Argentina: Broadcast licenses, cable TV and fiber-optic Internet networks to be auctioned off

Cristina Fernandez’s government is auctioning off the broadcast licenses and the cable TV and fiber-optic Internet networks currently owned by Grupo Clarín SA and Unos Medios:
Argentina Plans to Auction Seized Media Assets

The country’s top court looks likely to rule on the constitutionality of the law, which opponents say not only violates constitutionally protected private-property rights, but threatens free speech as well.

The auction plans were confirmed Wednesday by Martin Sabbatella, who heads the federal agency created to enforce the law which critics say targets top media conglomerate Grupo Clarín SA and its most profitable business unit, Cablevisión.

Later Wednesday, Congress passed a law that allows the government to bypass federal appeals courts and take its case against directly to the Supreme Court.

The companies have until Dec. 7 to present plans to sell off all broadcast licenses and related assets that exceed a quota established by the media law. If they don’t, the government will begin the process of auctioning off the assets after the deadline, Mr. Sabbatella said at a news conference.

Another media group, Uno Medios, which also provides cable TV and Internet services around the country, will be similarly forced to sell its broadcast licenses, cable TV and Internet infrastructure or see them forcibly auctioned off.

Spokesmen for Grupo Clarín and Uno Medios weren’t immediately available for comment.

Mr. Sabbatella had previously said the government would force companies to sell licenses that didn’t comply with requirements of the media law, but it wasn’t clear they would also have to sell related infrastructure assets.

Mr. Sabbatella said a federal tribunal will establish the value of those assets and that value will be used to determine the initial auction price for the assets, proceeds from which would go back to the companies, not the government.

The deadline stems from an injunction that Grupo Clarín was granted against the enforcement of the media law. The injunction expires Dec. 7. Lawyers had said Clarín could seek an extension of the injunction or appeal any government attempt to take over or auction off its assets.

Clarin argues the media law violates constitutionally protected private-property rights, which the government denies.

Clarín, the country’s largest-circulation daily, has been criticizing both Cristina and her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, for years (Clarín‘s stock actually stock went up by 50% the day after Kirchner’s death). They have stated that

“This government can’t handle the existence of independent entities that can have an influence in society,” Clarin editor Ricardo Kirschbaum said. “It seems to me that the government simply wants to have political control over the media. … and I think that what’ they’re trying to achieve is the beginning of a process that enables them to hold onto power indefinitely.”

The auction would take place once the injunction expires.

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