AFSCA green-lights Telefónica divestment plan
por Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 17-12-2014
The AFSCA media watchdog led by Martín Sabbatella finally approved last night the plan filed almost two years ago by Telefe to comply with the Broadcast Media Law.
It was a five-to-two snap vote, with criticism from opposition representatives Gerardo Milman (GEN) and Marcelo Stubrin (UCR).
The divestment plan presented by Spanish conglomerate Prisa — owner of several radios throughout the country — was also approved. And while the vote was unanimous AFSCA board members had “different arguments for their votes,” Milman told the Herald last night.
Both companies have vowed to sell their excess broadcasting licences to meet the anti-trust requirements of Article 45 of the Media Law, which establishes that no radio or TV company can have control of more than 35 percent of the total market share.
The meeting at the AFSCA headquarters in downtown Buenos Aires lasted for more than five hours. It began at 4pm, but at press time representatives from the board of directors — including Ignacio Saavedra, Néstor Avalle, Eduardo Rinesi and Claudio Schifer — were still discussing the last few issues on the agenda, sources at the meeting explained.
Ties with Telefónica
As the Herald reported earlier this year, the main point of contention regarding the case of Telefe (the country’s most popular broadcast TV channel along with Clarín Group’s Channel 13) was Article 24, which bans providers of public utilities from holding a broadcast licence.
Critics explained that while Telefe and Spanish telecommunications giant Telefónica do not have any cross-ownership of shares, they’re both subsidiaries of the same parent company, Telefónica de España.
Telefónica runs a major landline phone service and thus should have abandoned either this line of business or its broadcast services.
Last month, AFSCA proposed a resolution requesting Telefe’s plan to “be formally declared admissible” on the grounds of a technical opinion issued by the watchdog’s legal experts.
“The systematic interpretation of the legal order leads us to conclude that Telefé… is authorized to offer audiovisual services,” the opinion read.
Yesterday, Milman and Stubrin challenged AFSCA’s majority opinion. They argued Telefónica was at odds with the premises of the broadcast regulation which was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court last year, but the resolution was finally passed at yesterday’s seemingly endless meeting, where 207 cases — from radio and TV grants to the placing of new channels in the cable grid — were discussed.
The vote follows a major decision regarding the fate of Clarín, the country’s largest conglomerate, that has been at odds with the CFK administration since 2008. In October, Sabbatella accused the Clarín Group of fraud and announced it will move forward with a forced divestment plan for the company’s excess licences.
Angry by what they described as a lack of access to the documentation supporting those claims before they could vote for or against Clarín’s divestment, Milman and the other opposition director, UCR’s Marcelo Stubrin, abstained from voting and the resolution was passed by a five-to-two vote.