Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Opposition Journalist’s Corruption Investigation Highlights Argentine Media Fight

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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.But key parts of the law have been on hold pending legal challenges, namely by Clarín. In April, an appeals court ruled unconstitutional a portion of the law that would strip Clarín of scores of licenses. The case is now headed to the Supreme Court.

Robbie Macrory, a doctoral student at University College London who is studying the Argentine media law, says the government’s incessant fight with Clarín has caused other important parts of the law to be ignored or stalled in their implementation.

  • The law mandated reserving 33 percent of the spectrum for nonprofit media outlets (e.g. community radio). To figure out how to do this, the Autoridad Federal de Servicios de Comunicación Audiovisual (Federal Audiovisual Communications Services Authority—AFSCA) must produce a technical plan showing the availability of frequencies in each area. There remains no sign of a plan.
  • The law says that 10 percent of the money collected for media licenses will be distributed to support the nonprofit sector. There’s still no sign of any of this money being awarded.
  • The seven-member AFSCA board is supposed to include two representatives from the opposition parties. So far, the government is refusing to accept the candidate proposed by the Frente Amplio Progresista (Broad Progressive Front), meaning there is only one opposition voice on the board.
  • The state-run media organization, Radio y Televisión Argentina (RTA), is supposed to create an honorary advisory board to ensure that RTA meets its objectives—one of which is to provide “political pluralism” in its programming. The board still hasn’t been formed.  

“A law of this complexity was always going to be a huge challenge to implement, but the government has focused its energies on tackling Grupo Clarín,” Macrory says. “Given that the legal fight only concerns a handful of articles in the legislation, groups who campaigned for the media law are frustrated at the pace of reform.”

For now, the government is attempting to counterbalance Lanata by airing soccer matches at the same time as his show. One month ago (and a month into Lanata’s investigation), Argentina’s football association announced that it would schedule games played by top teams Boca Juniors and River Plate to 9:30 p.m. on Sundays, instead of their normal 8:00 p.m. time.

But so far, PPT has boasted higher ratings than the matches. On Monday, Clarín.com’s homepage announced that Lanata had “won” four out of four match-ups in the “battle” against soccer, as if the journalist were an opponent in a sporting match.

Lanata makes no attempt to hide his quest for ratings. Sunday night’s program included a middle finger logo at the bottom of the screen. In a previous program, Lanata dressed up like a soccer player to “compete” against the soccer match.

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