Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Argentina’s Anti-Monopoly Media Law Approved

Yesterday brought some good news for Argentina’s ruling Front for Victory (FPV) coalition, which it doubtlessly appreciated after the opposition gained ground in Sunday’s legislative elections. As the New York Times reports, the Argentine Supreme court ruled 6-1 that a controversial FPV-backed anti-monopoly media law is constitutional, a decision which ends a four-year legal battle between the government and the country’s largest media conglomerate, Clarin.

In accordance with the ruling, the media group will be forced to sell off dozens of its cable licenses, a fact which Clarin glumly acknowledges in a front-page story today. But while the paper announced it would comply with the ruling, Clarin also claimed it violated the free press guarantees set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights, and declared it was considering challenging the decision by petitioning the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

While other organizations have sympathized with Clarin on the issue -- The Wall Street Journal notes that the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), for instance, has denounced this as the latest of President Cristina Fernandez’s “permanent attacks against critical and independent voices” -- there is reason to question this narrative.

The media monopoly law, which was passed in 2009, limits media companies to no more than 24 broadcast licenses nationwide and a maximum of 35 percent of the market share. The Financial Times reports that Cablevision, Clarin’s cable operator, says it currently has a market share of 47 percent, and owns 158 licenses. According to La Nacion, however, authorities claim Clarin holds 264 licenses. The paper also notes that Clarin’s closest competitor, DirectTV, operates throughout the country on only one license. The popular Telecentro, of the Pierri media group, operates on only one license in the same area in which Cablevision uses more than 20. As such, it’s difficult to see how restricting Clarin’s hold on broadcast licenses amounts to an attack on press freedom.

Horacio Verbitsky of the Center for Legal Studies (CELS), a human rights group which has supported the law since its passage, strongly disagrees with Clarin’s characterization of the law. Verbitsky told Pagina12 that the Supreme Court decision helped “crystalize a social demand” that various administrations have attempted to fulfill over the past 30 years. According to him:
“The Supreme Court has declared that there is no special interest which can be placed above the interest of society, and that the laws that are sanctioned in Congress must be applied. This resolution comes at a time when we celebrate thirty uninterrupted years of democracy; thirty years in which a democratic broadcasting law has been pending. There were other previous attempts. Alfonsin tried with a bill, De la Rua tried with another bill, and each time the veto of concentrated media power in the country prevailed. The only reform which was passed occurred during the Menem government, and it provided media groups greater levels of concentration. And what’s more, this is a victory in a democratic battle, because never before has there been a resistance so explicit from a corporate economic power against a law passed in full democracy.”

News Briefs
  • For the 22nd year in a row, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution condemning U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. The breakdown of this year’s vote was the same as last year’s record: 188-2, with three abstentions. Only Israel joined with the U.S. in voting in support of the embargo.
  • Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has ruled against a challenge to its decision to require a lower court to reassess its denial of amnesty to ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt, filed by the Center for Human Rights and Legal Action (CALDH). El Periodico reports that the ruling clears the way for the First Chamber of Appeals to issue a decision on the applicability of a 1986 amnesty decree. Plaza Publica has an interview with Constitutional Court Judge Roberto Molina Barreto, who expresses some frustration with how the high court’s ruling has been interpreted by local press outlets.
  • A new U.S. congressional report finds that, in spite of the launch of a labor accord developed by the United States and Colombia in parallel with the recently-signed free trade agreement, the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan -- as it is known -- has failed the rein in violence against union members in the South American country. The 53-page report, issued yesterday by Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and James McGovern (D-Mass.), concludes that basic labor rights like the freedom to organize and collective bargaining guarantees are repeatedly violated across the country. What’s more, the government has made little progress towards investigating the murder of union members. Union assassinations have an impunity rate of 93.4 percent in Colombia, according to the report.
  • Writing for American University’s Center for Latino and Latin American Studies’ blog, international law specialist Carlos Portales provides some useful context for the bill recently passed by the U.S. Congress, which charges the State Department with devising a plan for the OAS to adopt a “results-based budgeting process.” Portales argues that the bill seeks to increase the OAS’ role in promoting democracy in the region, which could put it in conflict with other international organizations in Latin America, like UNASUR, CELAC and ALBA.
  • Animal Politico and El Universal report that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has announced he will pardon indigenous teacher Alberto Patishtan under a new law which expands the scope of executive pardons. Patishtan has been imprisoned for 13 years, after he was convicted of killing seven police officers following a clash between police and armed individuals in the southern state of Chiapas. His case has attracted the attention of domestic and international human rights groups alike. Upside Down World has a helpful profile of Patishtan, noting that his lawyers say a court discarded testimony from witnesses that proved he was elsewhere when the crime was committed.
  • Brazil will become the latest country in the region to dig up the body of a former head of state to investigate claims that he was murdered. According to MercoPress, the remains of ex-president Joao Goulart will be exhumed next month to determine whether he was poisoned during his exile in Argentina in the 1970s.
  • The government of Uruguay has announced that it will withdraw its troops from the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti. El Observador reports that President Jose Mujica said the decision was made in accordance with other countries, like Brazil, which have already decided to pull their troops from Haiti. According to La Republica, the move is also intended to put pressure on Haiti to hold long overdue elections, as the military presence “no longer serves any purpose when [Haiti’s] own government has been done to provide solutions to the political situation in the island.” Americas Quarterly notes that Uruguay is the second-largest contributor of troops to the Haitian peacekeeping mission, after Brazil.
  • The AP profiles the emergence of private 3D movie and video-game salons in Cuba, a popular new form of venue which has sprung up after recent economic reforms. Their popularity has attracted the attention of the government, which on Sunday announced it was working on new regulation for the businesses. Video parlor owners consulted by the news agency express fear that this could bring an end to their booming trade.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales’ ruling party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), is already gearing up for the next general election in December 2014. La Razon reports that, according to MAS Senate leader Eugenio Rojas, the party is looking to pass some 30 laws before the end of the year, in order to get them out of the way ahead of election season. President Morales has said that he intends to run for another term in the election, despite a constitutional ban on third terms.
  • Peruvian Prime Minister Juan Jimenez has resigned from the cabinet of President Ollanta Humala, and will be replaced by Cesar Villanueva, the regional president of the northern department of San Martin. In remarks to El Comercio, Jimenez claimed his resignation was part of a larger shakeup in Humala’s cabinet, saying the president had been weighing the move for weeks and that more resignations would be announced in the coming days. This is likely a bid by Humala to improve his public approval rating, which has reached its lowest point in his administration.  A July  poll by Ipsos showed that roughly 60 percent of the country held a negative opinion of Jimenez, and leaders of various political stripes have called for his immediate removal, but until recently Humala made it known he had full support for his cabinet chief.