José Acho works as a video journalist in Salta, northern Argentina, covering corruption, environmental issues, and the injustices that have helped impoverish that region’s most vulnerable people.
Acho grew up in poverty and stumbled into journalism at 16, when he took an apprenticeship at the El Tribuno de Salta newspaper. He would work there for 20 years, eventually becoming the culture editor.
After more than three decades, he still considers journalism the noblest of professions. The poverty he knew as a child - which forced him to drop out of college and take a job - drives him to use his work as a tool for inclusion and for safeguarding Argentina’s young democracy.
“My work and struggle are also against misinformation and against the misconception that journalism is a business and not a public service,” Acho says.” We have to go back to those roots. I truly believe that there is no better tool to help people, those who have no voice, no money, no possessions.”
Argentina’s shaky economy, coupled with widespread corruption, ensure that small, independent media struggle to conduct costly investigations or to travel to the country’s farther reaches to cover poverty, homelessness, or exploitation of the poor. Some independent media even struggle to survive.
In contrast, large well-connected media monopolies get huge sums from government advertising and reward their political benefactors with favorable coverage. The result is permanent misinformation and a skewed view of reality. A 2009 law that was intended to diversify Argentina’s media scene was scaled back in 2015 to the likely benefit of the major media owners.
The country also lacks a law on access to information, and more than half of the journalists questioned in a 2014 survey admitted to self-censorship at their organizations. Many complained of editorial pressure from business editors or directly from advertisers. Particularly taboo topics were the national government and human and drug trafficking.
Acho has worked as a freelance journalist for several newspapers and magazines in Salta, including Cable Canal Express, National Radio Salta, FM News, Message Magazine, Channel 7 Salta, and El Expreso y Cuarto Poder de Salta. In 2002 he founded the www.saltalibre.net news website and a year later www.calchaqumix.com.ar, the first digital media outlets in northwestern Argentina. For the last 10 years, he has been a reporter and web editor for the New Journal of Salta, www.nuevodiariodesalta.com.ar.
In 2007, Acho wrote about a rich landowner in northern Argentina who was seizing the land of the indigenous Wichi people in Chaco Salteño, one of the poorest areas in Argentina. In a flawed trial, he was sued for libel and slander and ordered to pay the landowner 20,000 pesos and spend two years in prison. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 2009. With the investigation in the spotlight, the illegal fences he had written about were taken down.
Far from scaring Acho, the ordeal just made him more determined. It also brought attention to the poverty, dispossession, and discrimination suffered by indigenous communities in northern Argentina at the hands of entrepreneurs and corporations allied to another landowner, former Salta Governor Juan Carlos Romero.
Acho is convinced that journalism is an essential part of the fight against environmental destruction and against a ruthless capitalism that preys on minority, low-income communities.
Funding from Press Start donors would allow him to reach the poorest areas in his province, where there is glaring social injustice, and continue to investigate the collusion between corporations and corrupt officials in Argentina.