December 7, 2013
Two giants downsized
Absurdly late though yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling to uphold the constitutional status of the 2009 Broadcasting Law was, its timing was also exquisite — this long overdue move to cut the gigantic multimedia Clarín Group down to size came just two days after the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration had been cut down to size by the electorate in Sunday’s midterm elections. It seems harsh timing that a convalescent CFK cannot celebrate publicly a triumph she has sought so long but also fair — the onus is still on her government to prove that it genuinely seeks to “democratize” and diversify Argentina’s media market after years of partisan manipulation of public television and state advertising (propaganda techniques by no means absent from provincial or municipal levels of government). If the Supreme Court (whose ruling did not overlook these factors) awaited a lame-duck government before clipping Clarín’s wings, it may have been seeking in its higher wisdom to prevent one political monopoly replacing another, even though the now constitutional media law is an effective tool against any dominance.
Yet a delay almost the length of an entire presidential term remains unconscionably excessive. At least it serves as a “smoking gun” for the colossal clout of a multimedia grouping incompatible with true democracy — nobody else has the same power to block the law. Readers new to this country might be forgiven if Clarín does not spring to their minds when listing the megagroups of global communications but without competing with them in market value, this “multimedia” group stands out for the unrivalled range of media penetrated by its tentacles with a destructive impact on competitors at all levels. And yet the Supreme Court has just challenged a resigned acceptance that Clarín is beyond the control of any of the three branches of government.
Or has it? The Supreme Court has ruled the Broadcasting Law constitutional but it can only be as constitutional as the government allows it to be. If the CFK administration violates the spirit of this law by using it to favour media pals and abuse state powers, a Clarin backlash will have its chances — not least in the new political context with a 2015 change of presidency just around the corner and none of the alternative leaders showing the determination of Kirchnerism against the group (a determination which Kirchnerism itself failed to show in its first years, indeed quite the opposite). But CFK also has a unique opportunity in her last two years to bequeath a genuinely democratic media policy. In a word, yesterday’s ruling was a milestone beyond any doubt but it would be premature to speak of the end of the mother of all battles.