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HOST INTRO: Today is World Press Freedom Day. Journalists from South America gathered on the campus of Columbia University today to debate one of the continent’s most heated disputes between a government and journalists. It pits Argentina’s left-wing government against a media conglomerate that opponents say has grown too big and too powerful. Alexandra Hall reports.
[CLARIN LOGO AMBI]
Clarín is Argentina’s biggest and most influential multimedia conglomerate. It has 44% of the market share in Argentina. Argentineans consume more news produced by Clarín than any other media company. Four years ago, the government said that media in the country was too concentrated, making it impossible for smaller broadcasters to compete. So it enacted a law to break down monopolies and increase the number of voices in the media. It requires Clarín to get rid of most of its holdings. But the company says its being unfairly targeted, according to Miguel Winaski, editor of El Clarín newspapers.
MIGUEL WINASKI: They feel fear of our investigations. Freedom of speech is under attack, so and we are under attack as journalists.
But Damian Loreti disagrees. He’s Secretary of the Center of Legal and Social Studies, an Argentine human rights NGO, and he helped draft the law.
DAMIEN LORETI: In Argentina, there is no press restrictions, there is no censorship, there is no journalists killed, there is no journalists imprisoned.
Clarín’s first reaction when the law was enacted four years ago was to take legal action, but it was unsuccessful. It wasn’t until two weeks ago that a federal appeals court granted Clarín’s request saying that clauses of the law, which apply to the company, are unconstitutional violations of private property rights. This was a triumph for supporters of Clarín, who argue that it has been unfairly singled out for political reasons. Columbia University political science professor Victoria Murillo isn’t convinced.
VICTORIA MURILLO: I don’t know to what extent their fear is warranted. Monopolies are not good anywhere, so in that sense, the law is not bad, it’s good.
She thinks that Clarín is a monopoly.
MURILLO: What’s bad is that the enforcement of the law is uneven in the sense that there are other monopolies and the government doesn’t seem to be paying attention to those.
This would have been a rare opportunity for representatives of Clarín and the leftist administration of President Christina Kirchner to talk openly about media reform. But no government representatives were present. Roberto Saba is Dean of Palermo University School of Law in Buenos Aires. He says that’s one reason why the conflict is still ongoing.
ROBERTO SABA: The big media and the government cannot even talk to each other. Which makes things very difficult.
Columbia University will make one more effort to bring the two sides together again this fall.
Alexandra Hall, Columbia Radio News.