Friday, December 7, 2012

Argentina's Clarin Wins Extension on Monopoly Deadline

Argentine media group Clarin has won an extension on the time it has to sell off assets in line with an anti-monopoly media law, in a victory for the company and defeat for the Kirchner government.

The company had been given until December 7 to hand in a plan to reduce its holdings, including many of its cable assets, in order to comply with a 2009 law. Hours before the deadline, the Civil and Commercial Appeals Court ruled that the company did not have to act until a review of the media law was complete, reports Reuters.

In May, Clarin obtained an injunction against the media law, which was due to expire today. It has now been extended until a lower court rules on whether the law is constitutional. The Financial Times called the ruling an “11th hour reprieve.”

Government allies reacted angrily, criticizing the appeals court for holding up implementation of the media law, and said they would appeal to the Supreme Court. Martin Sabbatella, head of the AFSCA, the body in charge of implementing the law, threatening to have the appeal court judges disqualified, accusing them of being biased and accepting a Clarin-paid trip to Miami, reports the Financial Times. He said that the ruling was a disgrace, and hurt democracy.

The administration of President Cristina Kirchner is putting “tremendous pressure” on the judicial system over the case, according to the Wall Street Journal, with officials warning that granting extension of the injunction would be an “insurrection.”

Both sides accuse the other of acting in bad faith. Clarin has accused the government of trying to silence opposition voices through applying the law, while the government has claimed that its motive is to democratize Argentina’s media and prevent one company being too dominant. As the WSJ points out, Clarin had been widely viewed as “a heavyweight that either pandered to governments or bullied them to get what it wanted.”

Clarin enjoyed a warm relationship with the Kirchner faction until its coverage of farmers’ protests in 2008, and was allowed to carry out a controversial merger under the president's late husband, then-President Nestor Kirchner, despite anti-trust regulators ruling against it.

The Center for Economic and Political Research (CEPR) comments that there is reason to believe the government's line that the media law is indeed about “democratizing a media landscape dominated by heavily-monopolized media conglomerates that are often opposed to the forces of change under way in the country.” It notes that Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of the Expression for the UN, has described the law as “a model for the continent and other regions of the world.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists criticized Clarin’s move to launch a complaint against pro-government journalists, and commented that “it is clear what is at stake in a power struggle where freedom and processes of democratization are just part of a rhetorical strategy.”

The law sets allows a maximum of 24 cable licenses, and Clarin has 237. The company currently controls 42.8 percent of the radio market, 38 percent of open TV and 59 percent of cable TV, as BBC Mundo sets out. There are another 20 companies that also have to divest themselves of assets, according to the AFSCA.

Whatever the motives of the law, the debate has now moved into new territory. For the WSJ:

The outcome of the showdown, once seen as a political grudge match between the populist president and a media giant with a controversial past, seems likely to shape press freedom for years to come, and become a key test of legitimacy for the country's courts.

News Briefs

  • President Hugo Chavez has returned to Venezuela, walking unaided from the plane, cracking jokes with journalists, and wearing a multi-colored tracksuit, rebutting rumors that he was confined to a wheelchair, reports Reuters. His absence from today’s meeting of Mercosur presidents has raised questions, however, given that it is Venezuela’s first summit as a full member of the trade bloc.
  • Paraguay will remain suspended from Mercosur at least until presidential elections in April 2013, following the questionable impeachment of President Fernando Lugo, foreign ministers said at a preliminary meeting on Thursday, reports MercoPressBloggings by Boz notes that the summit will discuss the question of whether to let Bolivia and Ecuador join as full members, commenting that, “Having spent most of the year discussing who is in and out of the club, Mercosur hasn't gotten much else done.” More from BBC Mundo on trade among the group’s members.
  • The AP looks at the prospects for legalization of same-sex marriage in Mexico, following the Supreme Court’s overturning of a law banning the practice in Oaxaca state, with rulings in favor of three couples who challenged the law. A total of five cases are needed to set legal precedent in a state. Gay marriage has been legal in Mexico City since 2010.
  • The LA Times blog looks at the prospects for the new mayor of Mexico City, Miguel Angel Mancera of the leftist PRD party, who won July’s election with 63 percent of the vote. His party has now held the capital’s mayorship for 15 years, a post with has launched presidential bids for other former mayors. The report notes that Mancera takes office amid controversy over the alleged arbitrary detention and abuse of protesters during the Sunday inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
  • The Mexico City human rights commission said in a report Thursday that 22 people had been arbitrarily detained by police during the protests, reports the AP. In the wake of the disturbances, The Economist asks, “Attacked on the street and lacking a majority in both houses of Congress, can Mexico’s new president get anything done?”
  • The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports on a study on sexual violence in post-earthquake Haiti, which found that most rapes were carried out by people known to the victim, and not by strangers. It points to the “worsening economic picture,” with unsafe housing, food insecurity, and gang activity, as a “key engine of sexual violence.”
  • Amnesty International has released a report on attacks against human rights defenders in the Americas by state security forces, paramilitary groups and organized crime, analyzing some 300 cases from 2010 onwards.
  • Chile has rejected Peru’s case for redrawing the countries’ maritime border before the International Court of Justice in the Hague, arguing that the matter was settled with a 1952 treaty, as the AP reports. Peru presented its case on December 3 and 4, and Bloomberg reports that the approval ratings of President Ollanta Humala have jumped in response to optimism that the country will win.
  • The LA Times has a report on a new outbreak of violence in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which is attributed to revenge attacks between police and members of the PCC gang. A former Sao Paulo security official is quoted as saying that the violence was sparked by police executing gang members who had surrendered, “The ROTA [police special forces] broke a fundamental rule of living alongside criminals, that of allowing those who turn themselves in to stay alive."
  • Puerto Rican independence fighter Avelino Gonzalez Claudio has returned to the island to finish serving his prison sentence for robbing a bank truck, and will be freed in February, reports the AP.
  • Software entrepreneur John McAfee was briefly hospitalized in Guatemala with chest pains, reports the AP. He is facing deportation to Belize for questioning over the murder of a neighbor.

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