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Journalists in Tartagal, Salta, under threat

(FOPEA/IFEX) - FOPEA demands that the press be allowed to carry out their work in the midst of the conflictive situation generated by the dismissal of Sergio Leavy, the intendant (head of the local government) in Tartagal, Salta province.

On 21 October 2009, while Leavy's dismissal was being deliberated, Video Tar television station journalists Mabel Carrizo and Julio Marín were threatened and a group of protestors attempted to assault them. Since that time, the television station's building has been under police protection since a rumour had circulated to the effect that Leavy had said that, if he was dismissed, he was going to "destroy Tartagal," and, above all, the media that had been against him. On the morning of 22 October, Video Tar manager and owner Mario Andreani told his employees not to go out to cover stories.

Also on 22 October, Leavy supporters threatened and hurled insults at Todos Noticias (TN) television station employee Marcos Barroca while he was covering a demonstration in front of the municipality's office building. The actions against Barroca took place after Leavy allegedly said, "This is for you, it's for you, it's your fault that they got rid of me." The police intervened to stop anything more serious from happening to Barroca and the TN employee said that Leavy himself apologised afterwards.

In subsequent communications with FOPEA, Leavy denied having said what he is alleged to have said to Barroca. He went on to note that not all the demonstrators are from his political group and that he himself is subjected to "pressure". He also complained about the coverage provided by local and national media, saying, "They twist things around . . . The media basically put me up against a wall and shot me. And I had no opportunity to defend myself. How do I reverse this? Yesterday, five million people saw me as a thief."

On the morning of 23 October, Video Tar journalist Marín, as well as camera operator Aníbal Arias, and Rafael Bruno, of FM del Sol radio station and Canal 2 television station, were subjected to insults and had eggs thrown at them. The journalists were covering an incident involving councilor Walter Salvatierra, who had voted against Leavy and was being reprimanded by the former intendant's supporters. Bruno told FOPEA that protestors threw eggs at him outside the municipal building and tried to seize his camera.

Demonstrators also issued threats against Carrizo and tried to throw eggs at Bruno Leguizamón, an FM Contacto radio station employee.

The media personnel said that two municipal officials, Roberto Pardo, from the Municipal Coordination Office, and "Pepe" Molina, Leavy's personal secretary, were responsible for stirring up the crowd and that Leavy did nothing to try to stop them.

FOPEA calls on the local, provincial and national authorities to implement measures to ensure that nothing more serious happens to the media personnel in Tartagal. It also urges organisations and political groups in Tartagal to show respect for journalists and allow them to carry out their work.

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