December 12, 2013
Gov’t offers Clarín a ‘voluntary’ way out
President Fernández de Kirchner’s administration yesterday offered the Clarín Group the opportunity to present a disinvestment plan of its own making, following the Supreme Court ruling in favour of the constitutionality of the anti-monopoly Broadcast Media Law.
After long saying that Clarín’s window to present a plan to adapt to the law’s limits had closed, the head of the AFSCA media watchdog Martín Sabbatella said AFSCA would at the very least consider a plan if the company is willing to file it.
“The sooner they present it, the better,” he said after a brief meeting with Clarín’s legal representatives at the media conglomerate’s headquarters in the City neighbourhood of Barracas, where he had gone to personally notify the company of the full validity of the Media Law.
Sabbatella said the process for the media group to adapt to the new law could take between six and 12 months.
The head of AFSCA arrived early at the offices located in Piedras street in the Buenos Aires City neighbourhood of Barracas, surrounded by a throng of media. The company’s lawyer Damián Cassino received Sabbatella.
The country’s media czar notified the company it now has 15 days to ratify (or correct) the information already collected by AFSCA about the media licences the conglomerate holds, before the government enforces a unilateral disinvestment plan.
As a next step, the Appraisal Tribunal would then set a value for each of the cable, TV and radio licences owned by Clarín.
“A public call for tender and new licence owners” will follow, Sabbatella said. “As there were doubts over the previous notification” that took place in December, which was suspended in April by an appeals court, “we are beginning today the de facto adaptation process.”
At the same time though, Sabbatella also seemed to put forward a more concilliatory tone, explaining the conglomerate still has one more chance before the government unilaterally decides which assets the company has to share: to complete the plan already presented by the group’s minority shareholder Fintech Advisory on December 5, 2012.
This way, the group will still be able to sell his exceeding licences “voluntarily” — that is, to choose a buyer that may, but also may not, be approved by AFSCA.
Even though the period to present a plan “is over” for Clarín, the offer is still open (for a limited time), because Fintech’s presentation was considered “incomplete” by the media watchdog.
Concretely, Fintech presented AFSCA a letter of intent in which its owner, Mexican business leader David Martínez, said he wanted to comply with the Media Law.
‘Between six months, a year’
When asked about the length of time it would take for Clarín to comply with the current anti-monopoly regulation, Sabatella told Radio del Plata that it would be “no less than six months and no longer than a year.”
“It’s not the same to hold a tender for a company with 10 licences (than to issue one for a company with) 15 or 200,” he added.
He then confirmed his department would evaluate a potential plan by the Clarín Group should the conglomerate decide to join Fintech’s presentation.
“AFSCA does not have a preference of either forcing (Clarín) to comply with the law or giving them the choice — we seek to have them comply (with the law) by whatever means necessary.”
Following Tuesday’s ruling, there has been lots of debate between administration allies about a possible government-led “unilateral” disinvestment scheme or whether the country’s largest media conglomerate should be given a short period to “voluntarily” adapt to the new rules.
The former, some Kirchnerite officials have argued, could lead to further judicial demands that could drag the legal battle on for years.