Peruvian newspaper La República sues competitor El Comercio for monopolistic practices

After a heated debate during the 69th General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) over Peruvian media conglomerate Grupo El Comercio's recent purchase of more than half of the shares of publishing group Epensa, media firm La República announced it will file a lawsuit against its competitor for monopolistic practices.

Gustavo Mohme Seminario, director of La República, said it will sue Grupo El Comercio in the country's Constitutional Court after the latter bought 54 percent of Epensa's shares, giving it control over 80 percent of the Peruvian newspaper market.

In the debate that followed the reading of IAPA's report on Peru at the end of its General Assembly in Denver, Mohme Seminario said "believe me, we will resort to the Constitutional Court, because we also have heard opinions from respectable characters who say that (the law) has been transgressed."

Meanwhile, Alejandro Miró Quesada Cisneros, IAPA's former president, former director of El Comercio and current member of the advisory editorial board of the newspaper, said at the forum that there are no legal irregularities in the acquisition of Epensa's shares and that this does not affect press freedom. "It's a business issue, a shareholders issue, not a press freedom one," he said.

Mohme Seminario, who applauded that the IAPA's General Assembly provided the setting for the first public discussion regarding El Comercio's purchase of Epensa's shares, said that "an 80 percent concentration (of the market) can distort free competition, forcing major advertisers to not advertise with the remaining 20 percent." Mohme Seminario said this had already been happening before the purchase, when El Comercio handled 50 percent of the market. Now, the increased control represented "a potential threat," he said.

Mohme Seminario's La República​ controls 16.37 percent of domestic newspaper sales and was another one of the bidders that sought to buy Epensa's shares before they were acquired by El Comercio.

According to investigator and journalist Martín​ Becerra, Peru currently has one of the highest indexes of media concentration in the world. At the regional level it is only second to Chile, where the media market is dominated by the publishing duopoly of El Mercurio and La Tercera.

Becerra warned that the problem is that these levels of concentration can easily turn dominating publishing companies into sponsors of the government's political news agenda through privileged access to state and economic powers and give them a disproportionate amount of influence to promote and defend their own interests.

For the journalist and Peruvian lawyer Rosa María​ Palacios, if 80 percent of the information of a country comes from "only one mouth," there is a problem. Palacios said in a debate organized by the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru that all journalistic content cannot come from the same source if it's to serve as a counterbalance to the country's political and economical powers.

According to point 12 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), "monopolies or oligopolies in the ownership and control of the communication media must be subject to anti-trust laws, as they conspire against democracy by limiting the plurality and diversity which ensure the full exercise of people’s right to information."

Peruvian journalist Ricardo Uceda said that in Peru there are no legal limits on print media concentration as it is not defined or regulated by the country's legislation, as opposed to the television and radio markets, where companies can can only share a percentage of the airwaves.

For Uceda, La República's campaign against El Comercio also has a political purpose. More than winning the lawsuit, Uceda said, La República's goal is to open up the issue to the public and "discuss the power of its competitor."

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.

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