Argentine high court considers media monopoly law that may split Clarin

By Almudena Calatrava, AP

BUENOS AIRES — The future of broadcast television and other news media in Argentina now rests with its Supreme Court, which began hearing arguments Wednesday over a law the government says will foster competition by breaking up privately held monopolies in the information business. The 2009 law’s stiff limits on cable TV ownership would force Grupo Clarin to break itself apart, demolishing a leading opposition voice against government power. Clarin is Argentina’s biggest media company, with holdings that include one of Latin America’s biggest newspapers, magazines, a major cable TV system and broadcast TV and radio stations. Each side offered five “friends of the court” who took sides arguing for freedom of expression in the hearings, which were broadcast live on Argentine television.

Speaking in favor of the government, rector Carlos Ruta of the National University of San Martin said the judges must decide whether it’s better to trust the “savage power” of private companies or the “institutional guarantees of the state” to deliver the truth. “Constitutional democracy is at stake,” he said.

Attorney Luis Pardo, speaking in favor of Clarin, countered that “without an independent media, the right to inform will be held solely by pro-government media.” The courtroom was packed with journalists from around the world who came to see the debate. A pro-government crowd gathered outside, cheering and booing while following the action on a big screen.

The hearing continues Thursday with arguments by lawyers for Clarin and the government of President Cristina Fernandez.