Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazú, the iconic journalist who was the defining voice of radio in the eyes (and ears) of most Argentines, died last Tuesday at the age of 91, hosting her Radio Mitre programme through to last month and lucid until the end.
Her classic 6am-9am radio programme Magdalena Tempranísimo defined the day’s agenda for millions of Argentines for decades when she was never afraid to pin down senior officials (including those of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship) with her penetrating questions.
Perhaps her finest moment came in 1984 with her membership in CONADEP (Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas) to investigate the missing of the brutal military dictatorship under the chairmanship of the writer Ernesto Sábato, recognition of having been the first journalist to place her microphone at the disposal of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo.
Her death was mourned by citizens and fellow journalists alike, with plaudits and praise pouring after news of her death emerged.
No soft life
Born in 1931 with María Celina Ortiz Basualdo (whose family owns Mar del Plata’s most impressive mansion) and the diplomat Enrique Ruiz Guiñazú (who was Argentina’s foreign minister between 1941 and 1943) as her parents, Ruiz Guiñazú enjoyed a privileged upbringing (which, among other things, left her multilingual with fluent Italian, French and English amid a generally broad culture). But early on she ruled out a soft life in favour of a demanding profession, starting from the bottom as a cub reporter at the age of 19.
Yet her marriage to César Doretti and bringing up five children delayed a full-time journalistic career until exactly half a century ago in 1972. Throughout that career her vibrant personality and deeply humane perspective shone through, as well as a professionalism which always believed in going direct to the sources.
Although most famous as a radio voice, she also had numerous television appearances and entered the world of literary fiction as well as journalistic truth, penning seven books, of which the bestseller was Huésped de un verano (1994), a novel based on her own life.
She won numerous awards both at home and abroad, including 14 Martín Fierro prizes and 33 nominations, a Legion of Honour, the Italian Order of Merit and a Polish medal for her coverage of Pope John Paul II’s return to his homeland in 1979 (a trip including a harrowing visit to Auschwitz).
"We say farewell to Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazú. Her immense work in journalism and CONADEP reminds us of the importance of defending human rights by raising your voice from a position of peace in defence of democracy," pronounced President Alberto Fernández in the most notable of numerous tributes with her press colleagues in the forefront, but also including City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Filmus.
Fernández opted to leave aside the departed journalist’s frequent critiques of Kirchnerism and her clash with many human rights movements as from 2013.