Thursday, December 2, 2021

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 20-07-2019 11:48

The uncontrollable urge to tell the truth

They tread on the precipice, looking into the abyss but deciding to carry on regardless.

Censorship by law or self-censorship – which is worse? Probably the latter; Argentina has both. Restrictions imposed outright by the State breed resistance. These are – trite as this sounds – a challenge for intellectuals to overcome in order to express the plight of their people and, most important, tell the public what is happening. But the act of voluntarily suppressing information or holding back facts which it is feared might bring harassment makes the writer, artist or editor morally corrupt. It spreads apathy, smothers conscience and kills enterprise.”

The previous lines were written by Andrew Graham-Yooll in June, 1973, for the second issue of the second volume of the Index on Censorship, while he was still in Buenos Aires. It’s titled ‘Letter from Argentina’ and can be found online at pdf/10.1080/03064227308532221.

The quote with which I open this piece defines the legacy that Andrew left behind, together with Bob Cox, James Neilson and the Buenos Aires Herald. They became heroes for doing their job, for reporting, and for trying to do what was good. They weren’t fearless soldiers, quite the opposite, as Andrew explained in several interviews. Yet, they had a sense of mission coupled with bravery, incredible journalistic capacity and empathy.

To paraphrase German philosopher Georg Hegel, the Herald was an instrument of the Absolute on the stage of history. While I do not believe in fate, I understand that the Herald gang — which also included Uki Goñi and other silent heroes — was there at the place and time it needed to be. It was a tool that not only saved lives, but with which the future could look back on the bloodiest era in Argentina’s modern history. It is an antidote against forgetfulness. It was one of the only expressions of freedom possible in a land defined by the panopticon.

The stories of Andrew’s brave reporting, always with Bob’s unwavering support, are the stuff of journalistic legend. They tread on the precipice, looking into the abyss but deciding to carry on regardless. Thanks to their courage many managed to survive and even escape the death grasp of the Junta. I owe my own life to the Buenos Aires Herald, the only paper to run a story on my father’s disappearance, which in turn was picked up by the international news agencies. Together with my grandfather’s desperate lodging of a habeas corpus, it made it an inconvenience for the torturers to kill my father, so they cut him loose with a warning. Next time they went after him he knew better than to get caught.

Andrew was also my first boss at the Herald years later, when I worked there for a few months in the winter of 2006, and later would become Ombudsman at PERFIL. He was a journalist, a novelist, a poet, a master conversationalist, and a great drinking partner. Most of all, he was an inspiration for every journalist that came in touch with him.

I’ll cap it off with another quote from the aforementioned piece from 1975:

“Censorship in Argentina is not a sin of the State, but a sickness of society. The cure is that somebody should stand up and scream the warning that the rot is within, that the truth must be told – even if it is each his own truth – in full. But you are afraid for your own safety if you shout too loud.”

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Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia


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