Tuesday
November 21, 2017
Friday, July 14, 2017

No defence in communication

After much talk of downsizing President Mauricio Macri’s inflated Cabinet in the light of the persistent fiscal deficit without anything materialising (floating the demotion of the Agriculture Ministry to a department within the Production Ministry was one example), we at last have one concrete move in that direction — the dissolution of the Communications Ministry. Yet rather than a simple saving, the termination of this Macri creation is a supreme confession of failure. The ministry was originally conceived as a substitute for the Kirchnerite 2009 Broadcasting Law (quashed by a Macri decree within three weeks of starting his presidency) to fulfil the stated aims such as injecting more competition into the market, showing greater respect for pluralism and attracting investment. This portfolio was thus envisaged as a transitory mechanism but it was also intended to be a victim of its own success — it would only cease to exist once legislation vastly improving on its Kirchnerite predecessor had been sent to Congress. Yet the moment of the ministry’s dissolution could hardly find it further removed from such a context — the recent Cablevisión-Telecom merger has crowned a process of hyper-concentration of a sector regulated by decree with diversity in abeyance.

Far from paying the price for this record of failure, the head of the dissolved body, Oscar Aguad, is now promoted to the Defence Ministry (considered one of the top three Cabinet jobs in many countries even if now dormant in Argentina where memories of disastrous military regimes are still too recent). This move obeys an electoral rather than administrative logic — the current Defence Minister Julio Martínez is to be a senatorial candidate in his native La Rioja so that replacing him with his fellow-Radical Aguad would serve as a clumsy way of killing two birds with one stone, filling a Cabinet vacancy while keeping the promise to wind up the Communications Ministry. Yet the timing could hardly be worse — the Cablevisión-Telecom merger following over a year of official denials highlighting the failure of its mission while sending out a message of rewarding incompetence by moving Aguad to the Defence Ministry.

The outlook for the media sector could hardly be cruder — at precisely a time when an oligopoly whose full dimensions were described in last week’s newspaper was created, the government is now dropping any pretence (unless its Enacom regulatory agency is to be taken seriously) of working towards a more competitive and pluralistic market.

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