AFSCA aims legal fire against Clarín on channels
Court complaint ends tense week with conglomerate
AFSCA media watchdog head Martín Sabbatella yesterday filed a legal complaint against Grupo Clarín’s cable-television provider Cablevisión for failing to respect the channel grid outlined by the agency.
In what marks another step in an escalation of a long-running fight between the government and long-time foe Clarín Group following a period of calm, Sabbatella accused the company of disobeying his authority and attempted procedural fraud.
The legal filing in the Federal Criminal Court Number 9, effectively launches a new battle in the courts with Cablevisión, which currently controls more than two-thirds of the cable TV market, according to the AFSCA media watchdog. In Córdoba and Buenos Aires City, that number increases to as high as 85 percent.
Sabbatella requested the judge summon the heads of Cablevisión to be questioned as suspects.
“Cablevisión must follow the grid like everyone else. We say that they are committing fraud because they want to deceive the judges,” Sabbatella said yesterday in conversation with cable news TV channel CN23, one of the stations affected by Cablevisión’s failure to comply with AFSCA’s resolution on which channels every cable provider must include in their grids, and in what order.
“A City court mandated them to comply with the grid and imposed a fine, which was ratified by the Appeals Court,” said the AFSCA media watchdog head. Sabbatella yesterday decided to file a new criminal complaint against Cablevisión for not adjusting the grid in line with the AFSCA resolutions, which were backed by the courts.
A similar complaint was filed by the AFSCA watchdog in June last year, though it was dismissed by the prosecutor in charge of the case.
Then the Administrative Appeals Court imposed a fine of 2,000 pesos per day for the company for not readjusting its grid. However, in the writ filed yesterday by Sabbatella, it is estimated that Cablevisión has to pay 494,000 pesos for its failure to comply. In December 2013, the Supreme Court refused to analyze an appeals request filed by Cablevisión, confirming the lower court’s decision to order the grid in line with AFSCA’s specifications.
TV stations affected by Cablevisión’s failure to adjust its grid, including CN23, QM Noticias and Córdoba 24 Noticias (a channel from the Córdoba’s National University), have all filed complaints about the issue, according to AFSCA. CN23 is a news channel that is part of Grupo 23.
In the Metropolitan area, Cablevisión included the channels requested by the AFSCA media watchdog in its digital service but did not follow the order.
A matter of order
Cablevisión’s failures go beyond the inclusion of channels to the order in which they are located in the grid. Clarín Group’s 24-hour news channel TN, for instance, has to be placed in Channel 3 but in fact it is located on Channel 8, where it moved after ceding the 11th slot in the grid to state-run TV Pública. CN23, Argentinísima satelital and 360 TV are not included in the grid.
The channel that belongs to Grupo 23 should take TN’s place in the grid, whereas 360 TV, a digital channel from Buenos Aires City which was created by former Telefe content managers Claudio Villarruel and Bernarda Llorente. Meanwhile, Clarín’s own cable channels — Metro and Magazine — are among the first in the grid, without explanation.
According to the law passed in 2009 and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court last year, cable TV companies have to include broadcast TV channels, public and local stations as well as news channels. Every cable-television provider also must include state-run channels Pakapaka,Incaa TV and Telesur as the first channels in every thematic bloc.
Clarín’s adjustment plan
Yesterday’s legal filing comes after a week of heated controversy between Clarín Group and the AFSCA media watchdog following a period of relative calm.The agency headed by Sabbatella rejected a request filed by the Clarín Group to preserve a number of TV channels — including TyC Sports, Magazine, Volver, Quiero Música and Canal Rural — and ordered the conglomerate to confirm its intention to comply with the originally presented plan. Should Clarín fail to ratify its willingness to follow that plan by the end of the month, AFSCA could carry out the mandatory divestment of excess licences, which was harshly criticized by the media conglomerate, saying it was at odds with the Broadcast Media Law.
“There is a constitutional law that gives power to the AFSCA media watchdog to guarantee that information gets to the population,” Sabbatella added. Since the Broadcast Media Law — a piece of legislation promoted by progressive sectors within Kirchnerism — was passed in 2009, the country’s largest media group has tried to prevent its implementation, taking the case to the highest tribunal.
“In order to democratize communication, we need to divest and some days ago we realized that the group wants to delay the readjustment plan.” When the Supreme Court declared constitutional the Media Law, the group filed a proposal to divide the media conglomerate into six independent units, which was preliminarily accepted by the agency led by Sabbatella.