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.
Clarín Group, Argentina’s largest media conglomerate, will have to sell off part of its holdings due to a Supreme Court ruling handed down on Tuesday. The high court declared constitutional the four articles of the Ley de Medios (Media Law), Argentina’s anti-monopoly broadcast law that congress passed four years ago but has stalled in the courts since.
The 2009 law reduces the number of radio and television licenses that a single owner could hold from 24 to 10, which the government has said is necessary to reduce market concentration. But Clarín Group sees it as an attempt by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to stifle opposition voices, saying in a statement that it “laments the ruling, which doesn't take into account the value of journalistic independence as a precursor for freedom of speech.” In its ruling, the Supreme Court found “no evidence in the case that there is a violation of freedom of expression derived from the law."
As a result, in addition to reducing the number of licenses it holds, the Clarín Group will likely have to break up its Cablevisión-Fibertel holding, the largest cable and internet operator in Argentina, and sell off its Canal 13 television network. The ruling was seen as a victory for the embattled administration of President Kirchner whose party suffered a setback in Sunday’s midterm elections. Clarín Group has not ruled out appealing the law in international courts.
With his signature in-your-face style, influential Argentine opposition journalist Jorge Lanata continued his quest on Sunday night to single-handedly take down the Argentine government.
Since April, Lanata’s weekly Sunday night news program, “Periodismo Para Todos” (Journalism for All–PPT) has aggressively reported on allegations that businessmen close to Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband Néstor Kirchner were involved in a money laundering scandal.
The president, who does not publicly talk to journalists, has yet to acknowledge Lanata’s claims, effectively dismissing the allegations. Lanata’s program is run by the country’s largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarín, which the government outwardly considers a monopoly and a pusher of false information. Lanata is characterized as sensationalist by government supporters, and pro-government media ignore his reporting.
The spat between Lanata and the Fernández de Kirchner administration is the latest manifestation of a polemic crisis in the Argentine press.
In 2009, the Argentine government introduced a communications bill to replace legislation enacted during the country’s 1976–1983 military dictatorship. The Ley de Servicios de Comunicación Audiovisual (Audiovisual Communication Services Law), more widely known as the “Media Law,” sought to decentralize the heavily concentrated broadcast market and facilitate the entry of new investors, nonprofit organizations and community media.
Argentina's government began the process of breaking up Grupo Clarín, the country's largest media conglomerate on Monday. The anti-media monopoly law being used against Grupo Clarín was found constitutional by a lower court on Friday and would require the media group to sell off broadcast licenses as well as its majority stake in Cablevision, the cable TV network that has become the company's top revenue driver. Clarín said it would appeal the decision.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has led the campaign against Grupo Clarín, accusing the group of coup mongering and reporting news biased against her government. But critics claim that by dismantling one of the country's few remaining independent media groups that doesn't rely on state advertising revenue, the government is limiting free speech in Argentina. Martin Sabbatella, the head of the government media regulation body, denied the accusation on Monday, saying free speech isn't at risk.
The government has been at odds with the media group since Clarín criticized President Fernández's handling of a tax on the key agricultural industry and a massive farmers strike in 2008. The case may eventually go before Argentina's Supreme Court.
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.
Es todo un reto relatar a la Argentina sin parecer que uno se alineó con una tendencia política militante u opositora, ambas campeantes en un mundo blanco y negro que se apoderó de este país hace cerca de dos años. En 2010 también yo trasegaba por estas calles y lo que vi, con variados matices, fue un país conmovido hasta la médula por la muerte de Néstor Kirchner (expresidente y exsecretario general de la Unasur), celebrante de los renovados juicios a los dictadores de los 1970s, crítico ya de ciertas políticas económicas que el gobierno kirchnerista consideraba dignas (cancelación de la deuda ante el FMI , la renegociación con el Club de París) y algunos analistas peligrosas; preocupado también por la concentración de poder de la pareja presidencial que hasta este deceso, supuestamente planeaba alternarse la Casa Rosada por décadas.
Pero aún con todos esos puntos de vista, legítimos en una democracia, el debate era respetuoso y las voces en los medios eran más plurales. La polarización se exacerbó en estos dos años en modo y forma complejos, a tal punto que los interlocutores se han convertido en enemigos y los discursos están llenos de odio.
Cómo reconocerle a ambos lados sus razones sin parecer tibio, cómo hacer críticas sin ser satanizado, sin perder amigos o entrar en discusiones sin fin. Cómo analizar el papel de los medios que dejaron de estar del lado del gobierno y se fueron a la otra orilla a pelear una batalla económica y política, en la que los grandes perdedores son los lectores y por supuesto los periodistas que no tienen idea qué va a pasar con sus puestos de trabajo luego del mentado 7D (7 de diciembre, plazo para que el grupo Clarín haga efectivo el artículo 161 de la Ley de Medios que lo obliga a desprenderse de las licencias que exceden los límites fijado por la ley.
The Argentine government said Wednesday that it would move to break up Grupo Clarín, the country’s largest media conglomerate, by December 7 if it does not comply with a 2009 anti-monopoly law requiring large media groups to divest some of their holdings.
Martín Sabbatella, the president of the Autoridad Federal de Servicios de Comunicación Audiovisual (Federal Audiovisual Communication Services Authority—AFSCA), said that Grupo Clarín has refused to comply with a requirement that at least 20 other media groups affected by the law have said they would obey. According to the government, Grupo Clarín has 240 cable systems, one FM radio and nine AM and stations, and four open-signal television channels. The law requires companies to limit their number of cable licenses to 24. In 2009, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said that Grupo Clarín held 73 percent of Argentina’s radio, television and cable licenses.
Grupo Clarín’s media outlets, widely opposed to the Fernández administration, have challenged the controversial article 161 of the 2009 media law as a violation of press freedoms. The article limits the number of media outlets that companies can own and called for large media groups to sell some of their media assets. Grupo Clarín immediately challenged article 161 in court, saying that it would give the Argentine government too much control over the press.
Argentina’s courts have yet to settle the question of article 161’s constitutionality, but a Supreme Court ruling in May said that a temporary suspension of article 161 would only be valid until December 7, a deadline that Grupo Clarín has said it will request to extend.
For the last several years, the Fernández administration and Grupo Clarín have been feuding on multiple fronts, including the government’s cancellation of Grupo Clarín ISP Fibertel’s license and a 2010 government lawsuit accusing the owners of Grupo Clarín and La Nación of acquiring newsprint producer Papel Prensa with the backing of Argentina’s military government in 1976. Press freedoms groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists say that the escalating dispute has led to a dramatic polarization of the Argentine press.
“This is not about enemies,” said Sabbatella, who will auction off Grupo Clarín’s broadcast licenses if it does not come into compliance with the law before December 7. “The government is not coming to expropriate, to nationalize or confiscate any media group. We are coming to apply the law.”
Former presidents of Peru and Bolivia spoke out against the recent media shutdowns in Venezuela and expressed an overall concern about the media’s future at an emergency meeting of Inter American Press Association (IAPA). At the meeting, held in Caracas on Friday, former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo called the media shutdowns “a virus that’s expanding” and an action taken on by “real authoritarian governments.” Bolivia’s former president, Carlos Mesa, harped on Toledo’s comments saying that “everything that restricts freedom of speech is unacceptable.”
Ecuador closed a television station accused of espionage last month and Bolivia also has closed media outlets. Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner also recently proposed a law to break up Grupo Clarin, a media conglomerate, calling it a monopoly that has been abusing its power in Argentine politics.
President Hugo Chávez has denied accusations that his government is trying to silence opposition voices. Chávez’ government has announced plans to close 29 more radio stations, in addition to the 32 shut down just last month. The Venezuelan government cites invalid broadcast licenses or a failure to renew licenses as reasons for the closings.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.