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Argentina Five Years after the Audiovisual Law: An Interminable Conflict

Santiago Marino */ Argentina, octubre 2014

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Argentina recently marked the fifth anniversary of the passage of the Audiovisual Communication Services Law (LSCA). The period has been marked by a series of stages in which the conflict between the Clarín Group and the national government has evolved in terms of its structure. The current period includes almost daily developments in a constant battle that has captured everyone’s attention as part of a process that should be broader and more complex.

While the national government was preparing to celebrate the first five years of the enactment of the LSCA at an International Conference which featured a discussion of present and future regulatory aspects of the media system with national and international experts, a development occurred that jolted the entire process. It involved the adjustment of concentrated media groups to the new limits established by the law.

On Wednesday,  October 8, just a few hours before a new meeting of the board of the Federal Authority of Communication and Audiovisuals (AFSCA), Martin Sabbatella –the board’s Chairman appointed by the National Executive Branch (PEN)- stated in a press conference  that he would present that same afternoon a report in which he would seek to terminate the voluntary divestment process of the Clarín Group and move to direct intervention by the State body. Sabbatella stated that that entity would decide which concessions the group should sell and set the criteria for the necessary bidding processes.

The statement made by Sabbatella indicated that “analysis undertaken by the technical teams of the AFSCA unearthed evidence that suggests that the Group attempted to circumvent the law.” He made mention of two maneuvers in particular. The first was the existence of corporate and commercial ties between concession administrators and the firms nominated for units 1 and 2 in which the Clarín Group would be divided. The second was a set of conditions imposed by the seller on the buyers.

During the Board meeting held that same afternoon, the statement was approved by 5 votes (of representatives linked to the national government), with two abstentions (by members of the opposition, who claimed that they were unable to evaluate the dossier). This initiated another round of conflict. Sabbatella also stated that the AFSCA would submit reports to other State agencies in order to investigate whether the Clarín Group (1) had committed any additional offences during the process.

This decision allows for several interpretations such as the hypothesis that the on-going conflict is a useful mechanism for both sides, as argued by Dr. Martín Becerra and journalist Sebastián Lacunza, who provided the clearest analysis of the recent events and their impact.

The decision of AFSCA once again highlighted the conflict between the government and the Clarín Group. And in terms of the implementation of the Audiovisual Communication Services Law and the democratization of the country’s audiovisual system, the cart would appear to have been placed before the horse. AFSCA decided to advance government intervention in the Clarín Group on the basis of reasons and aspects that are understandable, although similar actions by other media groups received government approval. Those in the communications community in Argentina had been monitoring the board meeting in October to see if a decision would be taken on the case of the Telefé company and its possible infringements. However, a five-year ban imposed via the LSCA has been left pending. This decision could lead to a delay in the resolution of the Clarín case. In fact, this outcome would appear to be inevitable. The group will continue to play the victim with statements such as «the government seeks to dismantle Clarín,» and will continue its strategy of using judicial measures to curb the full implementation of the audiovisual law. The situation can thus be viewed as strictly political, in a conflict that may end up as a «win-win» for both sides, but in which the full benefits of the LSCA are once more delayed.

*Santiago Marino is Doctor in Social Sciences with a Master’s in Communication and Culture. Director of the Master’s course in Cultural Industries (Quilmes University); academic and researcher Quilmes University, University of Buenos Aires and University of Salvador. Twitter: @santiagomarin

Note:
(1) Reports were presented to the Office of Economic Crime and Money Laundering (ProCELAc), the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), and the National Securities Commission (CNV).
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