The C5N television news channel has fired journalist Tomás Méndez for helping to organise an "escrache" exposure protest outside opposition leader’s Patricia Bullrich’s house that he later broadcast live on air.
The pro-government news channel, owned by businessmen Cristobal López and Fabían de Sousa, said in a statement that "such actions do not form part of our journalistic style." Company executives said they “wish to sincerely apologise to Patricia Bullrich and the audience.”
An 'escrache' is a controversial form of demonstration that involves directly and public harassing an individual. They often take place in public settings or at a person's private home.
Méndez, who produced and hosted the ADN programme, covered the demonstration outside the PRO chairperson’s house on his programme, which came in the wake of controversy comments by the former security minister.
Behind the scenes of the bilateral: What did Alberto Fernández and Joe Biden say to each other?
However, it was afterwards established that the journalist had actively participated in the organisation of the demonstration, a turn of events which the C5N directors disowned entirely.
Bullrich herself had brought attention to the incident, denouncing that taxi-drivers had clustered outside her home brandishing posters with slogans such as "queremos preguntar” (“we want to ask") and accusing C5N of having organised the demonstration. The neighbours of the ex-minister reacted with an outburst of saucepan-bashing in a rival cacerolazo protest.
The response of Méndez was to laugh off the incident as a parody in the style of journalist Jorge Lanata, arguing that in no way could it be considered violent, but neither his target nor his bosses shared his sense of humour.
When his exit was confirmed, Méndez said that he was “proud to have fought against the powers that be in Argentina all this time and any time I can, I will continue doing so from wherever I am." He thanked those who had offered him support.
Méndez’s career included a 2015-19 stint on the city council of his native Córdoba but was centred on the Grupo Indalo media conglomerate, where he rose to important positions. He had been running ADN Federal every Sunday since 2017, as well as the programme Vuelta de Rosca during the week for Radio 10, which also dumped him.
It was not the first time the journalist had stirred up controversy. In the very first days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Méndez accused “concentrated business groups in the United States and Israel” of having hatched coronavirus in their labs, claiming that this was based on information from Italy’s RAI state television channel.
Not surprisingly, this commentary offended the Jewish community in Argentina and was formally repudiated by the DAIA Jewish umbrella grouping. C5N disowned the claim at the time and the journalist ended up apologising “if anybody felt offended.”
ADN Federal was also notorious for its constant criticism of provinces governed by the opposition, though this fits with the channel’s approach. C5N was fiercely critical of the Mauricio Macri administration during its 2015-2019 time in office, a period during both López and de Sousa faced multiple cases against them in the courts and were jailed under pre-trial detention orders.
The protest and the dismissal of Méndez, also unsurprisingly, prompted lively reaction on social networks. Some C5N viewers criticised the channel for not backing their journalist, comparing it to the dismissal of the journalist Roberto Navarro (who now leads the El Destape news portal), and threatening to boycott its programmes.
Víctor Hugo Morales was another journalist who parted company with C5N soon after the Frente de Todos victory in 2019, reportedly because then-president-elect Alberto Fernández favoured a more moderate style, but he returned to programme last year.
Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, a key opposition figure and member of the Juntos por el Cambio coalition, repudiated the demonstration, saying: "The way [ahead] is never violence but dialogue, tolerance and respect."
On Monday, a small group of demonstrators rallied outside C5N's main building to protest the "unjustly firing" of the journalist. Among those to express support were social leader Juan Grabois.