December 9, 2013
Opposition demands independent AFSCA
The day after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Broadcast Media Law’s constitutionality and against the Clarín Group’s appeal against it, the opposition came together behind one demand: that the national government’s AFSCA media watchdog, which is in charge of enforcing the law, must prove its impartiality and independence.
The PRO party led by Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri went further: it not only criticized AFSCA head Martín Sabbatella, demanding his resignation, but will also carry out a last-minute legal move to block, once again, the enforcement of the Media Law.
Today, PRO lawmakers Federico Pinedo, Paula Bertol and Gladys González together with ally Patricia Bullrich from the Union por Todos party will ask the Supreme Court to halt the law’s enforcement, arguing conditions are not in place to ensure compliance by an independent agency.
“It’s an atypical move, but then again, what the justices state in their ruling is also atypical,” Lower House PRO caucus leader and lawmaker Federico Pinedo, admitted to the Herald. “We really don’t understand how it’s supposed to be implemented.”
Macri’s party based its claim on three aspects of the Supreme Court’s set of guidelines for the government to guarantee what they describe as the correct implementation of the law: the AFSCA media watchdog must work independently, state advertising must be fair, and state media must be open to pluralism.
“None of these principles are properly guaranteed,” Bullrich told the Herald.
PRO lawmakers fear that Kirchnerism will now use the law as a personal vendetta after waging a battle for four years against the Clarín group.
“We don’t see this law as a conflict in the dichotomy of friend or foe,” Bullrich told the Herald. “You can’t address this issue by thinking it is all allies or enemies. It’s about the impartial application of legislation.”
Meanwhile, a day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti cofronted the storm of accusations that included allegations of a meeting between the justices and the president’s Legal Secretary Carlos Zannini and a secret pact between the government and the justices.
“Institutionality has to be respected,” Lorenzetti said. “We have to make an effort to respect the people who issue opinions.The Court needs to make decisions based on compelling evidence. We have to solve situations according to our beliefs,” Lorenzetti said.
“Criticism is good, but we have to defend institutionality. This was just a case and we had solved it with written and signed opinions,” he added.
‘far from over’
The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the Media Law is constitutional in the case that involved the Clarín media group’s bid to stop disinvestment process stipulated in the legislation and retain acquired licenses after Congress passed the law back in 2009.
Reactions did not take long to come from both sides.
“The first step to fulfill Supreme Court ruling is for Martín Sabbatella should resign. The Court was clear in stating that the AFSCA must be independent and today it is not. Consequently, the government can take no decision,” Macri wrote on Twitter.
Along with their ruling, the Justices established that Clarín did not provide sufficient evidence to show how the law’s regulations could threaten its economic survival.
In other words, the media conglomerate’s arguments were about profit and not the sustainability of the group, the justices said.
Along the same lines, the Supreme Court recognized state’s right to regulate the media spectrum by not only reducing Clarín Group licenses but those of all other similar groups. The Supreme Court acknowledged it was the AFSCA media watchdog’s role to make sure that Clarín Group will respect the law.
In response, PRO Senator-elect Gabriela Michetti highlighted that conditions are not in place to enforce the law properly according to the mandate of the Supreme Court ruling.
“We are asking for the ruling not to be enforced until a real independent watchdog authority is established with a suitable head in command.”
The PRO was not the only one to question Sabbatella’s impartiality.
The head of the Radical Party (UCR) caucus in the Lower House, Ricardo Gil Lavedra, insisted that despite the ruling “there are still many things to debate about the law, for instance the independence of the AFSCA watchdog.”
Regarding Clarín having to sell many of its licences, Gil Lavedra said that “deadlines must be given for Clarín to adhere to the law. So this dispute is far from over. Clarín will present a new plan to the AFSCA media watchdog, which will probably reject that plan. The dispute will continue.”
For her part, UCR Senator Laura Montero said she will push for a reform of the law.
“This law has very serious failures,” she said, “especially in the establishment of the AFSCA watchdog, because it gives the Executive too many powers. The AFSCA should be independent from the government.”