Employees from the state news agency Télam are on strike and have take over the building where they work, after the government announced yesterday its decision to lay off 354 employees, 38 percent of the total staff, which yesterday amounted to 926 workers. They will hold an assembly today at noon to determine what steps to take next.
The news broke yesterday, when about 100 employees received their notices. In a release titled “Télam tiene futuro” (Télam has a future), the agency’s board justified its decision with political and economic arguments. It commented that during the Kirchner administrations, the staff grew in a disproportionate manner and with one single goal: “To turn the agency into a propaganda machine, confusing journalistic labor with political campaigns, and tarnishing the agency with corruption allegations,” according to the release.
Moreover, it targeted the actions of union members working in the company, indicating that “their opposition was illustrated by 44 delegates, who conducted 61 measures of force in two and a half years.” “They built a complex web aimed at keeping the agency captive and to restrict the free work of the real journalists working [there]. They intended to appropriate the editorial decisions as if they were political currency,” it adds.
Addressing the economic issue, the board said that when taking office, they found “an agency that was in a delicate and complex situation.” “That’s why we sought out to make of Télam a reliable and respectable news agency by making it more frugal and efficient when using state resources,” the release reads.
Head of the Federal Media and Public Content System Hernán Lombardi echoed these arguments in a Facebook post, saying the former administrations “despised and destroyed the agency’s journalistic labor.”
In contrast, Télam workers rebuked the arguments in a release of their own: “With an extraordinary level of cynicism and perversion, Lombardi announced massive layoffs as good news, with a call to build a “new Télam,” after promoting a sort of ideological cleanse, getting rid of the workers he said joined the agency during the former administration. A discourse that is unsustainable and false. People from all ideologies and seniority have been fired,” the release reads.
These layoffs are part of a broader plan by the state aimed at reducing its media budget. Treasury and Finance Minister Nicolás Dujovne said the government intends to slash it by half, from AR $12 billion this year to AR $6 billion in 2019. For example, they also announced that TV Pública station employees will not be given a raise this year, indicating their “salaries were 25 percent above the market price.”