New York, October 4, 2001—In a major step backward for press freedom in Argentina, the Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court ruling against the weekly newsmagazine NOTICIAS.
According to the judgment, NOTICIAS violated former president Carlos Saúl Menem's right to privacy by reporting on his extramarital relationship with Martha Meza, a former schoolteacher who is currently a parliamentary deputy.
In 1996, Menem sued NOTICIAS for invasion of privacy over a 1995 NOTICIAS article about his relationship with Meza.
NOTICIAS reported that the relationship began in the early 1980s during Argentina's military dictatorship. The future president was jailed in Formosa Province at the time.
NOTICIAS also reported that Menem was the father of Meza's illegitimate son, who was born in 1981. Menem gave various gifts to Meza and facilitated her entry into politics, according to the magazine's national politics editor, Darío Gallo.
By 1995, Meza had become a provincial parliamentary deputy for Menem's Justicialist Party. She currently serves as a Justicialist Party deputy in the federal parliament.
Menem lost the case, but an appeals court overturned the ruling in 1998. On September 25, five of nine Supreme Court justices voted to uphold the 1998 verdict against NOTICIAS, with four abstentions.
The Supreme Court's September 25 ruling also upheld an appellate court order requiring NOTICIAS to publish the judgment. However, the Supreme Court lowered Menem's damages award from 150,000 pesos (US$150,000) to 60,000 pesos (US$60,000).
Neither Menem nor the judges have ever questioned the accuracy of the magazine's reporting.
"We are appalled by the Argentine Supreme Court's ruling," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. "It is, quite simply, absurd to suggest that NOTICIAS invaded Menem's privacy by reporting on allegations that he used the powers of his office to advance his mistress's political career."
During his decade in office, Menem used a flurry of lawsuits in an attempt to stifle the vibrant Argentine press. The Supreme Court is still stacked with his supporters, according to CPJ sources in Argentina.