Grupo Clarín, known for its criticism of kirchnerismo and Cristina Fernandez, will likely have to sell its profitable cable-TV and Internet businesses:
Argentine Court Clears Media Breakup
Argentina’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a law that could allow the government to dismantle Grupo Clarin SA, the country’s largest media company.
The decision caps a four-year battle against Clarín by Mrs. Kirchner, who has made dismantling the media giant a top priority of her administration. Relations between both sides began to fray shortly after she took office in 2007. The newspaper was critical of her handling of a farmers strike in 2008.
The following year, she stripped Clarín of lucrative soccer-broadcasting rights and later seized control of a newsprint maker in which Clarín is a shareholder. Her administration also filed criminal charges against executives from Clarín and competing newspaper La Nación, accusing them of colluding with Argentina’s 1976-83 dictatorship to obtain control of the newsprint company. Clarín and La Nación denied the allegations and called them an effort to silence critical voices.
In one particularly bitter episode, Mrs. Kirchner’s government and human-rights groups teamed up against Clarín’s owner, Ernestina Herrera de Noble, and accused her of adopting children who may have been stolen during the 1970s dictatorship. DNA tests later confirmed that the children, Marcela and Felipe, couldn’t be tied to a database of people that had been “disappeared” during the dictatorship. The government never apologized.
This year, Mrs. Kirchner compared the media to military coup-mongers, saying journalists fire “ink bullets” in their bid to overthrow governments and pursue their own vested special interests. Some of her government’s top officials stormed Clarín’s annual shareholder meeting in April to heckle company officials. Mrs. Kirchner once acknowledged using the federal tax agency to investigate a critic of hers that had been quoted in Clarín.
“It’s a blood vendetta,” said Riordan Roett, professor of Latin American politics at Johns Hopkins University. “Both Kirchners, dead or alive, were and are very thin-skinned.”
Mrs. Kirchner’s husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, died in 2010.
The decision could mark a turning point in freedom of expression in Argentina. Clarín has long said that income from cable and Internet businesses allows it to maintain its editorial independence by giving it the financial security to withstand the loss of advertising from hard-hitting articles against business or government leaders.
Interestingly, the Court made its decision after Sunday’s election:
The legal victory for the government comes only two days afterPresident Fernández’s administration took a beating in Sunday’s mid-term legislative elections, raising the spectre of a “lame duck” presidency for the ailing Fernández until the next presidential elections in 2015.
Supreme Court judge Eugenio Zaffaroni claims it was “so it wouldn’t look like they were trying to influence the outcome.”
Zaffaroni also stated that the law will be carried out (i.e., Clarín will have to sell its cable-TV and Internet businesses) regardless of whether the company appeals.