Argentine government alleges irregularities in Grupo Clarín's plan to downsize

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  • October 3, 2014

By Lucia Benavides

More than 10 months after Grupo Clarín begrudgingly presented a plan to split the multimedia conglomerate into six companies to comply with the five-year-old Media Law, the Argentine government has alleged irregularities in the plan.

The Federal Authority of Communication and Audiovisuals (AFSCA) has accused the group, which represents the largest multimedia conglomerate in Argentina, of selling media licenses to firms with links to Grupo Clarín. The media group maintains that it has been treated unfairly by the government and that it aims to silence “independent” voices.

The Audiovisual Communication Service Law (LCSA), commonly referred to as the Media Law, was introduced by the Kirchner government in 2009 as part of an attempt to diversify the country’s concentrated media landscape. The legislation seeks to divide up national airwaves in three equal parts between the State, the private sector, and nonprofits.

Shortly after it was passed, the legislation was celebrated by the United Nations Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, who praised it as “a stride forward in Latin America against the increasing concentration of media.” And in 2013, after Grupo Clarín filed an appeal denouncing certain parts of the law, Argentina’s supreme court ruled that the Media Law was constitutional. Reporters Without Borders also expressed support for the law, stating that it “in no way seeks to control or censure broadcast content.”

The law restricts the number of concession that any television or radio broadcaster may hold to 10, and the number of cable television services to 24, limiting the ability of a single company to hold a national radio and television network.

But the legislation has met ongoing and stiff opposition from supporters of Grupo Clarín, who believe that it is being used as a pretext to target publications that are critical of the Kirchner administration.

Grupo Clarín has repeatedly condemned the legislation as a direct government attack on private media outlets and has accused AFSCA of unfair treatment. According to the group, two other large media conglomerates in Argentina, Telefe and PRISA, have not been held to the same standards. AFSCA recently postponed meetings with Telefe and PRISA, which were scheduled to take place on Sept. 8, further adding to speculations.

But Grupo Clarín, which will be required to shed a portion of its licenses in order to increase government ownership of broadcast content, is getting closer to falling into compliance. It has now divided up their audiovisual licenses between six businesses and agreed to sell Unit 4, which includes Canal 13 Satelital, Magazine, Volver, Quiero Música en mi Idioma, TyC Sports, and Canal Rural to 34 South Media, a U.S.–based company, for an estimated $31.5 million.

Martín Sabbatella, director of AFSCA, has said that the agency will also be studying those companies that are buying licenses from Grupo Clarín, stating that “they need to comply with the law, not simulate that they are complying.” He emphasized that the buying companies cannot have any connection to the media group selling the licenses.

While Sabbatella maintained that all media groups would be treated equally, he emphasized that the agency would be keeping a close eye on Grupo Clarín in this process due to their history of resistance to the law.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.