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'Criminals' take starring role in TV news

Police waited for supposed motorcycle-riding thieves outside studios of a cable news channel

The media frenzy on crime has been pushing TV news programmes to interview self-described criminals on camera, in a move that appears to reach a new low in journalistic standards in a medium that was already known for its questionable reporting methods.
On Monday night, three alleged motorcycle-riding robbers were seized by police officers after they had appeared on TV programme Chiche en vivo, which airs on cable TV news channel C5N and had listed the crimes they had carried out and how they had committed them.
Police officers arrived to the news channel studios to apprehend the alleged criminals following their television debut. 
Producers tried to prevent the officers from taking the alleged criminals downtown, claiming that the men, who had described themselves as motorcycle-riding robbers on air were actually actors who had been paid 300 pesos each to appear on the show, police sources later told state-run news agency Télam.

The TV appearance by the alleged robbers came a day after news programme Periodismo Para Todos (PPT) hosted by Jorge Lanata showed two alleged hitmen from Rosario, with their faces blurred, who boasted about their crimes and the ease of getting “work” in the country.

PPT producer Ricardo Ravanelli yesterday told the Herald that the alleged assassins-for-hire were not paid to appear on the show and that the news programme had contacted them through a local lawyer.

“I don’t like airing people with their faces blurred, but in this case we had no other choice,” he said.

The alleged criminals who appeared on C5N describing their stealing methods were arrested by the police outside the TV studios in Palermo around 10pm Monday, minutes after appearing on the show.

Producers working with TV host Samuel “Chiche” Gelblung tried to tell officers that these men had been paid to play “characters” during the show, Télam reported.

Last night, staff from the 31st Precinct told the Herald that the alleged criminals have already been released.

The Herald tried to speak to news channel C5N to obtain the channel’s version of events, but after requesting to talk to “Chiche en vivo” producers, company representatives hung up the phone.

Killing a lawyer

The interview between Lanata and alleged Rosario hitmen was aired on Sunday during the first show of the 2014 season of PPT, a high-impact show that includes humour and stand-up routines, and usually takes aim at the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration.

During the segment, one of them told the TV host and main Clarín’s star Jorge Lanata about the time he killed a lawyer.

“I shot him dead in the chest,” the interviewee claimed.

However, news portal Cosecha Roja claims the only time a lawyer was killed in Rosario in recent years was during a robbery attempt and not by a hired assassin.

In that sense, Mexican anthropologist Rossana Reguillo distrusts speculation on whether violence in Argentina is carried out by “sicarios” — that is, committed in the style of the infamous Colombian hired assassins.

“I’m against ideas such as ‘the Mexicanization of Argentina’ or the ‘Colombianization of Mexico.’ We need to fight this kind of language,” Reguillo said.

Ravanelli does not claim to know whether the alleged hitmen’s statements are true, but he defended his work in the segment aired by Channel 13.

“We worked in Rosario for a month and a half. The only ones who can get you in touch with the right people are their lawyers,” he said. “We did not pay them for their testimonies.”

Still, the producer still hasn’t found a good reason why these people would be talking about their crimes on camera.

It was particularly eyebrow raising that a supposedly hired assassin talked about the supposed softenss of the proposed Penal Code reform, boasting that it would help someone like him get out of prison quickly.

The reform, which was led by Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni and other jurists from across different parties, faces strong criticism from opposition leader Sergio Massa and some media outlets, including the Clarín Group, which airs PPT on its broadcast channel.

“I don’t know what he would gain by saying this,” Ravanelli said.

At odds with ethics

Putting self-described criminals on air is hardly illegal, but the move is clearly at odds with journalism ethics, media expert Mariana Baranchuk told the Herald.

“If news programmes incorporate elements of fiction, even if they pursue a political objective, they do not violate the Media Law — but of course these practices are opposed to journalism ethics and standards,” Baranchuk added.

According to the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) scholar, the phenomenon has intensified in recent years following the “hyper-commercialization of news” and the will to push ethical frontiers “simply to attract a larger audience.”

C5N is owned by gambling mogul Cristóbal López, who bought the media outlet — the second most viewed news channel in the country after Clarín’s Todo Noticias (TN) — from businessman Daniel Hadad in 2012. The station combines some pro-government approaches with a fierce “law and order” promotion to fight crime.

Channel 13 and TN are owned by media giant Grupo Clarín, the country’s biggest conglomerate, which fell out with the Kirchnerite administration during the 2008 farming crisis and has showed staunch opposition to the national government.

Herald staff

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