Connect to share and comment

Argentine president feuds with media conglomerate

What's behind Argentina's attempt to decentralize the media?

"This law is about controlling the licenses, but there's a problem if it controls content by determining who receives the licenses," said Andres D'Alessandro, executive director of the Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA), a group of more than 280 reporters dedicated to improving journalism ethics and quality in Argentina.

FOPEA hopes the new Congress will revise the law to ensure more transparency. It would also like the government to give media companies more time to comply with ownership restrictions.

Clarin and Argentina's other media companies have one year to sell their assets.

That kind of rush makes Bill Kovach question the government's intentions. Kovach is the founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and senior adviser for the Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington, D.C. He says that while the new law mirrors anti-monopoly laws in the United States and Europe, changes there came about more gradually.

"Other parts of the world have dealt with the issue of concentration — but slowly over time. To try to enhance competition is a logical thing to do but it's a process, not a fiat. The government is using the law to eliminate its commercial competitors," he said.

A recent Harvard study of Argentine newspapers found a correlation between state-sponsored advertising revenue and reduced coverage of government corruption scandals. The study supports what many have long alleged is an institutional legacy of government influence over the press in Argentina.

But the researchers also found that corruption coverage in the larger newspapers, like Claron and La Nacion, was less sensitive to changes in government advertising than smaller newspapers. So the diversification of media may dilute the power of any one group to criticize the government.

"Of course we have some problems with press freedoms in Argentina, but it's nothing compared with other countries," said Edward Bartoni, director for the Center for Freedom of Expression and Access to Information at the University of Palermo.

Bertoni points to the government's decriminalization of libel last month as a major step toward media freedom in Argentina.

And Bertoni says he isn't too worried about the new media law: The new Congress can make changes to the law in its next session. Or Clarin can take their case to court.

"Concentration of media ownership is a problem — particularly in Latin America. Argentina is no exception," said Bartoni. "But the power of the media ultimately comes from their ability to convince people that what they're publishing is true."