Argentine government clamps down on country's largest media organisation


ARGENTINA’S GOVERNMENT ordered the country’s largest media organisation and a leading critic of its policies to shut down its internet service provider on Thursday. The move is the latest confrontation in a long-running battle between the two sides and one of a series of moves by populist governments against media organisation in the region.

The government in Buenos Aires claimed that the Clarín media group’s announcement of a merger between its internet service provider Fibertel and cable television arm Cablevisión “usurped” the terms of its contract and that it was operating illegally.

“Fibertel no longer exists because of its own decisions,” said planning minister Julio de Vido when announcing the government’s decision to shut down the provider and giving customers 90 days to find another service.

In a statement published in several newspapers yesterday, Clarín denounced the move as “illegal and arbitrary” and part of an “ever more totalitarian escalation” of actions by the government.

The Clarín group’s confrontation with the government of President Cristina Kirchner dates back to 2008 when it supported protests by farmers against a government plan to raise tariffs on grain exports, which was eventually defeated in the senate.

Since then, Mrs Kirchner and her husband, former president Nestor Kirchner, have fought a relentless campaign against Clarín, which the group says amounts to an attack on freedom of expression.

Opposition politicians denounced Thursday’s move. Opposition leader Elisa Carrió said Mr Kirchner wanted “to silence critical media” with the intention of “domesticating society so it will vote for him next year”. Argentina will elect a new president in October of next year with Mr Kirchner expected to try and replace his wife, just as she replaced him in 2007.

But back in May, Mr Kirchner said the real threat came from the concentration of media power. “When we speak of freedom of the press in Argentina, everyone knows the lack of freedom of expression is because there is a monopolistic corporation . . . called Clarín,” he told supporters.

The group’s dominance of television, radio and print media has long raised concerns about excessive concentration of influence. But the Kirchners only started to move against it after it switched from broadly supporting their administrations to becoming their most caustic critic.

The latest row between the government and media in Argentina follows a court ruling earlier this week in Venezuela prohibiting newspapers from publishing graphic pictures of victims of the country’s spiralling violent crime crisis for the next 30 days.

Newspapers said the government of president Hugo Chávez was behind the move, which they denounced as censorship. The annual number of homicide victims in the country has jumped from just over 4,000 when Mr Chávez came to power in 1999 to more than 16,000 last year.

Last month in Bolivia several media associations said a new electoral law proposed by the government of Evo Morales would limit freedom of expression and amount to censorship as it sought to prevent media outlets from criticising candidates or their proposals during election campaigns, limiting them to carrying out electoral broadcasts and printing official campaign material.