Although Argentina was under a military dictatorship in 1982, the country's media was not entirely directed from above. The regime was authoritarian, not totalitarian.
Whatever censorship was happening behind the scenes, explicit action by the government against the privately owned media was limited. In any case, the Argentine media, like the public, largely supported the invasion of the Falklands, and self-censorship may have been just as important as formal official controls in determining reporting.
However, in early June – as the war entered its final 10 days – President Leopoldo Galtieri signed a decree ordering the temporary closure of a national news agency and a provincial newspaper.
No official explanation was provided as to what had prompted the move.
Galtieri's decree merely said the two outlets had "violated the guideline on the dissemination of information on the development of military operations in the South Atlantic".
The British explanation for Galtieri's decree
Radio Atlantico del Sur regularly broadcast lists of captured Argentine soldiers. It was an excellent way of attracting the attention of the target audience, and then encouraging the idea that allowing themselves to be taken prisoner by the British might be a good idea.
A Ministry of Defence document written shortly after the end of the war said, in a list of the "effects caused" by its radio station:
On 1 June 1982 Noticias Argentinas, the Argentine press agency, mentioned RAdS and in particular the list of Argentine wounded and captured given out nightly. At this time this was the only source of this information available to Argentinians. As a result Noticias Argentinas was closed down by the junta for 72 hours.I believe that 1 June was the date this particular list of the captured was broadcast by RAdS, with Noticias Argentinas (NA) filing its report of the list the following day. (RAdS's evening broadcasts went out at 2000 to 2300 Argentine time.)
NA's naughty dispatch
The Argentine newspaper Córdoba, published in the provincial city of the same name, printed the Noticias Argentinas dispatch which – according to the MoD – got the news agency into trouble.
The clipping below of the Córdoba story is reproduced by Alejo Miguel Díaz in his 2016 thesis on the South Atlantic conflict.
|Credit: Alejo Miguel Díaz|
The clipping is from the 3 June edition of Córdoba, suggesting that the NA dispatch was indeed filed too late to make it into the 2 June edition of the paper.
Córdoba's report is headlined "Presumed prisoners", datelined Bahía Blanca (on the coast south of Buenos Aires) and starts:
Bahía Blanca (NA) – Radio Atlantico del Sur, a station heard here which transmits from the Ascension Island base, announced last night the list of presumed Argentine soldiers who are prisoners of British troops after the attacks on Goose Green and Port Darwin in the Malvinas.
The station, which transmits on shortwave, said the following soldiers were prisoners and in good condition:It then lists 34 names, in most cases with their military numbers.
Noticias Argentinas and El Patagónico closed temporarily
Three days after the probable date of the Noticias Argentinas dispatch, the agency was closed by Galtieri's decree for a 72-hour period, 5-7 June.
Also closed for the same period was the newspaper El Patagónico, published in Comodoro Rivadavia, the site of a key air force base in southern Argentina.
|Comodoro Rivadavia air base was used in Argentine operations|
Why were Noticias Argentinas and El Patagónico closed?
There is the British MoD's apparently straightforward explanation: NA had published Radio Atlantico del Sur's list of Argentine POWs.
But there are other suggestions.
At the time (6 June 1982), The New York Times reported an editor at El Patagónico as saying: "There are guesses. It might have been some photographs or maybe a cable from June 1 that we published on June 2 saying that the air shuttle and movement of war material between Comodoro Rivadavia and the Malvinas was functioning perfectly well.''
The NYT cited the English-language Buenos Aires Herald as reporting an editor at NA, Raul Garcia, as saying that the closure was a discriminatory move as ''other media carried the reports which seemed to have prompted this with even more details''.
Unfortunately, nothing more was said about what those reports might have been.
A 2015 study of the press in Comodoro Rivadavia during the war, by María Laura Olivares of the Universidad Nacional de Rosario, says El Patagónico and Noticias Argentinas were suspended over their reporting of the possibility that British Vulcan bombers had been stationed in Brazil.
Such a report was just the type of story that the British – through the MoD's Special Projects Group (SPG) – might have spread as an unavowable rumour.
If such a rumour had gone on to be repeated by a media outlet, perhaps in Chile, Radio Atlantico del Sur might have aired it. (The Chilean media was a fruitful source for RAdS of negative reporting about Argentina's military position.)
Finally, the book The Falklands War, published by Britain's Sunday Times shortly after the war, says the temporary closure of Noticias Argentinas came after it "published a story alleging that supplies to the troops on the islands were less than adequate".
Noticias Argentinas recalls its closure
The news agency itself appears to be unable resolve the mystery.
An article – headlined "The day that Noticias Argentinas had to go underground" – written in 2010 by Fernando Aguinaga and still on NA's website, recalls the agency's "unjust and incomprehensible" closure by the Federal Police in June 1982.
Aguinaga makes no mention of Radio Atlantico del Sur and says the reasons for the closure "remain hidden".
He suggests theories about NA giving the weather forecast for the South Atlantic or filing a dispatch about British military equipment.
Aguinaga says that, during NA's temporary closure, it "went underground" and continued to distribute its output by hand from a secret location in the Buenos Aires district of Avellaneda.
Perhaps only the discovery of documentary evidence in Argentine archives would finally settle the question of exactly what prompted Galtieri to issue his decree.
The British MoD's explanation may yet prove to be correct.
Another possibility is that it was not one single incident that triggered the move but a steady drip of reporting by Noticias Argentinas that was irritating the authorities.
Other Argentine news agencies
In 1982, Argentina's TV, radio and press were served by no fewer than four national news agencies:
- Télam - government run
- Noticias Argentinas (NA) - run by a group of private news outlets
- Diarios y Noticias (DyN) - another privately owned service, which had only been launched the month before the invasion
- Saporiti (ANS) - originally a private firm, by 1982 it had fallen under the control of the state intelligence service SIDE
One day I'll write a blog post about that particular work. I wrote about another aspect of my work during the war in my post The Incident at Crowsley Park on the Night of 20-21 May 1982.
© 2018. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.