Argentina’s Senate approved a government-backed bill that puts new limits on television and radio ownership and will probably force Grupo Clarin SA, the country’s biggest media company, to sell off assets.
The Senate handed President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner a victory, passing 44-24 a law she said will “democratize” the airwaves. After a session lasting almost 20 hours, senators approved the 164 articles of the bill without change. The central provision of the law limits ownership of cable and broadcast operations in a single market. In pushing the bill, Fernandez said Clarin holds 73 percent of Argentina’s radio, television and cable licenses.
Critics of the bill, such as Senator Luis Petcoff Naidenoff of the Radical Civic Union party, said its aim was in fact to “silence voices” of dissent after Fernandez and her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, began accusing Clarin of bias in covering their policies.
“This bill is very important for the government because it will allow for control of the press and of the impact the government thinks the media has on public opinion,” said Carlos Fara, director of pollster Carlos Fara & Asociados in Buenos Aires. “The story of this bill doesn’t end here because we’ll see lawsuits and maybe the new Congress will make more changes.”
Daniel Vila, president of closely held Uno Medios, a media company based in the western province of Mendoza, said Sept. 24 the bill amounted to “indirect expropriation” and would lead to lawsuits if companies are forced to sell licenses.
The law replaces a media regime implemented in 1980 while a military dictatorship ruled the country. Fernandez, 56, said that breaking up “a monopoly” would open the airwaves to non- profit groups, universities and the government. Under the measure, any one company is barred from holding both broadcast television and cable networks licenses in the same metropolitan area. It also requires renewal of a license every two years.
Clarin shares on the Buenos Aires stock exchange plunged 22 percent in the week after Fernandez unveiled the bill Aug. 27, falling to 5.90 pesos a share on Sept. 4. The stock rallied to 7.60 pesos a share by Oct. 9 on growing speculation that the bill wouldn’t survive intact.
The government’s bill would likely lead Clarin to sell broadcasting and programming units such as Canal 13, analyst Alexandre Garcia of Raymond James Financial Inc. said in a Sept. 17 report. That would leave the company with its subscription TV and broadband operations, which Garcia said generate two-thirds of Clarin’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.
The group’s Canal 13 television station accounts for a market-leading 44 percent share of TV advertising, according to the company’s Web site. It also owns radio stations, 13 cable and broadcast TV networks, and Internet companies.
“Clarin is being stigmatized for political purposes,” the company’s flagship newspaper said in an editorial Oct. 4. “In none of its businesses is Clarin a monopoly. In any other country, a company like Clarin would be an example of private enterprise, a source of national pride.”
Argentina’s 257-member lower house passed the government- backed initiative on Sept. 17 in a 146-3 vote after opposition lawmakers walked out in protest.
Leaders of the opposition said the bill’s restriction would lead to state media gaining too much sway over the press.
“This bill hides the real goal of concentrating state- controlled media and providing just one point of view,” Senator Petcoff Naidenoff said in a telephone interview. “It violates freedom of speech.”
Some lawmakers said the decision should have been delayed until a new Congress -- one Fernandez won’t control -- takes office in December.
About 54 percent of people polled by Fara opposed the bill, compared with 29 percent who supported it. The poll of 442 people was conducted from Sept. 18 to Sept. 22 and has a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points.
“The media has to be a vehicle for showing reality, but this is totally different from them being the builders of reality, a deceiving, subjective reality,” said Senator Nicolas Fernandez, of the ruling Victory Front coalition. “The truth is that there isn’t a single article in this law that regulates the contents of the media. Freedom of expression is guaranteed.”
What is the world coming to? The scariest part about this story, we have folks within the Obama administration who want to do the exact same thing ; stifle free press, control what is left of the non-liberal media, and destroy all opposition to their agenda, because an ignorant people are easier to control.
Bloomberg article on Argentina destruction of freedom of press & capitalism - http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aLWUKJC3baHI
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