Government shuts Télam websites and sends workers on leave

The abrupt measures came just days after Milei promised to shut the public news agency down and a month after he decreed a public media takeover

By Martina Jaureguy and Amy Booth

Buenos Aires woke up on Monday morning to find that the offices of public news agency Télam had been fenced off overnight. Police stationed outside refused to let employees into the buildings. Its journalists got an email telling them not to come to work. Télam’s website, usually a fast-flowing wire service, was shut down.

During President Javier Milei’s speech to launch the legislative year on Friday, he announced that he planned to shut Télam down, calling it “a Kirchnerist propaganda agency.” Télam reported the news of its own proposed closure. But the speed with which the government moved against it shocked its workers. 

With around 700 employees, Télam is the biggest news agency in Argentina. Founded in 1945, it has reporters across the country and is widely used, even by large outlets, to provide detail and reporting they cannot produce in-house. In October, it produced 12,844 newswires, 6,030 photos, and other material including audio clips and infographics, which were downloaded or viewed over 450,000 times, according to a recent report produced by the agency.

Télam workers received an institutional email on Monday at around 1 a.m., saying the entire staff was being put on a week’s paid leave from Sunday at 11:59 p.m. The email was signed by Diego Chaher, the new chairman installed by the government after President Javier Milei ordered a year-long public media takeover.

Presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni confirmed during his Monday morning press conference that the changes were part of Milei’s plans to move forward with closing the agency.

“This week we will be announcing the plan the government is designing for closing Télam, and what will happen with each employee,” Adorni said. Reporters accredited at the Casa Rosada read a statement defending Télam and quizzed Adorni on the closure.

According to Adorni, Télam had losses estimated at AR$20 billion for this year. “This has nothing to do with [going against] information pluralism or liberty of press,” Adorni said. “This is simply complying with what the president promised during his campaign.”

At midnight, before workers received the email, police started setting up riot fencing outside the two newsrooms in San Telmo.

Victor Carreira, a Télam photojournalist, was finishing his shift at around 11:30 p.m. Sunday at Télam’s Avenida Belgrano building as the fencing went up. “A police van set itself up at the door of the agency,” he told the Herald at a packed protest outside the agency’s Bolívar street headquarters. “They cut off the editors’ passwords to the services. We couldn’t upload any more material.”

He watched from the opposite pavement as police blocked off the building. 

“I was filled with a sense of immense sadness,” he said. “I felt that I was experiencing a government that is practically dictatorial, where press freedom is not being respected.”

Outside Télam’s headquarters at 1 p.m. on Monday, the street was packed with protesters waving handmade signs reading “No to the closure of Telam” and banners representing unions and social movements. They sang the national anthem and chanted in favor of the workers, as union reps took turns with a megaphone to condemn the closure.

‘Site under reconstruction’

A Télam reporter who asked to remain anonymous told the Herald she was stopped by a group of around 15 policemen as she tried to enter the office to begin her shift at 7 a.m. “They are not letting us go inside. The workers are here, outside, waiting,” she said at 8:40 a.m.

“We were surprised, because there are no norms in place to back this [decision],” the source added.

All Télam websites show Argentina’s national logo and the message: “Site under reconstruction.”

Adorni explained that the websites are being restructured and will be online again shortly, and justified the police operation outside the newsrooms saying it’s just “for safety.”

“It aims to prevent any confusing episode or people who have nothing to do with Télam or the government barging in.”

After Milei’s announcement on Friday, the Buenos Aires Press Union (Sipreba, by its Spanish acronym) called a peaceful demonstration to show solidarity with Télam on Monday at 12:30 p.m. outside the newsroom at Bolívar 531. After a “solidarity hug,” the union will meet to discuss the situation.

Can the government close Télam?

The question of whether the government can legally close Télam remains unclear. Milei’s December mega-decree tackled some of the legal protections for state-owned companies. That decree is technically in force at present, but could be overturned if both upper and lower houses of Argentina’s Congress vote to reject it, or if the judiciary declares it unconstitutional. 

Other parts of the decree, such as the chapter on labor reform, have been put on hold by Argentina’s courts. These issues create an environment of legal uncertainty.

Télam worker and Sipreba representative Tomás Eliaschev told the Herald that the agency’s closure would be “not only illegitimate, but illegal,” saying it had to be debated in Congress. 

Argentine law requires the privatization or closure of companies that are registered as a Sociedad del Estado (state-owned company) to be discussed in Congress — but Milei’s decree attempts to modify these requirements.

“We’ll see if this matter should pass through Congress first,” Adorni said when asked about the issue during Monday’s press conference.

“We are hurt, sad, worried and angry, but we’re receiving a lot of love,” Eliaschev said. “Argentina woke up with less democracy and freedom today, and with more censorship.”

Télam journalist posts a thread of historic photos that would not exist without the agency


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald