives. The national government has been in power for ten years and
the provincial one for eight years, as have the officials in charge of
security, like Minister Corach and Secretary Toma," PERIODISTAS noted,
adding that "the press should carry out its duties according to the limits
set by law."



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