By Robert Cox

When a society's institutions begin to crack up, what holds a country together? This paper argues that in the case of Argentina, where ruthless and powerful terrorist groups, backed by a mass movement of close to a million people (in a population of 26,000,000), came close to destroying the institutions of traditional Argentine society, it was the failure of the press that caused a tragedy of such magnitude. When the military seized power without opposition and with passive popular assent on March 24, 1976, only the press was in a position to provide checks and balances to excesses which were bound to be committed in the absence of normal constitutional controls. The will of the judiciary had been destroyed by the terrorists, and the politicians  have no voice because they had no credibility. If the Argentine press had been prepared to do its minimum duty by keeping the public informed, other voices would have been heard and the worst excesses checked. Instead, the Argentine press submitted
to self-censorship, which the author believes is the worst form of censorship, and became an accomplice in the "disappearance" of thousands of people whose abduction by the security forces went largely unreported in Argentina. The paper sets the scene in a broad historical framework which reveals the trials and tribulations of the Argentine press over the years, and argues that the press could, and should, have done better.