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Controversial new broadcast law

A new broadcast law passed on 10 October in Argentina has given the government wide discretionary powers to control the press, reports the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and the Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA). But the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) applauds the new legislation as a guarantee of diversity and pluralism.

According to IAPA, members from the executive branch of the government will now have legal authority to review broadcast licenses every two years. The legislation regulates cable television channels, imposes federal control over licenses in inland cities with a population of more than 500,000, and requires multimedia operations to relinquish or sell their permits or licenses within a year.

"It is sad that the controversial and politicised climate distorted the meaning of this piece of legislation, which ended up being revengeful and its proclaimed plurality was left by the wayside," said IAPA. "What remains is the feeling that this was an anti-media law, not one that defends the public's right to know."

Media and other organisations intend to have the law declared unconstitutional and the opposition in Congress has spoken of making changes after the parliamentary majority changes in December, reports IAPA.

FOPEA says a historical lack of transparency and limitations on access to information have been constraints in the development of professional journalism. This means the quality of information Argentineans receive is shaped by agreements between political authorities. The new legislation is a reflection of this undemocratic pattern, says FOPEA.

Meanwhile, AMARC supports the new legislation as a replacement for the law imposed by the military dictatorship in 1980. AMARC reports that the proposed legislation was discussed in public forums and in the media with many changes made to the legislation in March 2009. AMARC welcomes that the new legislation will curtail media concentration, thereby promoting diverse national and local content. According to AMARC, the legislation reduces the monopoly of programming by a few business groups broadcasting from the capital to the rest of the country.

The International Press Institute (IPI) called the legislation "controversial" with the potential to diminish media freedom in the country. The broadcasting bill appears to be increasing plurality in the media but the board that is responsible for interpreting and applying the law is vulnerable to political influence, reports IPI.

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