Argentina’s Milei ushers in atrocity denialism, trolling and attacks on the media

After far-right economist Javier Milei won Argentina’s presidency on Sunday night, it didn’t take him long to set his sights on the media.

“Public television has become a propaganda mechanism,” he told journalist Eduardo Feinmann of Radio Mitre in his first interview on Monday morning. “[…] I don’t believe in those practices of having a covert propaganda ministry. It must be privatised.”

Milei won Sunday’s presidential run-off election with 56% of the vote. His opponent Sergio Massa, economy minister and candidate for the ruling centre-left Union for the Homeland coalition, got 44%. Massa’s defeat came as Argentina suffers through a drawn-out economic crisis: inflation is running at 143% and just over 40% of the population are living in poverty. Neither the current ruling alliance nor the right-wing administration that preceded it have been able to turn things around.

In this context, the libertarian’s victory is a shocking rejection of politics as usual – but his election has been hotly controversial in Argentina. Milei is an outsider whose brash, abrasive populism has drawn comparisons with far-right former presidents Donald Trump in the USA and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. He enjoyed a vertiginous rise to the limelight as an eccentric TV pundit espousing ultra-libertarian views, and had never held elected office until he was voted in as a deputy in 2021. As president, he promises to dollarize Argentina’s economy, liberalise gun controls, privatise healthcare and hold a referendum on abortion, which was legalised in 2020.

As he surged to the forefront of national politics, Milei shouted at reporters, refused to do interviews with critical outlets and accused the media of lying. Online, his supporters insulted and harassed journalists, activists, women, LGBTQAI+ people and anyone else who spoke against their leader.

Now, faced with four years of a Milei presidency, onlookers worry his coalition will move to silence critical media, intimidate dissenting voices and embolden elements of the extreme right who deny the atrocities committed by Argentina’s last civic-military dictatorship.

Lucas “Fauno” Gutiérrez, a queer, HIV-positive activist and journalist, is already receiving thousands of hate messages from hordes of pro-Milei trolls on his social media, and fears the situation will worsen when he takes office. “Once they’ve installed that hate speech, we communicators think twice before saying many things,” he said. “You don’t always have the emotional momentum to deal with 700 messages attacking, insulting and threatening you.”

Some of the most disturbing threats involve Argentina’s last dictatorship. Under the military junta that ruled the country from 1976-1983, 30,000 people were disappeared, tortured and murdered, many of them thrown alive from aeroplanes into the River Plate in the “death flights”.

The scale of the violence and the difficulties reporting disappearances mean it’s impossible to reach an exact figure, but the number of victims is widely accepted by human rights groups in Argentina. However, Milei’s vice president-elect, Victoria Villarruel, campaigns on narratives that seek to play down and exonerate atrocities committed by the security forces. She has repeated the denialist claim that the true number of victims is far lower, a statement Milei echoed during a televised presidential debate. A lawyer by training, she has defended former members of the security forces accused of crimes against humanity. Before his death, she also visited former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla in jail.

In this context, some Milei supporters have taken to threatening those they disagree with by sending them photos of green Ford Falcons with no licence plates – the vehicle the dictatorship’s security forces used to abduct their victims.

“The green Ford Falcon means endorsing the disappearance, torture and extremely violent death of all those who opposed the dictatorship,” said Beatriz Busaniche, president of the human rights and technology foundation, Vía Libre. She described Milei and Villarruel’s denialism as “re-legitimising” discourse that was widely discredited in Argentine society.

“There’s been a retreat of public discourse,” she said. “The sphere of public debate has become so aggressive that many people have started to lock their accounts and leave social media.”

Despite his promises, it is not clear whether Milei would be able to privatise Argentina’s public media, because doing so would require changing the law that governs them, explained Agus Lecchi, secretary general of the SiPreBA journalists’ union, who works for Argentina’s Televisión Pública. That means it would have to pass through Argentina’s congress. Milei’s Freedom Advances coalition will not have a majority in either the deputies or the senate.

Nonetheless, Argentina’s public media have come under fire from hostile governments before: in 2018, right-wing President Mauricio Macri’s administration attempted to lay off 68 journalists at the state news agency, Télam, although all were reincorporated after a labour court found their dismissals to be illegal.

“TV Pública plays a fundamental role for Argentine democracy, not just with regard to pluralist information, but also in terms of coverage of situations across the country,” Lecchi said. “In some corners of the country, TV Pública, National Radio or [state news agency] Télam are all they receive.”

While his comments on Monday took aim at Argentina’s state-owned media, Milei would also have tools in his arsenal to pressure private media. Many Argentine outlets, especially small local and independent media, rely largely on state advertising revenue to stay afloat. Politically-motivated allocation of this budget can exert pressure on the media.

Gutiérrez believes that major social media platforms like Meta and X (formerly Twitter) have a duty to stop hate speech, but worries that they often hold back because the floods of abuse he receives drive engagement. “My emotional life, my mental health and our freedom of expression can’t be subordinated to engagement,” he said.

In October, the government passed the “Olympia Law”, which recognises digital attacks such as doxxing, revenge porn and threats or harassment as a form of gender-based violence. If enforced, its proponents hope it would serve to dissuade some of the worst online attacks. However, Milei has already said that he plans to shut down Argentina’s Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity, along with most other government ministries.

A bill currently under discussion in Congress also aims to prevent people who deny the dictatorship’s crimes from holding public office, but with the change of government in less than three weeks, it’s unclear whether the bill will become law.

To Busaniche, faced with a president who many say represents antipolitics, the first line of defence could be politics itself. “Congress will oblige him to negotiate,” she said. “Unlike what many Milei voters might expect, the importance of politics will be central.”

Andrew Graham-Yooll on Argentina

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”107971″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Andrew Graham-Yooll served as editor for the Index on Censorship magazine from 1989-1993. He was then, and remained until his death in 2019, committed to free expression and the free press around the world. In honour of his memory, Index is featuring some of the highlights of his writing for the magazine about his home country Argentina. The pieces featured cover a broad range of topics and events primarily related Argentinian art and journalism, and showcase Graham-Yooll’s fierce integrity and characteristic humor.  [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”94869″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]Letter from Argentina

June 1973, vol. 2 issue: 2

“Censorship in Argentina is not a sin of the State, but a sickness of society”. Thus closes Andrew Graham-Yooll’s scathing indictment of censorship and self-censorship in the Argentinian press, in an environment where press controls are loosely organised but vicious.Graham-Yooll describes the routine torture and corruption in the criminal-justice system that the Argentinian press seems uninterested in, and expresses his opinion that, however damaging state censorship is, it is the fear and self-censorship it engenders in the press that is truly destorying Argentina’s soul. 

Read the full article[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”94773″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]The Argentinian press under Peron

March 1975, vol. 4 issue: 1

Andrew Graham-Yooll reflects on the record he kept of all the obstacles to press freedom and independence in Argentina during the early 1970s. He outlines, in broad strokes, the conflict between right- and left-wing branches of Peronism, and what the escalating conflict between the two–and the right wing’s eventual victory–meant for the operation of the Argentinian press. The press had faced restrictions and instability under Alejandro Augustin Lanusse and Hector Jose Campora that exploded into violence and direct government interference with print, radio, and television media under Raul Alberto Lastiri, Juan Peron himself, and his widow, Isabel Martinez de Peron.

Read the full article[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”94399″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]Arrests in Argentina

March 1979, vol. 8 issue: 2

Graham-Yooll takes a look into the fate of the nine workers at El Independiente, a left-of-center, nationalist local paper in the poor Argentinian province of La Rioja that “established itself on the wrong side of every provincial administration”.  After Juan Peron was restored to power in 1973, the paper faced increasing harassment and frequent suspensions, until by 1976, El Independiente was permanently and forcibly closed, with seven of the nine workers arrested under dubious charges, some of their families in exile or tortured, and the remaining two workers missing. The Argentinian Newspaper Publishers’ Association demanded their release, but at the time of the article’s writing they were all still imprisoned.

Read the full article[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”90901″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]Coming Home

January 1995, vol. 7 issue: 2

This article is not an obituary, but it deals with the death of a gay Argentianian novelist, Manuel Puig. Puig died of AIDS in Mexico, a fact that Graham-Yooll was surprised to see mentioned in coverage of the artist and his work. Argentina’s social climate tolerates homosexuality to a degree, Graham-Yooll says, but only unobstrusive or plausibly deniable homosexuality. The brutal targeted repression under the military junta of “putos, guerrilleros, y faloperos” (queers, guerillas and drug addicts) is still in living memory for many gay Argentinians, and though the coverage of Puig could be a positive sign, discussion of homosexuality and gay rights was still not part of mainstream news coverage or culture in Argentina at the time of the article’s writing.

Read the full article[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”90587″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]News From Patagonia

April 2004, vol. 33 issue: 2

In 2003, shortly before the article was written, Argentina’s Supreme Court struck down a law passed some twenty years earlier under the junta, which had made it illegal to provide broadcasting licences to community radio. The nominal grounds for that practice had been that it was easier to prevent the infiltration by the regime’s ideological enemies of commercial radio. However, before the law was struck down, its true raison d’etre had become the preservation of cronyism and political nepotism. Graham-Yooll uses the Supreme Court’s ruling as a chance to take stock of Argentina’s broadcasting landscape, with particular focus on the florshing of extra-legal, shoestring FM radio stations.

Read the full article[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”89187″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]The Pain and the Memory: The Legacy of Nunca Mas

February 2005, vol. 34 issue: 1

In 1984, Argentina’s National Commission on the Disappearance of Person released a report, Nunca Mas (Never Again), on the human rights abuses under the National Reorganisation Process between 1976 and 1983 that devastated many in the country. In this piece, written in 2012 Graham-Yooll discusses the abuses of the military and the many ways Argentina has attempted to grapple with the report, from the junta trials to a more recent photo exhibition of the atrocities. He shares a few of his own experiences from that time and describes how both dictatorship and report live on in Argentinian memory. 

Read the full article[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”89185″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]Our Father, Who Art in Art

May 2005, vol. 34 issue: 2

In 2004, right after the Argentinian branch of the Catholic Church received praise for opening up politically, Leon Ferrari opened up an exhibition in Buenos Aires reviewing the collusion between the church and some of Latin America’s worst regimes over the centuries. Graham-Yooll describes some of the most important exhibit pieces and the extreme backlash the exhibit received from the church and laymenry–sometimes simultaneously, as in the entertaining story of a Christian vandal whose destruction of a piece was turned into an exhibit piece itself.

Read the full article[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”89186″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]Cumbia Villera: the Sound of the Slums

August 2005, vol. 34 issue: 3

A new genre of music is becoming popular in Latin America: the “politically incorrect” cumbia villera, a high-energy, hard-hitting new street music with a Carribbean beat. The lyrics to these songs, according to Graham-Yooll, are “vile and often violent”: they are filled with misogynistic abuse, incitement to prison breaks and riots, and enthusiastic encouragement of alcohol and hard drug use. For this reason, the Argentinain government at the time of the article was considering censoring cumbia villera, but in what Graham-Yooll asserts is a reflection of Argentina’s growing class divide, the music is gaining a mass following in the slums that seems unstoppable.

Read the full article[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”89110″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]The Past in Hiding

September 2012, vol. 41 issue: 3

Nearly 40 years after the dirty war, Graham-Yooll examines two new books whose dialogue he believes represent hope that the record of atrocities committed by the junta can be known and Argentina can thus “come to terms” with its past. The first book, Final Disposal, is a set of nine interviews journalist Ceferino Reato conducted with members of the erstwhile regime in prison, in which those members display, according to Graham-Yooll, both generosity with information and a cold and brutal view of their own crimes. The second book, From Guilt to Forgiveness, is a personal account written by Norma Morandini, a former journalist and politician, about her personal journey from denial of what happened under the regime to a reckoning.

Read the full article[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”80566″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]From murder to bureaucratic mayhem: After Argentina’s dictatorship, what happened next for the country’s journalists

September 2015, vol. 44 issue: 3

After Argentina emerged from under the rule of the military junta in 1983, press freedom improved considerably.  Now, journalists are not murdered by the regime, but silenced through systemic harassment and the entangled web of cronyism. Graham-Yooll explains how the leader of Argentina at the time of the article, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has developed a distinct and effect new “means of controlling the message”: not reactive censorship, but preemptive control of content through control of the ownership and cash flows of the media.

Read the full article[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1565953044570-154320b2-e16d-10″ taxonomies=”8890″][/vc_column][/vc_row]