Argentine media giant faces breakup


Argentina said Tuesday it would waste no time in acting on a Supreme Court ruling allowing it to dismantle the nation’s largest media corporation.

The Supreme Court upheld a controversial law that would force the country’s largest media group, Clarin, to divest some of its units.

Clarin, which has been locked in conflict with President Cristina Fernandez, had challenged the validity of the media anti-monopoly law, passed four years ago by a large majority in the Argentine Congress.

“After four years of court delays, the gluttonous giant Clarin, following a ruling by the Supreme Court, will have to comply with the law,” said Martin Sabbatella, head of government agency charged with regulating audiovisual media in Argentina.

Sabbatella said that the government shortly will begin the process “first of notifying the company, then estimating the value of the assets to be sold, holding a competitive bidding for the assets.”

The top court on Tuesday by a vote of 6-1, ruled that the law was constitutional, upholding an antitrust clause that will force Clarin to divest most of its lucrative cable television operations.

Clarin, which also publishes Argentina’s largest circulation newspaper, has said its attorneys are reviewing the ruling.

In a statement, it called the ruling “an affront to freedom of expression.” The ruling hits media outlets “that exercise critical journalism,” including those that challenge the government, it said.

And as it mulls its next steps, Clarin said it has not ruled out “filing an appeal with international tribunals.”

The Inter American Press Association, which often is known by the Spanish acronym SIP, for the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, issued a statement on Tuesday criticizing the ruling, which it said would have the effect of “gutting” the influential media group.

With respect to plans by Clarin to challenge the ruling in international courts, Sabbatella was scornful.

“They have the right to appear before whomever they choose, but right now they have to comply with the law.”

The ruling came two days after midterm elections that handed Fernandez’s followers defeats in key provinces, but left her with a slender majority in Congress.

Since taking office in 2007, Fernandez has clashed frequently with Clarin, one of her administration’s most dogged critics.

Her government had said the goal of the 2009 law was to break up media monopolies, while Clarin argued it was an attack on the opposition press and private property that threatens freedom of expression.

The top court sided with the government, writing in its decision “it is legitimate, a law that creates general limits a priori, because this manner favors freedom of expression by preventing market concentration.”