IPI condemns Argentine government’s attacks on Grupo Clarín
President Kirchner disparages media from abroad
By: Scott Griffen, Press Freedom Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean
VIENNA, Sept. 27, 2012 – The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned the Argentine government’s use of television advertising to threaten Grupo Clarín, and renewed its call on President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to end her verbal attacks on the press.
Speaking yesterday before a group of students in the Washington, Kirchner complained that "when a journalist doesn’t like something, he starts to shout and cause a scandal," and asserted: "there is no independent journalism in Argentina or in any other part of the world because all journalists act on behalf of a certain interest."
The president also defended her decision not to give press conferences, insisting that “authorities are not there to respond or make press conferences the centre of our administration,” before adding, “the press should say clearly with whom it is aligned, as in the United States.”
Kirchner’s comments came just days after the government released a television advertisement threatening the seizue of television and radio licenses belonging to the media conglomerate Grupo Clarín that the Kirchner administration claims are in violation of the country’s new media law, passed by Argentina’s Congress in October 2009. The ad, first aired on public television during highly watched Saturday football programming, slams Grupo Clarín for “refusing to comply with the law” and for attempting to subvert the democratic process.
IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said today, “The Argentine government’s attacks against Grupo Clarín are unacceptable and, unfortunately, reminiscent of the public bullying of the media in Venezuela and Ecuador. The Kirchner administration must end its campaign to harass and discredit Grupo Clarín, and allow the Argentine justice system to do its job.”
He added: “At a time when violence against reporters is on the rise across Argentina, it is unfortunate to hear President Kirchner disparage the profession of journalism. We are concerned that press freedom in Argentina may be in significant decline.”
Article 45 of the the country’s new media law limits companies to 24 cable television licenses in addition to 10 open frequency radio or television licenses. Article 161 established a divestment procedure for companies whose holdings exceed those limits. In response to the law, Grupo Clarín—which owns 240 cable television broadcasters, 10 radio stations, 4 television channels, in addition to the newspaper Clarín—launched a constitutional challenge to the law that targeted, among others, articles 45 and 161.
On May 22 of this year, Argentina’s Supreme Court ruled that a three-year old injunction against compliance with Article 161, ordered by a lower court, would expire on December 7, 2012. However, the Court has not yet ruled on the constitutional challenge to Articles 161 or 45.
The Kirchner administration has interpreted the Court’s ruling to mean that Article 161’s stipulations will come into force on Dec. 7 and that Clarín’s licenses may be forcibly redistributed at that point. However, the text of the Court’s decision appears to indicate that if the constitutionality of Articles 45 and 161 is not determined before Dec. 7, Grupo Clarín can request a further injunction.
Grupo Clarín insisted on this point in an advertisement spot it released over the weekend in response to the government’s claims, declaring, “On Dec. 7th nothing should happen – not legally nor in fact.” The ad also points out that, according to the text of Article 161, companies have one year after the article’s entry into force—that is, after the expriation of the injunction—to comply with the law.
Earlier this month, Kirchner interrupted national broadcasting in a type of address known as a cadena—a “chained” broadcast that every TV channel is required to air—a practice frequently used by Presidents Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, to attack Grupo Clarín, declaring, “This illegal chain of dejection and fear has an expiration date: the 7th of December.”
In an editorial published on Monday, La Nación, a leading opposition paper, compared the government’s attacks on Grupo Clarín to the controversial closure of the Venezuelan opposition broadcaster RCTV by President Chávez.
Earlier this week, Gustavo Mohme, president of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), released a statement “deploring” the use of advertising “to disseminate political propaganda in public television with the intent of threatening a media group that doesn’t conform to the [government’s] point of view and to pressure judges to produce a favourable ruling.”
At a meeting in Santiago, Chile, in July, a consortium of organisations, including IPI as well as IAPA and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA), critised the Kirchner government for its “continual and systematic” harassment of what the government viewed as “unfriendly” media.