On Media Law ruling, opposition leaders say one thing, but think the opposite
by Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 31-10-2013
Opposition political leaders this week were frustrated — at least on the record — by the final outcome of the lengthy judicial battle over the Broadcast Media Law. With the (factually correct) argument that the government has failed to apply the law consistently to all broadcasters, they criticized this anti-monopoly law that has dealt a bitter blow to the almighty Clarín Group.
But Argentine politicians, especially those who want to rule the country in 2015 and beyond, may be silently thanking Kirchnerism as you read these lines.
Failure to launch a reform
The first government to try to pass a broadcast law to replace the one implemented by the 1976-1983 military dictatorship was the Raúl Alfonsín administration, which in the late ‘80s pushed a draft bill developed by the Commission for Democratic Consolidation (COCODE).
Alfonsín endorsed the draft, but a burgeoning economic crisis forced the early exit of the Radical (UCR) government from power shortly thereafter. The bill never made it to the floor for a vote.
Carlos Menem, his successor, partially reformed the 1980 Broadcast Media Law through emergency decrees — but to benefit media conglomerates.
Menem’s pro-market push revoked the existing ownership limitations and favoured an increase of foreign capital in the media market.
During his two terms as president, the Clarín Group grew exponentially and became a key political actor. A classic commercial from the 1990s announcing “El Gran DT” showed Peronists Antonio Cafiero and Carlos Ruckauf, next to Frepaso front leaders Carlos “Chacho” Álvarez and Graciela Fernández Meijide. They sat at the same table, laughing and playing a Clarín-sponsored soccer game. The message was simple: Politics divided them, but Clarín brought them together.
In a famous interview with journalist Samuel Gelblung, Clarín CEO Héctor Magnetto denied he wanted to become president. “(It’s a) minor position,” he said.
It was a brief but effective show of strength.
Kirchnerism initially made Clarín’s dominant market position possible by passing important laws and decrees.
Former president Néstor Kirchner even (provisionally) approved the Cablevisión-Multicanal merger, which allowed the conglomerate to expand its core business to 58 percent of the country’s media market share. These were the last years of what one could call the two and a half lost decades in broadcast regulation (1983-2008).
But his wife and successor as head of state, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, decided it was time to pass a new media law — backing down from previous positions. And this time, the battle would go all the way.
Opposition leaders, who had been critics of Clarín for years, suddenly found themselves defending the conglomerate against government “attacks.” Verbal assaults coming from Kirchnerite officials appearing in pro-government media were real — but they had nothing to do with the text of the law, which was praised by UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Frank La Rue.
Some of these surprising shifts in positions took place in recent years, that is, after the law was passed.
“This is not a Kirchnerite law,” opposition congressman Fernando “Pino” Solanas told newspaper La Nación back in 2009. He was not a lawmaker at the time but when he was asked whether he would have supported the bill, he did not hesitate: “Of course.” This week, instead of celebrating the ruling, he appeared next to UNEN leader Elisa Carrió denouncing an obscure “pact” between the government and Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti.
Here’s a thought coming from a non-Kirchnerite: some day, members of the opposition may have to acknowledge the fact that the only political force that dared to get their hands dirty and pay the political cost of taking a stance against Clarín was Kirchnerism. With its contradictions and its particular timing, of course.
But one thing remains clear: if this media giant ends up losing some of its considerable power, Fernández de Kirchner will not be the only one who will benefit. Kirchnerism may go, but the law stays in the books.
Peronist contender Sergio Massa, Socialist presidential candidate Hermes Binner, Radical leader Julio Cobos — none of them were big supporters of the Media Law (although Socialist lawmakers voted for the bill and the Tigre leader was Cabinet chief when the law was first introduced). But its impact may benefit them in the long run.
Even Buenos Aires Province Governor Daniel Scioli, a conservative populist who reluctantly supported the law, will profit from a weakened Clarín Group. The ruling, Scioli said Tuesday, “is a prize for the president’s courage.”
Maybe Scioli just thinks what many moderate politicians do now that the legal battle has been won: they will profit from the actions carried out by more radical politicians.