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Argentina

Key Developments

» Supreme Court rules long-disputed media law is constitutional.

» Conflict between government and critical media companies intensifies.

The long-running feud between the administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and critical news outlets deepened. The Supreme Court ruled that provisions of a 2009 broadcast law that would require some media companies, most notably the critical media conglomerate Grupo Clarín, to divest holdings—in theory, to break up monopolies—were constitutional. Beyond the legislation, the climate remained polarized, with officials publicly berating Clarín and other media groups, and those outlets criticizing all administration activities. The government continued with its policy of punishing critical media outlets and rewarding favorable ones with official advertising, and appeared to extend its advertising war to the commercial realm by reportedly forbidding supermarkets to advertise in newspapers as part of a price-freezing measure intended to combat inflation. Critical media alleged the tactic was meant to further harm outlets that don't receive state advertising, a claim the government denied. President Kirchner, after 10 years of dominating Argentine politics along with her husband, the late President Néstor Kirchner, faced challenges to her government in late 2013. The president's party suffered significant defeats in congressional elections, judicial reforms failed, corruption allegations surfaced in the administration, and the president suffered health problems. Press freedom advocates were dismayed by a ruling on an Argentine defamation case by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights—part of the human rights protection system of the Organization of American States—that decided for the first time that a criminal sanction for defamation did not affect freedom of expression.



  • 152

    Press freedom abuses
  • 1

    Ruling against government
  • 6

    Of 7 votes for media law
  • 6

    'Mini-Claríns'
 

The local press group Foro de Periodismo Argentino, or FOPEA, documented dozens of press freedom violations between January and September 2013.

The abuses included threats, assaults, attacks against media facilities, confiscation of equipment, obstruction of coverage, judicial harassment, police harassment, censorship, and discriminatory distribution of official advertising, restrictive legislation, and arbitrary detention.


Violations by aggressor:

35 Local and federal officials
15 Security forces
5 Judiciary
97 Other

 

A court ruled in June that the federal government had discriminated against the Clarín-owned TV network Channel 13 in its allocation of official advertising. The decision cited a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that ordered equitable distribution of state advertising.


A system of rewards and punishment, according to news reports:

$0

State advertising for Clarín television station Canal 13, January to May, 2013

US $2.4 million

State advertising for América TV, January to May, 2013

US $5.6 million

State advertising for Telefé, January to May, 2013

US $6.5 million

State advertising for Canal 9, January to May, 2013
 

In a closely watched decision, the Supreme Court ruled against media conglomerate Grupo Clarín and said that provisions of a broadcast law requiring divestiture of significant holdings were constitutional. Clarín has fought the law in court since it was passed in 2009.

Proponents of the broadcast law say it will curb monopolies and democratize media ownership, while critics allege its real purpose is to weaken Clarín, which has been engaged since 2008 in a nasty, wide-ranging dispute with the government.


Dispute draws to a close?

October 2009

New broadcast legislation is passed that requires Clarín and other companies to divest some holdings within one year. Clarín immediately files lawsuits contesting its constitutionality.

December 2009

A judge in Mendoza suspends implementation of the law while the challenges are pending.

October 2010

The Supreme Court finds other aspects of the law may take effect but upholds the stay on divestiture.

May 2012

The Supreme Court rules that the divestiture injunction expires in December 2012. The government says that it will enforce the law and that Clarín must divest.

December 6, 2012

A civil court extends the injunction until the underlying constitutionality issue is resolved.

December 14, 2012

A federal civil and commercial judge rules the provisions are constitutional. Clarín immediately appeals to a federal appeals court.

April 2013

A federal appeals court upholds the law but rules that the divestiture measures are unconstitutional. The government appeals to the Supreme Court.

October 2013

The Supreme Court rules the measures are constitutional. The government says Clarín must divest immediately. Clarín argues that the injunction means it still has a year to divest per the legislation.

November 2013

Clarín unexpectedly presents a divestiture plan but says it will continue to pursue judicial avenues for its claims in local and possibly international courts. The government says it will analyze the plan and decide whether to approve it within 120 days.
 

After losing its protracted court battle, Grupo Clarín presented a plan to the government regulatory body under which it would divide its holdings in line with the broadcast law. The plan divides its broadcast properties into six independent companies, with 70 percent of its holdings going to four individual shareholders, including Grupo Clarín owner Ernestina Herrera de Noble, and its CEO, Héctor Magnetto. The six companies do not include the group's significant print media outlets or other assets, which fall outside the broadcast law.

Analysts debated whether in effect this would limit Clarín's holdings or allow it to grow even bigger under the guise of separate ownership.


The new face of Clarín:

Company 1

Three network television channels, each in a different city; one cable television channel; five radio stations, AM and FM, in various cities; 24 cable television channels in cities that are incompatible with the network stations.

Company 2

24 cable television channels.

Company 3

20 cable television channels.

Company 4

Seven cable television channels.

Company 5

Four FM radio stations, each in a different city.

Company 6

Two network television channels, each in a different city.
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