Prostitution is legal in Argentina, but after today, sex workers will no longer be able to advertise their services in Argentina’s newspapers. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner claimed that the decision was a “giant step forward in the defense of women,” but many expressed skepticism about this motive, given that many of Argentina’s prostitutes are male or transvestites. The consensus seems to be that Kirchner is attacking Grupo Clarín SA, a media conglomerate which runs Argentina’s largest newspaper, as well as a television station. The paper, Clarín, publishes about 200 sex ads daily. The ban seems to be limited to print publications, not newspapers’ websites.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Kirchner and her late husband, Nestor, who was also her predecessor as president, have been at odds with Clarín since 2008, when the media group sided with farmers in a dispute that forced the president to go back on a planned increase in agricultural taxes. Before the falling out, Clarín had been a strong supporter of the presidency, but afterward, they began to run articles about corruption within the administration. Kirchner retaliated with media legislation that could hurt Clarín.
In her explanation of why it was necessary to ban the ads, Kirchner alleged that the advertisements encouraged human trafficking. In the ads, she said, “there is the sexual bidding that leaves fat profits for the journalistic businesses that do this type of thing.” Last year, one of her cabinet ministers wrote a blistering blog post, accusing the newspaper of hypocrisy. The practice of publishing columns which criticized sex trafficking, while benefiting from the proceeds of human trafficking through the classifieds, amounted to “double morals.”
Analysts seemed more skeptical about Clarín’s reliance on advertising for sex. ”It’s not something that’s very important as a percentage of advertising,” explained a stock analyst in Buenos Aires.
If that estimation is true, the people who really stand to be hurt are the prostitutes themselves. The Argentine Association of Prostitutes spoke out against the decision, saying that it was likely to do more harm than good. Most of the ads, they alleged, represented “legitimate work such as ours.”
Other advocates decried the ban as an infringement on free speech. Andrés D’Alessandro, executive director of the Argentine Journalism Forum, said that questions would certainly be raised about the decree’s constitutionality. He explained that his organization had been working for some time to convince newspapers to eliminate the ads voluntarily, but that a presidential decree was an unproductive way to accomplish this goal.
In the end, it seems likely that the decree will backfire against Kirchner. Although she attempted to bill the ban as a victory for women’s rights, it seems apparent that far from helping prostitutes, all the ban accomplishes is another strike in the war against Clarín. If Kirchner, who is running for reelection in the fall, is trying to avoid bad publicity, this seems like the worst way to go about it.
Photo from Vincent Bugge via Wikimedia Commons.