Sale of broadcast licenses to comply with new law causes dust up in Argentina

The transfer of media licenses from Daniel Hadad to pro-Kirchner businessman Cristobal López has generated controversy in Argentina, leading some to suggest the hand over was "illegal," reported the newspaper Clarín.

The Federal Audiovisual Communication Services Authority (AFSCA in Spanish) approved the decision on Monday, March 4, after several months of negotiations over the so-called Media Law, reported La Nación. The dispute arose when opposition members, specialists and AFSCA members said that due to Article 41 of the law the "audiovisual communication service licenses are nontransferable," which means they cannot be sold to media organizations, according to Clarín.

Beyond rejecting the transaction, opposition members said they would file a criminal complaint against the head of AFSCA, Martín Sabbatella, for "abuse of authority and violating the duties of a public official," and could request an expansion of the lawsuit to involve President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, added Clarín.

The official defended the legality of the transaction, acknowledging that while an article prohibited the transfer, another permitted its sale or transfer to comply with the law, reported the website Terra. "To comply you have to sell, and if there's no sale, there's no compliance. That is what Article 161 says," the official added, explaining why AFSCA authorized López's company, Indalo, to buy the frequencies from Hadad, reported the website.

The law regulates, among other things, the number of media licenses a group can possess. This has been the most controversial part of the law since it's approval in 2009. Grupo Clarín filed an injunction against two articles of the law that it argued were unconstitutional. The articles requiring media companies to shed their excess media licenses have been suspended temporarily as a result.

However, "all audiovisual media companies except Grupo Clarín have presented their plan for voluntary compliance" with the law, Sabbatella said, according to the website 24 Baires. The transfer involved the signing over of a cable television network and radio broadcasters in the Buenos Aires area between Hadad and López, added La Nación.

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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