October 25, 2014
Watchdog in hibernation
When the Supreme Court ruled the Broadcasting Law constitutional just two days after last October’s midterm elections, this newspaper concluded that the government should not so much congratulate itself on a triumph as see the endorsement as a challenge. Serious doubts arise as soon as the disproportionate weight of the main players in the communications market and the contradictory track record of Kirchnerite policies in this sphere are analysed — even though the legislation meets the highest standards of developed countries in terms of promoting rights and its anti-monopoly clauses.
Eight months later, the reality is that this winter finds the AFSCA media watchdog keeping on ice any analysis of the proposals presented by the various media groups to adapt to the new legislation. In particular, the Spanish Prisa and Telefónica groups and the locally owned Telecentro belonging to the rightwing Peronist Alberto Pierri, among others. All these proposals were submitted some 18 months ago with this inexplicable delay responding far more to political causes than any conscientious study of how the plans match up to the new law. In the case of Clarín, AFSCA has grave doubts as to whether the presentation made by the group to divide itself into six units conceals a strong element of dummy ownership, basically boiling down to mere camouflage. Meanwhile the stipulated 180-day period for the media to align themselves with the law is running out so that any rejection of the main media group’s plan would leave little room for manoeuvre. In other words, closer to being able to sue the government for arbitrary behaviour. In fact, the government becomes as guilty of delay as a Supreme Court which delayed its decision year after year, as the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration rightly protested. As CFK pointed out last week, she herself has little more than 500 days left in her term.
Implementing media legislation is a complex task. This AFSCA has improved on the performance of its predecessors by starting up low-frequency radios and television channels and awarding new licences to municipalities, universities and NGOs, as well as unblocking some commercial tenders. But on the other hand, little has been done to make Channel 7 genuinely public rather than a ruling party mouthpiece. In any case in what most interests the government — downsizing a substantial part of the media market — the limbo imposed by the Casa Rosada only conspires against the noble aims proclaimed by Kirchnerism. So perhaps the answer to our question is that the standards and objectives of the media law are more democratic than the government proclaiming them.