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With presidential election fast approaching in Argentina, a scandal has emerged that could impact frontrunner Patricia Bullrich's campaign. Leaked audio recordings allegedly reveal inappropriate comments and behavior by Carlos Melconian, Bullrich's pick for economy minister.
The leaks come just weeks before the Argentina PASO primaries on August 13th. The PASO, or "Primarias Abiertas Simultáneas y Obligatorias," is Argentina's system of Open, Simultaneous, and Obligatory Primary elections, a precursor to the general elections. It's a crucial part of the country's democratic process, ensuring that political parties have a fair and transparent method of selecting candidates.
Patricia Bullrich, a key figure in this unfolding drama, is a seasoned politician associated with the “Juntos por el Cambio” party. Her decisive stance against the authenticity of the incriminating audio has further polarized the discussion, bringing the role of AI in modern politics under a sharper focus. “The Melconian audios are edited, they are fake,” she said in statements reported by Argentinian outlet Pagina 12. “(People can) make voices using Artificial Intelligence, cut videos, insert audios that nobody knows where they’re from,” she said.
The audios, aired by pro-government journalist Tomas Mendez, allegedly capture Melconian speaking crudely about women and appearing to offer government positions in exchange for sexual favors.
According to news outlet Canal Extra TV in Argentina, in one recording Melconian insists on meeting with a woman being considered for a post in the Foreign Ministry, asking "When do you let me see you?" In another, he comments on a woman's appearance, saying "You look gorgeous. Let me tell you the truth. That color looks great on you."
EXCLUSIVO: LOS POLÉMICOS AUDIOS DE MELCONIAN
Melconian hablando con su secretaría ➡️ Escuchá su conversación pic.twitter.com/4AKILXftnj
— CanalExtraTv (@canalextratv) October 10, 2023
Bullrich and her party quickly came to Melconian's defense, though with differing explanations.
Bullrich herself dismissed the recordings as "edited" and suggested they could be fabricated using artificial intelligence. However, as reported by other outlets, Bullricht’s colleagues acknowledged the tapes were real, but claimed they were old recordings from Melconian's time leading the National Bank between 2015 and 2017 during the Mauricio Macri presidency.
The presidential hopeful went on the attack against journalist Mendez, calling him "garbage" for airing the tapes. She accused him of past unethical behavior and suggested the leaks were part of a smear campaign using doctored audio.
The scandal comes at a perilous moment for Bullrich as she seeks to oust the incumbent Fernandez. Melconian, a prominent economist who has worked for past administrations on both sides of the political aisle, was hand-picked by Bullrich to steer the economy. Any whiff of impropriety could hurt her pitch to voters that she offers a clean break from the current administration.
In recent years, there have been several instances where politicians or political campaigns have utilized artificial intelligence (AI) or digital alterations to misrepresent or fabricate imagery and audio.For example Matt Hancock, UK’s former health secretary was doctored to mock his image, which then went viral on Twitter back in 2021. In a similar vein, a Labour MP shared a misleading image of Rishi Sunak holding a poorly-poured pint, and another Labour MP shared a fake image of the prime minister, which they later apologized for.
In the United States, during Ron DeSantis' campaign, a Super PAC backing him released a video with digital alterations, specifically adding fake fighter jets flying overhead in the footage, although a member of DeSantis’ later told Decrypt that no AI was involved. Additionally, AI-generated imagery has stirred up political discourse, as seen with AI-generated photos of former President Trump in compromising scenarios going viral and a deepfake of a Twitter space in which the Devil and Hitler participate along with Elon Musk announcing Ron DeSantis’ presidential race.
Trump just posted this on Instagram I’m losing my mind pic.twitter.com/LB8LSs8VIV
— 𝐄𝐮𝐝𝐚𝐢𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐢𝐚 (@EudaimoniaEsq) May 25, 2023
Other cases include a deepfake of Joe Biden being portrayed as a pedophile touching his granddaughter inappropriately, and image generations of a catastrophic future under a second presidency of Joe Biden
With election season underway, Argentine voters will soon render their verdict on whether personal scandals outweigh political promises. If Bullrich hopes to avoid additional leaks sinking her campaign, her team will need to ensure there are no more Melconian-like skeletons hiding in their closet.