Argentina: Will controversial media law help or hinder 30 years of democracy?(Read article summary)
After four years of legal turmoil, the Supreme Court ruled that a media law aimed at reining in huge media players was constitutional.
Thirty years ago today, following the fall of a brutal, seven-year military dictatorship, Argentines voted in general elections.
The democratic process has remained unbroken since, and last night many here celebrated a media law that they believe is pivotal to strengthening that democracy. Opponents, however, say it is a dangerous tool whose only function is to silence anti-government voices.
After four years of injunctions, appeals, and advertising campaigns that polarized opinion, Supreme Court judges ruled yesterday that a controversial 2009 media law was constitutional.
The ruling means ClarĂn â€“ one of the biggest media conglomerates in Latin America, which vigorously fought the legislation â€“ must finally adhere to the law, which limits the size of broadcast media companies and supersedes legislation from the dictatorship. Â
ClarĂn is an outspoken government critic, accused by President Cristina FernĂˇndez de Kirchner of lying, and it's now required to auction off many of its assets. Media companies, for instance, cannot own more than 24 broadcast licenses across Argentina. ClarĂnâ€™s cable provider owns at least 158.
â€śThis is a triumph for democracy, liberty, and pluralism,â€ť MartĂn Sabbatella, who heads the government agency that is enforcing the law, said after yesterdayâ€™s ruling. The judges determined that â€śon limiting market concentration,â€ť the law â€śfavors freedom of expression.â€ť
ClarĂn disagrees. Its CEO has called the law an attack on the independent press and, subsequently, on freedom of expression. But during the Supreme Court hearing in August,Â ClarĂn'sÂ lawyers fumbled for an explanation when asked how free speech would be affected.
In a statement, the company implied that the true intention of the government was to control the media. It accused President Kirchnerâ€™s administration of â€ścolonizingâ€ť 80 percent of broadcast outlets through a number of strategies, including making them dependent on government advertising.
In their 392-page ruling, the judges warned against using government advertising as a means to â€śeliminate dissent and the pluralist debate of ideas.â€ť
Kirchner â€“ who was reelected with 54 percent of the vote in 2011, and held on to a slim majority in both congressional houses in midterm electionsÂ on SundayÂ â€“ has also been accused of ruling Argentina by decree and trying to influence the courts. (But she is not alone: the same accusations were aimed at Carlos Menem, who was president from 1989 to 1999.) Last year, Kirchner nationalized an oilÂ firmÂ by emergency decree and, in 2010, used the same method to fire the central bank president.
Some analysts say her government has moved towards a â€ścompetitive authoritarianism,â€ť in which there are free and fair elections but abuse of other democratic processes and the media.Â
For Kirchnerâ€™s supporters, however, the constitutionality of the media law and the 30th anniversary of democracy are cause today for double celebration.