December 13, 2013
Media Law hearingThursday, August 29, 2013
Cable TV regulation takes centre stage in S. Court
Government and Clarín to address justices today
The first day of a highly anticipated two-part hearing took place yesterday when five amici curiae (friends of the court) from Clarín Group’s side and five from the government’s gave their opinions regarding the Broadcast Media Law that has dominated the Argentine political world since 2009.
Yesterday was the warm-up round. Today will be the main battle, when the Clarín Group, the country’s largest media conglomerate, will go head-to-head with the government at the Supreme Court, each side defending their side of the take-no-prisoners battle. It is expected to be the final salvo before the final ruling.
Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni caught everyone’s attention because minutes after he took his seat he stood up and left. Court sources told the Herald the justice had already scheduled a flight to Germany and that he will be staying in Europe for 20 days.
Lorenzetti explained that they had agreed to call for a public hearing because the matter that the highest tribunal will have to analyze soon is a “matter of institutional importance, which not only interests both parties but also society as a whole.”
What, in fact, is being discussed is whether an anti-trust law can be approved, allowing the state to take a leading role, and what rights should prevail: the right to social communication or the rights to free enterprise.
Justices decided to alternate Clarín’s amici with the experts backing the government’s stance. Venezuelan lawyer Asdrúbal Aguiar Aranguren, who represented the Ibero-American Observatory for Democracy and is a former judge at the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, was the first to speak for the media conglomerate. Referring to a recent ruling of the Inter- American Court, he said that Article 41 of the Law 26,522, that bans the transfer of licences was unreasonable.
The second turn to support Clarín’s position was given to Eduardo Oteiza, representing the Ibero-American Association of Private TV Enterprises. Oteiza, who used to be the president of the Association for Civil Rights (ADC), referred to Article 45, which limits the concentration of licences.
President of the International Association of Broadcasting Luis Pardo said that the Media Law might contribute to a single discourse. Luis Laplacette spoke for the Argentine Association of Journalistic Entities (ADEPA) and said that distributing licences is like enforcing “preventive censorship.”
Laplacette, along with semiologist Eliseo Verón, contended the Media Law was “obsolete” because it did not take into account the Internet.
From the Consumers’ Committee, Andrés Gil Domínguez argued that the choice of consumers can be affected by the Media Law.
Beinusz Szmukler, from the Argentine Jurists Association, made the first presentation to back the Broadcast Media Law, defining communications as a public service and he highlighted that Clarín cannot claim that due to the law it might lose “acquired rights” because licences are not “set in stone.”
Carlos Ruta from the University of San Martín agreed with Szmukler. “Our word cannot be considered a merchandise and our rights cannot be ruled by the exchange principles,” he highlighted as a way to note the difference between the economic claims uttered by the organizations supporting Clarín and the rights invoked by the experts backing the Kirchnerite administration that sponsored the law.
Speaking for the University of Lanús (UNLA), lawyer Víctor Abramovich said that Clarín group entrenches itself behind formal equality in order to maintain their privileges and criticized the Federal Court’s ruling, that in April considered unconstitutional the Media Law.
For the former Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) executive director, what is behind the debate, is the possibility of the state to intervene. “The state has to control non-state actors in order to transform the situation in order to benefit those underprivileged,” Abramovich added.
Attorney Damián Loreti, who drafted the bill, represented the CELS centre and spoke for the constitutionality of the law. Referring to the number of licences, he said that due to Clarín’s intervention many cable signals have been closed down and many workers have lost their jobs as a way to illustrate with example what the law would prevent.
A vigorous applause saluted Miguel Julio Rodríguez Villafañe’s speech, who spoke for Cooperar, a co-operative association devoted to “the economy of solidarity”. Rodríguez Villafañe also gave examples of how ordinary people were hurt by media concentration.
“You, justices, have to work for the public welfare, so declare constitutional the law and justice will be done,” he concluded.
EXPECTATION FOR TODAY
The AFSCA watchdog Martín Sabbatella will represent the government position today. He said he was satisfied by yesterday’s proceedings, adding he was “optimistic” about the ruling.
“After the hearing, it’s easy to see what Clarín group is defending and how they do it,” he told the Herald.
“Clarín only made economic claims. Tomorrow (for today) the scene will be the same,” Gustavo López, the deputy-secretary of the presidency, told the Herald.
Today, the parties will have to expose their positions and will answer questions from the other side and from justices. Then the justices will finally have to make their decision over the most important law passed in the recent years, which might be delayed at least for 20 days, until Zaffaroni returns.
Verbitsky accuses lorenzetti of politicization
The president of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), journalist Horacio Verbitsky, accused Justice Chief Ricardo Lorenzetti of politicizing the hearing and also took pains to separate his organization from the government.
“Our founders’ mandate was to help our democracy to be released from the vices of the last dictatorship,” Verbitsky said at the beginning of his speech, referencing the Media Law passed four years ago to replace one dictated during the military regime.
But he went on to criticize the Supreme Court for forcing those interested in filing amicus curiae to express whether they were in favour of one side or the other.
“By constraining the amicus to one parties’ stance, the Court contradicts the statement of their own president against the politicization of justice and reduces the debate to a controversy among parties, when in fact it is a vital debate for the formation of a popular will within a democracy,” the journalist said.
“We have adjusted to this unfair restriction in order to not contribute to the scandalous delay in the ruling about the law,” Verbitsky added.
Demonstrators gather outside
Artists, human rights activists and political organizations yesterday gathered in front of the Supreme Court’s building to express their support for the Media Law while the public hearing took place inside.
Under the slogan of “In defence of a law written by people”, hundreds of people joined the demonstration called by the Coalition for a Democratic Communication.
Musicians Víctor Heredia and Peteco Carabajal were there as well as Kirchnerite lawmakers Horacio Pietragalla and Edgardo Depetri. While the hearing was taking place, Taty Almeida, an iconic member of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Founding Line, arrived at the square opposite the Court palace to back up the law passed in 2009.
Demonstrators demanded a swift ruling declaring the constitutionality of the Media Law. “Judiciary: Stop being Clarín’s employees”, a banner flown by a middle-age man read.