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.”