The layoffs of 354 workers from state news agency Télam continue to generate controversy between the government and opposition. The latest episodes concerning the matter took place yesterday, when a judge dismissed an injunction presented by a prosecutor, Gabriel De Vedia, who had requested the workers be reinstated to their jobs until a case concerning the potential illegality of the layoffs be solved; later in the day, the head of the Federal System of Public Media, Hernán Lombardi, went to Congress to answer questions from the members of the Lower House’s Commission of Legislation and Labor regarding the decision.
Concerning the first event, De Vedia argued that the two requirements needed to uphold it – verisimilitude in the right allegedly harmed and danger in the delay [of a decision] – are fulfilled in this case: with respect to the first one, he indicated that there is enough evidence to believe workers were let go because of their political ideology or belonging to a union and implementing measures of force. To support his claims, the prosecutor made reference to different public statements made by Lombardi that convey that message and therefore harm the fundamental right a person has to not be discriminated against.
In fact, the press release published by Télam’s board at the time of justifying the decision in June argued 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 tarnish the agency with corruption allegations.”
Moreover, the release 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.
As for the second, he indicated that workers could suffer irreparable damage if they had to wait for a judge to make a definitive decision, taking into account that this could take years and they can’t be out of a job, waiting for an answer, for so long. However, Judge Santiago Zarza rejected the preliminary measure, arguing that upholding it could anticipate the solution of the conflict, and that is something that has to be ruled over in the final sentence.
Hours later, Lombardi went to Congress to answer questions from deputies – particularly from the opposition – who, same as the workers and the prosecutor, accused him of having conducted an ideological and union-related persecution in the agency.
Lombardi began by reading a document in which he held that the main reason behind the decision answers to an intention of making the agency more productive and professional. “The high levels of absenteeism, the amount of unjustified days employees took off, the unjustified bonuses given, and the extremely low productivity compared to any other international agency are unacceptable. This mismanagement dented the most important aspect of a news agency: its credibility, something that can be illustrated by the loss of subscribers,” he said.
He also repeated the arguments from the previously mentioned press release, saying that during the Kirchner administration the agency abused state resources, something that was “a scam to both taxpayers and the employees themselves, who are now suffering the consequences.” However, Lombardi failed to answer why the dismissal notices employees received did not detail the particular reasons for the decision.
Different deputies members of opposition parties questioned the layoffs, following the same line of thought as Prosecutor De Vedia: “You want to destroy this agency because, at the end of the day, you seek to suppress pluralism. Your political project needs for there to be only one voice,” claimed Frente Para la Victoria (FpV) Deputy Leopoldo Moreau.
Moreover, Frente Renovador Deputy Facundo Moyano conceded that during the Kirchner administration members of the opposition – of which he was also a part of – had no room in Télam, but indicated that fact could not be used as justification to “run over the workers’ dignity” and compelled the government to “own its decisions.”
“If you have so many arguments to fire workers, why didn’t you do it with cause?” he asked, making reference to the question Lombardi left unanswered.
The decision to fire the Télam workers is 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.”