December 6, 2013
Martín Sabbatella: time is up for Clarín
The Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday in favour of the government, upholding the Broadcast Media law as constitutional, was celebrated by Kirchnerism with particular enthusiasm, as AFSCA media watchdog head Martín Sabbatella said the Clarín Group, the country’s largest media conglomerate, must now disinvest to meet the law’s anti-trust requirements.
The Clarín Group, however, vehemently disagreed and made it clear it would continue fighting even while insisting it respected the court’s authority.
The company yesterday breathed no sigh of relief, as it did on December 8 last year, when justices extended the injunction that shielded it from conforming to the Anti-monopoly law, voted in 2009, and its implication of large-scale divestment, until a firm ruling on the group’s constitutionality appeal was pronounced.
Instead, the government’s nemesis media conglomerate provided a news release, simultaneously communicating its will to “abide by the law and respect judicial decisions, as it has always done,” but also that its legal representation is “analyzing further legal options, including appealing before international courts.”
“The most concrete proof of the true intention of this government with this law has been the enormous official colonization of media companies since its passage,” the company statement continued. “Today more than 80 percent of the broadcast media respond directly or indirectly to the authorities.”
For his part, Sabbatella spoke of the ruling as a “fundamental step.” The man who has often criticized judges praised the court yesterday for recognizing that several years of broad debate preceded the passage of the law by Congress.
“Unfortunately we had to wait four years for this because one group didn’t want to follow the law. Today we have the possibility of applying it wholely,” he added.
The court also confirmed that the deadline for filing divestment plans has already passed, which means the Clarín Group must move immediately to comply by giving the government a complete inventory of its assets, determining what they are worth and advising which will be auctioned off, Sabbatella warned, assuring that “Clarín’s assets will not be expropriated, and no one wants to seize control of the company.”
He refused to say how or when punitive steps might be taken if Clarín continues to challenge the law, but said “Clarín must comply, either voluntarily or by government order.”
Sabbatella’s incisive statement that “time is fully up” and that AFSCA would resume its adaptation process left doubts about what the media group is actually expected to do, as no legal framework was set up for a smooth transition in case of a ruling that favoured the state.
Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli said the ruling provided “definitive certainty about a pending issue.”
Details of the law
The law says no company can own more than 24 licences, that no TV network can reach more than 35 percent of the nation’s viewers, no broadcast license can be sold without government approval, and future licenses will be granted only after corporate ties are reviewed to avoid too much vertical or horizontal integration.
It also bars cross-ownership: no license holder can own both a cable TV station and a broadcast station in the same municipality, or more than two radio stations in the same town. Because Clarín’s TV and radio signals reach across many municipalities in the province of Buenos Aires alone, it would have to be broken apart into tiny pieces.
Sabbatella’s press conference and Scioli’s brief statement at a rally with Congressman-elect Martín Insaurralde were two of the exceptions to an apparent call to silence for the time being, as the majority of Kirchnerite ranks had not commented on the development at press time.
Another exception, Chaco Governor Jorge Capitanich, took a more philosophical approach, citing the case as an example of Peronist concern for “the economy and wellbeing, unlike the capital erected under oligarchy to diminish the power of the state that emanates from popular will.”
Buenos Aires deputy Governor Gabriel Mariotto called for the people “to recognize Cristina and Néstor Kirchner’s civic courage, as they stood firm with that democratic spirit knowing they would be attacked by the monopoly.”
The Broadcast Media law represents the “democratization of the word and image,” said Lower House Speaker Julián Domínguez.
Freedom of speech, private property
Clarín’s arguments against Articles 41, 45, 48 and 161 were that they infringed the constitutional rights of freedom of speech by “silencing critical media without technical justification” and private property by “not acknowledging valid licences that do not expire for years,” thereby “openly violating acquired rights.”
Justices, however, considered that the law “is about strengthening deliberative democracy, in which everyone, under equality, may express his opinions and predominant voices are not admitted.”
In its release, the Clarín Group said the articles it was against “not only contradict the Argentine Constitution, but also the American Human Rights Convention (Pact of San José of Costa Rica), as well as recent precedents by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Organization of American State’s Freedom of Speech Rapporteur.
Herald with DyN, Reuters, Télam