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Argentinian government threatens to sell off media group licenses

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, September 24, 2012 - Threats made by the Argentine government to the Clarín Group media company through ads on television were assailed today by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

The organization also expressed concern at pressure being applied to the Supreme Court as its discusses a bid to declare several clauses in the Media Law as unconstitutional, with a decision likely to be made in early December.

“We deplore the fact that the government uses an ad on public television to disseminate political propaganda with the intent of threatening a media outlet that does not share its points of view and to put pressure on judges to issue a ruling that favors it,” declared Gustavo Mohme, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information.

Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, stressed that “this new action is part of the already known pressures launched against critical media and against the judiciary so that it rules in favor of the government regarding the Media Law.” This statute has been partially suspended on the grounds that it contradicts constitutional principles. He added that the action “also calls into question the independence that the judicial branch of government should sustain in a democracy.”

A four-minute announcement by the Federal Audiovisual Communication Services Authority (AFSCA) said that on December 7 there will enter into force Article 161 of the 2009 Law on Audiovisual Communication Services (Media Law). The announcement was broadcast on Saturday (September 22) on public television during the advertisements segment of soccer matches and car races.

The Article 161 regulates the number of licenses for a company allowed under the law and in the case of exceeding this limit it requires multimedia corporations to give away or sell its operational permits or licenses in less than one year. Clarín Group presented an appeal of unconstitutionality of Articles 45 and 161, whose implementation has been suspended following the application of precautionary measures ratified by the Supreme Court.

The official announcement warned that if before December 7 Clarín Group does not reduce the number of media it owns “the Argentine government will be obliged to call a public bidding to award those licenses that exceed the maximum authorized under the law to new bearers”.

In response to the government's warning Clarín Group said in another ad spot that on December 7 “nothing should happen, either juridically or in fact, with the group's media.” If by that date – set by the Court to pronounce sentence – a ruling is not produced, the precautionary measures could be prolonged or the term of one year contemplated in the law would be observed.

Mohme added that rather than failing to respect a precautionary measure the government should take advantage of public ad spots to promote the spirit of the law concerning democracy and more plural and diverse freedom of the press. “Paradoxically, in recent years in Argentina,” he said in reference to IAPA reports and missions to the South American country, “we have seen how the government has used mechanisms to reward and punish media through placement of official advertising and granting of operational licenses, among other methods of indirect censorship.”

The state of press freedom in Argentina will be the focus of special attention during the IAPA's General Assembly to be held October 12-16 in São Paulo, Brazil.

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