Implementation of controversial articles in Argentina's new media law postponed

Updated 06/12/12, 6:41 p.m.: The Federal Chamber on Civil and Commercial Matters of Argentina extended the cautionary measure on grounds of unconstitutionality requested by the media titan Grupo Clarín on two articles of the country's new media law, which was set to go into effect this Friday, Dec. 7, according to newspaper Clarín. The ruling means that the articles that refer to the possession of audiovisual media licenses will not go into effect until there is a ruling regarding their constitutionality.

Martín Sabbatella, head of the government agency in charge of implementing the law, said the ruling was "a shame" and added that they "will seek the intervention of the Court to review this act that hurts democracy," newspaper La Nación reported. "We were right when we said that the judges who travel to Miami, sponsored by Clarín, end up becoming part of their legal team," Sabbatela told Télam, according to La Nación.

Grupo Clarín issued a brief statement on the Chamber's decision, saying, "[as stated] throughout this entire process, Clarín will continue forward, respecting the Constitution, the law and decisions of the Court," published the newspaper Clarín.

Original article: The arrival of Dec. 7 in Argentina, or "7D" as it has come to be known in the media and social networks, has generated great expectations among citizens and the international community, which sees it as a decisive moment for the future of information in the country.

The situation began in October 2009, when President Cristina Fernández successfully advocated for the Congress to approve the Audiovisual Communication Service Law, also known as the Media Law, which replaced the 1980 Broadcasting Law, created during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983.

The president's administration has maintained that the law's objective is to "de-concentrate and de-monopolize" the media market and update the legislation to include new technology. For opponents, the proposal to divide the broadcast spectrum into three equal parts between the State, the private sector and non-profit organizations could disproportionately benefit the government if the last third is granted to official entities. However, the article that generated that most controversy was one that reduced the maximum number of radio and television broadcast licenses a single company could own from 24 to 10.

Grupo Clarín, the largest media conglomerate in Argentina, has condemned the law as a direct attack on private media by the government--with itself at its head--that do not follow the official editorial line. The group established a cautionary measure temporarily suspending the provision demanding the reduction of licenses until a decision is made on its constitutionality. The suspension is set to end on Friday, Dec. 7.

By this date, all media organizations must comply with the law and surrender some of their licenses. If they do not voluntarily conform to the law, the government has warned that the Federal Communication Services Authority (AFSCA in Spanish), the arm of the government charged with enforcing the law, will auction off the licenses.

The Casa Rosada, or Pink House, the seat of the executive branch of government, and Grupo Clarín have produced videos on YouTube arguing their case.

Different organizations have protested the new law. The Committee to Protect Journalists asserted that journalism and Argentina's citizens lose out in the polarized climate that sparks clashes between the government and the media companies.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF in French) agrees. The press freedom group lamented that polarization has taken "hostage" the general principles of the law, which it supports. RSF considers the law a "model" for its points on equality and pluralism but especially because the law "in no way seeks to control or censure broadcast content."

While the organization does not believe the law is a weapon against media organizations, it did state that the government has made itself a target for these accusations by using public advertising dollars as a way to reward those who support the administration's policies and punish those who do not. Furthermore, RSF denounced the recent disruptions in the distribution of newspapers like Clarín and La Nación.

In response to certain statements made by AFSCA officials, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) said it was concerned the law attacks freedom of expression. During IAPA's 68th General Assembly in October, the association voted to send a delegation to Argentina. According to Voice of America's website, the delegation is currently in the country and its president, Claudio Paolillo, said they did not come to "defend any media or economic group. Only to ensure that it does not restrict freedom of expression and the press in the country."

The Argentine Journalism Forum sent a letter to the president of AFSCA declaring its concerns over the current situation in the country and suggested "impartiality in the granting and supervision of the licenses," considering that the country faces a critical moment "that will determine a good part of the future of professional journalism and its free exercise," according to a statement on its website.

Other organizations have taken sides in supporting of rejecting the law. For example, the Global Editor's Network organized a global protest in October opposed to the administration's aggressive stance against the media.  The network said that Dec. 7 could represent a threat against independent journalism.

However, other organizations and citizens see the law as a democratization of information in Argentina. Diario Libre's website invited citizens to show their support for the law on Twitter on Dec. 7 using the hashtags #7D, #LeydeMedios (Media Law) and #NOmonopolios (NOMonopolies). "As Latin American community and alternative media, we will make this a global day of support for the law, which is a step toward democratization of the media in Argentina," added the website.

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.