Clarín Group, Argentina’s largest media conglomerate, announced plans Monday to divide its operations into six subsidiary companies, in compliance with the country’s Ley de Medios (Media Law). The anti-monopoly law was upheld by the Argentine Supreme Court last week after four years of legal disputes between Clarín and the federal government. Clarín representatives said the company had only agreed to implement the changes after the decision was “forced upon" them, but they did not rule out the possibility of appealing the decision to international tribunals.
Martín Sabbatella, president of the Autoridad Federal de Comunicación Audiovisual (Federal Audiovisual Communications Authority—AFSCA) and Argentina’s top broadcast regulator, welcomed the company’s decision to comply with the law and said his agency would review Clarín’s breakup proposal within 120 days. In the first meeting held between government representatives and Clarín executives since last week’s Supreme Court decision, Sabatella said he would ensure that the reform process causes the company “as little damage as possible.”
The Supreme Court said it found “no evidence in the case that there is a violation of freedom of expression derived from the law." Nevertheless, the Court also informed the government that companies surrendering licenses under the new law must be duly compensated, with oversight from an independent regulatory authority and equal distribution of government subsidies. The law will reduce the number of radio and television licenses that a single company can hold, and pending government review of the company’s proposal, may require Clarín to sell one or more of its newly created subsidiaries.
Read about Argentina's 2009 media reforms in the Fall 2013 issue of AQ, which focuses on freedom of expression.
After a massive demonstration on November 8, Argentines planned to take to the streets again Thursday night to protest the enforcement of a new media law scheduled to go into full effect today. In the end, a subway strike, torrential rains and a toxic gas cloud significantly reduced enthusiasm and left the streets of Buenos Aires mostly empty, save for some small scores of pot-banging citizens.
Nevertheless, the day ended largely as a victory for those opposing the Kirchner government's controversial 2009 media law. A court ruled in favor of Grupo Clarín, the largest media conglomerate in Argentina, effectively protecting it from the forcible sale of an important part of its licenses.
The court ruling last night established that Grupo Clarín’s licenses cannot be sold until the Supreme Court can rule on the constitutionality of articles 45 and 161, which limit the amount of licenses companies can hold and establish a divestment procedure for companies who hold more than 24 cable television licenses and 10 open frequency radio or television licenses. The Argentine government claims Grupo Clarín has over 200 licenses; Grupo Clarín says the number is 158.
The government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner today filed an appeal to last night's ruling before the Supreme Court, making use of a special per saltum procedure to bypass the lower courts. Depending on the Supreme Court's acceptance of the appeal and subsequent ruling, Grupo Clarín and other media groups may still have to comply with the new media law before the court can rule on the constitutionality of articles 45 and 161. That judgment would also be open to appeal. Since neither side in the current conflict is expected to back down, the current legal battle will likely continue.