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October 2, 2014

#politicsandthepress

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fair and equitable, revisited

By Marcelo J. García
For The Herald

Once upon a time, yet not so long ago, this political nation was imbued with media issues, so much so that some of the top guys in charge of the economy would spend an entire afternoon attending the shareholders’ meeting of the country’s largest media company, Grupo Clarín, labelled as the government’s Number One enemy. Now media news comes and goes, almost unnoticed. The reason? Other seemingly more important news is taking centre stage.

Things are happening on the media field, but they do not seem to match the more life-or-death debt holdouts saga or the economic recession creeping slowly but surely, let alone the World Cup passion while it lasted. The good news: there is real news now (or so it seems). The bad news: no news is good news.

The country burst the World Cup bubble in the just over three hours that went from the final whistle in Maracanã stadium last Sunday to the hooliganism that gripped downtown Buenos Aires during the massive second-place celebration. The team and the coach were not in the mood for celebration when they landed in Ezeiza the day after losing the final to Germany and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner welcomed them with an extra dose of euphoria they were not eager to take, at least by the look of their faces.

Context is almost everything in public communication. Regardless how noble one believes it was (is), the government’s war to the finish with the Clarín conglomerate did a great job in subverting the order of priorities in the second half of the Kirchner era, now into its 12th year. Now that the two boxers are throwing weak punches after over five years of combat, the news coming from the ring cause much lesser impact than in the past and the two seem ready to come to terms with the idea that the worst is over and what was crucial in the past is not longer as important.

That is why tidbits of information that would otherwise (in a different context) make it to the front pages and en0gage the country’s leading political actors are buried back in the inside pages. Over the last few days, for instance, the government and Grupo Clarín picked back their guns and now threaten to go back to the courts over the fine print of the media giant’s plan to adapt to anti-trust rules established by a 2009 Media Act. Last October, the Supreme Court compelled the media behemoth to comply with the government-sponsored legislation but also warned the government that the enforcement of the law needed to be fair and equitable for all the parties involved.

Sounds familiar? “Fair and equitable” is also the line the government is using to frame a potential negotiation to sort out the imbroglio with the holdouts of Argentina’s public debt restructuring of the last decade, after the country lost a legal case which climbed all the way to the US Supreme Court. Paradoxically, the government is largely depending on Judge Thomas Griesa of New York ordering a freeze (called “stay” in the US), which was the main legal weapon the Clarín Group used to keep the Media Act on hold during four long years of court wrangling.

After submitting a divesting proposal to break up its media estate in six slices earlier this year, Grupo Clarín got second thoughts about a handful of cable channels it would now rather keep. The AFSCA federal broadcasting authority has turned down its petition to keep the channels. Clarín lawyers are hinting at court action. Here we go again.

An appeals court, meanwhile, yesterday threw away a case filed by Grupo Clarín against Economy Minister Axel Kicillof and former Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno for having attended a company stockholder assembly last year as representatives of the handful of shares owned by the ANSeS social security administration. There was no crime, the court said.

***

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit here this weekend has raised a number of expectations regarding the advance of the bilateral relationship, especially investments in infrastructure and financial help at a time each dollar coming in makes a different for the government.

But China was in the news this week for a media matter of international relevance. One of the most popular Chinese state television anchors was detained, allegedly on allegations of corruption and influence peddling. Rui Chenggang, the 37-year-old evening host of the financial programme Economic News in the government’s China Central Television of CCTV, became world famous in 2007, when he got Starbucks out of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Rui is one of the network’s most popular figures and his show gathers audiences of up to 10 million people every night. He is fluent in English and has on several occasions been the face of “modern China” abroad, including at high-profile places like the World Economic Forum in Davos. Although there is no official information on the grounds of Rui’s arrest, reports indicate he could be part of a graft ring involving a prominent global public relations firm headquartered in the US.

Xi, who enjoys State visit treatment while in Buenos Aires and triggers the fascination of representing the world’s rising power, is not likely to be drilled on Rui.

@mjotagarcia

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