Psychological Risk

Case Study: The Daniel Santoro story - Journalists who face professional, judicial & emotional risks to get the story


In 2006, the Argentinean journalist Daniel Santoro was a victim of cybercrime. Someone stole the emails he had been sending for two months to Judge Daniel Rafecas, who was investigating two Serbian drug dealers that were in jail in Argentina. The Serbians had tried to send 171 kilos of cocaine to Europe.

Later, Santoro explained in a seminar in the Dominican Republic in April 2007, the attorneys of the drug dealers presented Santoro’s private messages as proof “to denounce that the judge Daniel Rafecas had ‘violated’ the law because he answered questions off the record to a journalist."

santoroTwo weeks after that episode, the same people who stole Santoro’s emails from his account published about 70 other private emails of Santoro. This time, not only did they publish emails between Santoro and Judge Rafecas, but also messages he had exchanged with fiscals, deputies and other sources. In addition, his home address, his telephone number and the password of his email account were also published. His family was exposed as well: the note accompanying the emails ended with a picture of Santoro in a restaurant having dinner with two cousins and a niece. A threat was written: “Will this be the last meal of Santoro?”

Not only journalists working in politically insecure environments have to face risk. When journalists have to investigate delicate topics such as government corruption, drug trafficking or illegal trade of weapons, they have to withstand a lot of pressure which can affect them psychologically.

The lives of most journalists’ are not at immediate risk--at least not in the same direct ways as if they were war correspondents. (Those countries that are mapped as conflict areas in Latin America, according to the book Risk Map for Journalists, include Brazil, Mexico and Colombia.) But journalists of all kinds have to deal with risks. Organizations and researchers nowadays recognize that besides death, journalists “are exposed to the risk of great emotional distress.”

Daniel Santoro has been a journalist for over 30 years. He is a political editor of the newspaper Clarín in Buenos Aires, Argentina and a professor in the García Márquez’s Iberoamerican New Journalism Foundation. In April 2007, in a seminar in the Dominican Republic, he told his audience: “To do investigative journalism means to take professional, physical and judicial risks.”

Reporters Without Borders published an article about the case of Santoro in May 2006, in which Santoro explained: “What really surprises me is that the information they stole from me got to one of the suspect’s attorneys. And what concerns me the most is that they had been spying on me for almost two months.” Santoro believed that the whole episode was aimed to ruin the police investigation about the two Serbian drug dealers.


This “massive informative attack,” as Santoro has referred to it, caused “fear among everyone that is trying to investigate corruption in Argentina.” These are the kinds of investigations that powerful people often do not want to become news stories.

One of the ways to pressure journalists is through defamation trials. Santoro had sufficient documents to back up his charges, so he was not charged with libel or defamation. But taking journalists to court for what they say is a frequent method used to intimitate journalists. In Santoro's case, The Association of Argentinean Journalistic Publishers (ADEPA) was concerned about the violation of his journalistic sources, a right guaranteed in the Constitution.

The threats made against Santoro were not the first ones he had ever received. He was the one who discovered that the president of Argentina in 1995, Carlos Menem, had illegally traded 6,500 tons of weapons and ammunitions to Croatia during the war in the Balkans, even though the UN had forbidden it. Menem also sold weapons to Ecuador which was, at the time, in a conflict with Peru.

Santoro explained what he experienced during his reporting of that story: “I received death threats, I was on a trial for violating State secrets, and the attorney of the weapons dealer offered me $40 thousand to stop investigating the case. I preferred being a poor but honest journalist.” Due to that investigation, which appeared in Clarín, the former president of Argentina, Carlos Menem, went to jail for six months.

What happened to Santoro in the 2006 cyber-crime case did not receive much coverage in the news, although El País, a newspaper from Uruguay, did use his story as an example of cybercrime.

columbiaWhen journalists are attacked as Santoro was, freedom of expression is under attack. “Political pressures, economic penalties, legal reprisal and threats about jail," wrote Gonzalo Marroquín in Risk Map for Journalists, are just some of the ways that those in power use to "try to silence or, at least, manipulate the messages,” .

The result can be journalists self-censoring themselves. In an interview in 2007, published by the Dominican Republican Listin Diario, Santoro explains that journalists have to be tough to stand the kind of pressure that they are exposed to. All journalists, he said, need to “prepare themselves, to have strict ethics to preserve our independence from all those that want to make us shut up.”

Journalists, whether they are investigating corruption cases or are exposed to violence, take emotional as well as physical risks. They need support to deal with the consequences.