Mon, Oct 12, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Argentine Senate approves new media law

FRYING PAN TO FIRE? Supporters say the law does away with a vestige of dictatorship, while opponents say the law simply replaces a media oligopoly with a state monopoly

AP , BUENOS AIRES

Argentina’s Senate overwhelmingly approved a law that will transform the nation’s media landscape on Saturday, and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez quickly signed it into law.

Senators voted by a surprisingly high 44 to 24 margin for the law, celebrating the end of dictatorship-era rules that enabled a few companies to dominate Argentine media. Opponents say it instead gives the ­government too much power and will curtail freedom of speech.

The new law preserves two-thirds of the radio and TV spectrum for noncommercial stations, and requires channels to use more Argentine content. It forces Grupo Clarin, the country’s leading media company, to sell many of its properties.

“The initiative is moderate and democratic,” said Senator Miguel Angel Pichetto, a ruling party leader, during nearly 20 hours of uninterrupted debate that ended on Saturday morning. “It allows for companies to have an adequate position, but not a dominant one.”

Opponents say the new law simply replaces a media oligopoly with a state monopoly — and will enable investors with government ties to snap up media properties at low prices in forced sales.

Outside Congress, thousands of supporters celebrated in the plaza with fireworks and booming drums. The demonstration was organized by government supporters and included political activist Maximo Kirchner, son of the first couple.

Ruling party Senator Liliana Fellner said the law does away with a vestige of Argentina’s 1976 to 1983 military dictatorship.

The commission applying new regulations and granting (or canceling) radio and television licenses will have seven members, include two designated by the executive branch, three by Congress and two by a federal body representing provincial governments. This should ensure ruling party control, which opponents fear will be used to threaten and censure critics.

Most affected is Grupo Clarin, one of Latin America’s leading media companies. Within one year, it must sell off radio stations, television channels and part of its dominant cable TV network to comply with new ownership limits.

“The government is going after the media with all its remaining power,” Clarin editor Ricardo Roa wrote on Saturday. “It has rushed through a misleading law that seems to be progressive but in reality only sets us back: It will promote a press that is weaker and more docile.”

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