‘7D’: The Next Plot Twist in the Media Law Saga

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The new Media Law is one of the most controversial dramas to hit Argentina’s national stage of late. Grupo Clarín executives keep the audience divided: scheming monopolists or the last standing defenders of a free press? President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner delivers fiery monologues before the podium.  Choruses of cacerolazos and a dizzying cast of executive cabinet members, Supreme Court judges, and media executives ring the central conflict between state and private interests. As the bitter dispute continues, each side claims to defend the multidimensionality of Argentina’s media, and therefore, its democratic integrity.

Media Law passage in front of Congress (Photo by Beatrice Murch)

The Audiovisual Communication Services Law 26.522, known more simply as the ‘Media Law’, drafted by President Fernández and enacted in October 2009, intends to outlaw media oligopolies by limiting the size of private companies and extending access to state and non-profit media. Though it promises to bring change for the entire audiovisual industry, the most heavily hit—and most fiercely opposed—is Grupo Clarín, market leader and sharp critic of President Fernández’s leadership. The conglomerate’s position grows increasingly complicated as the days count down to 7th December, when the court injunction partially suspending application of the law expires. Grupo Clarín has chosen to defy the government’s deadline for compliance plans. The papers buzz with speculation and the public holds its breath, unsure of what will ensue on ‘7D’.

The Advent of a New Media Paradigm

The Media Law represents a fundamental shift in philosophy away from that of its predecessor. Whereas the dictatorship-era broadcasting law that it came to replace regarded media as an industry, the new Media Law bids for media as a public good and a human right; the diversity, sovereignty, and accessibility of which contribute to the wellbeing of civil society.

The law originated from a 21-point proposal (’21 Points for Democratic Broadcasting’) created by hundreds of social, community, human rights, union, and indigenous rights groups.

President Fernández drafted a bill based on the proposal, which was debated in open ‘forums’ designed to solicit citizens’ feedback and submitted to Congress in August 2009. The Lower House made over 100 changes to the bill, which was approved after 16 hours of debate by a sizeable margin in the Senate. President Fernández de Kirchner signed the piece of landmark legislation on 10th October 2009.

The Feud

More than three years later, the Media Law remains a contentious front-page fixture, starring in headlines counting down to ‘7D’. On the 7th December, Grupo Clarín and the government will find themselves officially on different sides of the law. The jury (or more literally, the judge) is still out on with whom the constitution stands.

Under the Media Law, powerful Grupo Clarín stands much to lose. During the Menem administration in the ‘90s, the corporation grew from a print-based company to a multimedia conglomerate that currently holds 41.88% of the radio market, 38.78% of the open-air television market, and 58.61% of the cable market. Under the Media Law, it (and every other media group) would be allowed a maximum of 24 cable and 10 radio or free-to-air TV licences, in comparison to its current 237 and 25, respectively, and a maximum market share of 35% of the audience at the national level.

Given the implications that the law’s application would have for Grupo Clarín, the group accuses the government of playing political hardball rather than championing pluralistic freedom of speech, as it claims. “This government can’t handle the existence of independent entities that can have an influence in society,” said Clarín’s newspaper editor Ricardo Kirschbaum. “It seems to me that the government simply wants to have political control over the media. And I think that what they’re trying to achieve is the beginning of a process that enables them to hold onto power indefinitely.” The government flatly denies harbouring its own power-hungry designs: “No one is closing, intimidating, nor prohibiting the press,” Casa Rosada General Undersecretary Gustavo López told the Argentina Independent. “We don’t want to replace Clarín’s centrality for another.”

The government, for its part, accuses Grupo Clarín of resisting an entirely legitimate law to defend its own dominance. “Why is the fight so big? Because when you talk about media, you’re talking about power. And the construction of public opinion is one of the central elements of power in any democracy,” López explained. “They’re more interested in politics than in the information.”

Immediately following the passage of the Media Law, Grupo Clarín filed an unconstitutionality suit based in two articles. Article 45 limits the number and type of licences as well as market penetration, and article 161 gives media groups one year to divest any licences that exceed article 45.

Grupo Clarín maintains that these articles are unconstitutional for two reasons. The first is a violation of private property – in order to use the state-authorised licences towards an operational television, radio, or cable station, they say, corporations must invest heavily. The group says if the government cuts short the appropriate duration of some of its licences to enforce the Media Law, Grupo Clarín will still be unable to recuperate the investment it made in those licences. The government says it plans to send assessors to establish a value that reflects all invested and accumulated assets. “Invested value will not be taken away,” declared López.

The second argument is that of retroactivity: because Grupo Clarín acquired many of its licences before the Media Law’s enactment in 2009, it says the law does not apply to current licenses—only those acquired henceforth. “This bill leaves the media in a state of absolute precariousness for not respecting the licences currently in effect, something that has not happened even in Venezuela,” warned a press release issued by Grupo Clarín upon the law’s enactment.

As it embarked upon the laboursome and time-consuming litigation process, Grupo Clarín won a suspension of article 161, protecting it from the one-year divestment deadline until the courts ruled. The suspension only applies to Grupo Clarín, but the Federal Audiovisual Communication Services Authority (AFSCA) chose not to enforce the articles in question at all, as a matter of fairness for Clarín’s competitors. The indefinite suspension has meant three years of lengthy legal battles for the government and Grupo Clarín, and the slow-motion implementation of the law for not-for-profit parties, whom the law professes to benefit in the name of human rights.

Time is very much of the essence, says López. “At the core, it’s a lie that Clarín wants to prove unconstitutionality,” he asserts. “What it wants is time.” He says the years of bitter legal warfare are merely a strategy to buy time. “What’s the problem if the court of first instance rules and it goes to the Appeals Chamber? We’ll be three years late. What does Clarín want? To be three years late so Cristina’s mandate ends [in 2015].” Grupo Clarín throws the blame right back with similar words: “The national government comes seeking to delay in a systemic way the advance of the core case, appealing to procedural obstacles.”

 ‘7D’ 

The case might have remained relatively dormant were it not for another judicial ruling: an expiration date for the current suspension of article 161. Last May, the Supreme Court decided to mark the thus-far indefinite suspension with a deadline -7th December- noting that six months should be sufficient for a judge to make a ruling on the constitutionality case.

Silenced by Clarin at Media Law passage at Congress (Photo by Beatrice Murch)

Yet six months later, the case is no closer to resolution because there is no judge to issue such a ruling. The court of the first instance’s bench stands empty after the sitting judge retired at the end of 2009, leaving his post—and power over the Grupo Clarín case—wide open for a new appointment. The methods and motives of each would-be selection are bitterly disputed and allegations of unsavoury political manoeuvres abound. Meanwhile, the case stands by, awaiting a sitting judge.

Instead of resolving the controversy, the time limit itself only wrought more; both Grupo Clarín and the government interpret the ruling differently. “Grupo Clarín must have met the deadline for submitting a compliance plan [by 7th December]. [Grupo Clarín] is a serial violator of judicial resolutions now that it has said it will not respect the deadline established by the Supreme Court,” said AFSCA president, Martín Sabbatella.

Grupo Clarín also believes the law’s validity would start on the 7th December, but they include the one-year adjustment period. According to them, 7th December 2013 is the deadline for compliance, until which point they are not obligated to—and therefore refuse to—divest anything. “From a legal point of view,” says Grupo Clarín spokesman Martín Etchevers, “nothing should happen that day.”

The deadline is more symbolic than literal. The 7th December falls on a Friday and any significant action would likely be taken the following Monday, 10th December at the earliest. Sabbatella and López estimate three to five months to review submitted compliance plans before any licences can be forcibly divested. Government officials promise there will be no nationalisation, job losses, nor interruption in broadcasting services.

During those months, the government will send assessors from the National Assessment Court, a state agency, to evaluate the assets of those companies that did not submit compliance plans voluntarily and set a “low price for the tender process,” said Sabbatella. Authorities would then select which licences to confiscate and which to leave. “The selection criteria will auction [the licences] of lesser value, leaving the title-holder with those of greater symbolic and economic value.” Nevertheless, given that Grupo Clarín so far exceeds the Media Law limits, authorities will still wield a great deal of discretion in what assets to leave the company with. Non-compliant companies that submit compliance plans by the 7th December may choose which licences to give up at their own discretion. Last month, Sabbatella gave a status update: 20 groups were non-compliant to various degrees, but Grupo Clarín was the only one deliberately planning non-compliance.

Although all parties agree the date itself is merely symbolic, D-day approaches accompanied by fanfare, trepidation, and defiance on an epic scale. “7D” repeats on traced graffiti, Facebook posts, and headlines. On the national stage, the Media Law plot makes myriads of twists, so many that the intricacies seem trivial. But they belie the heart of the issue: paradigms of popular communication and the wellbeing of Argentine democracy.

 

What do Argentines think will happen on 7D? Click here to find out.

The Media Law at a Glance

• The total number of audiovisual licences will be issued in equal parts: 33% to private companies, 33% to the state (municipal, provincial, and national) and public universities, 33% to non-profit entities.

• A single company may not exceed, at the national level:

◦ 10 open-air television licences

◦ 24 cable licences

◦ 1 satellite-supported audiovisual communication licence

◦ 35% market penetration (in viewers or listeners)

• Cable and open-air television channels must include programming with sign language, captions, and audio descriptions for people with disabilities

• Private radio must emit 50% original production, including news.

• Argentine-produced content should make up:

◦ 60% of open-air television channel content

◦ 70% of musical radio content, except for stations thematically devoted to foreign content

• No more than 30% of assets may be made up of foreign capital

The Rise of an Empire: Grupo Clarín through the Years

1945: Roberto Noble founds Clarín newspaper. He's succeeded by his widow Ernestina Herrera de Noble in 1969.

1977: Clarín buys 49% of Papel Prensa, sharing ownership of the country’s only newsprint producer with La Nación and La Razón. Years later, testimony from the paper mill’s former owner will claim the purchase was achieved via violent coercion at the hands of the military dictatorship.

1980: Clarín has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the Spanish-speaking world.

1986: Clarín aspires to buy a pair of radio stations, but confronts the Broadcasting Law, which prohibits a newspaper from owning radio or television licences. This causes friction between the group and president Raúl Alfonsín.

1989: President Carlos Menem modifies the law, relaxing restrictions for corporations, including allowing newspapers to acquire radio and television licences.

1990: State-owned TV channels are privatised, Clarín buys the second largest TV channel in Buenos Aires and a radio station with a similarly large audience.

1992: Clarín takes ownership of Multicanal, a cable service provider. During the ‘90s, Multicanal and its primary competitor Cablevision operated throughout the country. In regions with a third provider, prices would dip so drastically, the smaller firm would “suffocate”, fold, and be absorbed by either Multicanal or Cablevision, feeding the parallel rise of the two cable giants.

- Clarín acquires the exclusive right to broadcast Argentine Football Association (AFA) games on cable.

1999: Grupo Clarín incorporates and sells an 18% share to Goldman Sachs Menem issues a decree allowing companies to own more licences.

2006: Grupo Clarín acquires 60% of cable provider Cablevision and announces a merger with Multicanal.

2009: The new Media Law is passed.

AFA breaks its contract with Grupo Clarín and signs the rights to broadcast to the state, which begins to display games for free on open-air TV on the “Football for Everyone” programme.

- The Cablevision/Multicanal merger, previously authorised by the Néstor Kirchner government, is annulled.

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32 Responses to “‘7D’: The Next Plot Twist in the Media Law Saga”

  1. haroldo says:

    What a can of worms. Why does the State need 33% of audiovisual licences? Very suspect that…..

  2. Celina says:

    That 33% includes municipal, provincial, and national states, as well as public universities. There are over 2,100 municipalities, 24 provinces (including the city of Buenos Aires) and 47 public universities. Quite a few.

  3. haroldo says:

    So, every province could have it’s own AV licence, every city,every public university, and of course, numerous ones in the Govt. So, are all these enities for profit, i.e. the Govt.? Who is non-profit, the other 33% ?

  4. Celina says:

    I’m not sure I follow you. Yes, they could have their licence, but no, they are not for profit, of course. Then there’s a 33% for private companies and a 33% for not-for-profit, non-state related entities (such as community media).

  5. Werner Almesberger says:

    I think there are a number of issues at play here. First of all, the law itself may be unconstitutional because is requires profound changes in existing property structures.

    Second, there seem to be oddities like the number of households covered by a license varying wildly. I.e., there appears to be a process where you can extend a license for a region X to a region Y if region Y is smaller than X. So if you get your first license for a populous district, it can be extended almost indefinitely, while someone who didn’t or couldn’t use this mechanism would have dozens of licenses on their hands for just the same group of people. (NB: licenses, market share, etc. overlap. Even if a channel had 100% market share in some zone, people there could still just switch to some other channel.) Clarin seems to be one of those with many small licenses – and thus be exposed to the number of licenses limit – while some media groups at better terms with the government have the super-licenses.

    Third, it seems that a media group that accepts the terms of the law and submits a fragmentation plan to AFSCA is then largely at the mercy of that entity. This may put it at a considerably weaker juridical position than enjoying the protection of property laws that are directly based on the constitution.

    Fourth, AFSCA already announced that they would not only make sure property is split according to the law but also that content would be monitored for being sufficiently different. That’s pretty scary if you think of it.

    About the photo: is “Silenced by Clarin” really what they meant to express ? “Silencing of Clarin” would seem more likely.

    Fifth, once the rule of AFSCA is established, it would be easy for them to exert more pressure by issuing procedural regulations on its own authority. If we look at all the scary things that have been coming out of AFIP lately – much to the dismay of its employees, I should add – the dangers of this should be obvious. It seems only natural that Clarin would rather not let its enemies have that level of control over its assets.

    So while the general intent of the law may be benign, it seems to create some rather gross inequalities and puts an uncomfortable amount of power in the hands of an entity that’s only all too eager to please the government.

    But that’s not the worst of it …

    – Werner

  6. Werner Almesberger says:

    While I (and it seems a lot of other people, too) don’t care much about whether Clarin lives or dies, I find what’s going on around the legal battle highly disturbing.

    There we see judges being suspended or forced to resign (by the government) to the point of disabling an entire court, and the structure of the legal process being altered to further the goals of said government (the “per saltum”).

    This is a far-reaching power grab that undermines the whole concept of the division of power, already severely weakened by the same party not only being in charge of the executive but also controlling the legislative.

    With the lower ranks of the juridical system being crippled, the only obstacle remaining on the way to nearly dictatorial powers is the High Court. The latter’s rulings are being defied by the government with increasing frequency.

    All this also bears an unsettling resemblance to vice president Boudou’s successful raid against the judiciary earlier this year, where – in short order – the state attorney and the judge handling Boudou’s influence peddling case, and the attorney general overseeing all this suddenly resigned from the case or were openly forced to leave office, and have since been replaced by people much more to the liking of the ruling party.

    So there is much reason also for those who are not particularly interested in Clarin’s general fate, and even for those who wouldn’t mind seeing it being brought down some notches, to hope that this particular battle does not result in a decisive victory for the government.

    – Werner

  7. haroldo says:

    Actually I was confused as to who was nonprofit. It appears 66% is nonprofit, (consisting of 33% Govt. and 33% other “nonprofit.) I’m all for breaking up controlling monopolies but there are easier, less state controlling ways to do it. Where will investment in infastructure come from,..the 33% of private or the state, (meaning your taxes?) Look outside your house. Who installed those fiber optic cables in the last few years? It wasn’t the Govt. It was private industry. This is a sad, not well thought out law which will not be seen as such for some years to come,..when it will be a crumbling mess. Lack of investment in technology and infastructure will be blamed on private industry who will then be natinalized. Drink the free beer while you can.

  8. haroldo says:

    Werner
    I too find it highly disturbing how the Govt. is going about this to win their case. What’s the point of having a judiciary branch when in reality it just an extension of the executive branch. I don’t hear most people talking about this at all. Most people just hear the word Monopoly and put the blinders on.

  9. Celina says:

    And the private industry will remain, the cable companies will remain, it’s just that their business dealings will be restricted so as to avoid media oligopolies. It may not seem like a big deal in Buenos Aires, but in small places there are situations of virtual monopolies. The fact that the percentage in the total will be smaller (for private companies) doesn’t mean there are going to be fewer private media companies -there will be at least the same amount of TVs and radios (and more as technology expands) but their ownership will be more spread out.
    And if there is one thing that can’t be said about this law, is that it wasn’t “well thought out”. It was years in the making before the government even considered the project and sent it to congress. It’s not a “government law”, it was drafted by many organisations. There are technical issues that will need to be resolved in the future, but it is a good law -certainly better than the previous one.

  10. haroldo says:

    I won’t argue with you, but we clearly sit on opposite sides of the fence and definitions.

  11. Werner Almesberger says:

    Speaking of monopolies, if I understand the workings of that law correctly, for remote and isolated areas, it would only mean that some “monopolists” would have to remove their coverage, either leaving it without coverage at all or selling their stations to some other entity, which would then in turn become the monopolist for the respective area(s).

    Pluralism would mean that instead of one channel/provider, they would get additional choices. Removal of a monopolistic competitor would only be needed in cases where the spectrum is already saturated, i.e., in areas that are neither remote nor isolated. But a saturated spectrum also means that there will already be many offerings.

    If the goal is to increase that competition further, the easiest means would be to simply grow the number of “channels”, e.g., by adding Internet access. Of course, places where spectrum saturation is an issue probably have that already.

    Another issue, where competition is concerned, would be access to infrastructure. E.g., getting a cable operator to admit a new channel or to have an Internet service provider refrain from blocking sites or services it doesn’t like. But if the underlying problem is discretionary admission, it seems unlikely that merely changing ownership would prevent this.

    But whether the means the law provides would actually lead to its stated objectives, or whether state media is the monopoly we really ought to worry about, is a side issue. The conflict has long moved to considerably more fundamental matters, such as property rights and even the institutional order of the democracy.

    – Werner

  12. Andres Djordjalian says:

    Werner, your comments above are spot on.

    I think I now know what is the source of the data presented in the article as Clarin Group’s market share. Sabattella, head of the AFSCA, mentioned them a couple of weeks ago in relation to the 35% limit dictated by the law. Those stats don’t refer to market share but to the *potential* consumer base. In other words, the population reached by the service, regardless of them consuming it or not.

    For example, if you build a radio that covers all the Buenos Aires metro area, you would more or less be reaching that 35% limit, even if you have few listeners. Try to open a repeater in Mar del Plata and this Ley de Medios will stop you, on the grounds of preventing your company from becoming an oligopoly that threatens diversity of opinion. No matter if your rating is modest and there are plentiful other radios on the air.

    The stats presented in the article are not Clarín Group’s market shares but their reach, due to them owning some broadcasting companies in the interior adding to their strong presence in Buenos Aires. On the other hand, I think the 35% can hardly be called a limit on ‘penetration’ as it is presented in the table near the end of the article, given that the term implies some sort of current consumption, which the 35% calculation doesn’t require.

    Sorry to put it bluntly, but these are not minor mistakes, because you are portraying Clarín to be much larger and the anti-oligopoly norms to be more reasonable than they really are, these being crucial points to form opinion about this sensible issue.

    The 35% limit is one of several requirements that force an absurdly-high level of fragmentation in the industry if you ask me, probably with serious political consequences because, combined with other regulations, it may make the media universe more vulnerable to government cooptation.

    Celina, as far as I know, there is no evidence of the Kirchnerists working on this law before their “breaking up” with Clarín in 2008. There were previous projects by Alfonsín and De La Rúa, with no treatment that I know of during the first five years of the K administration. I didn’t have the chance to read those other projects, but I heard no arguments about the key points in the K law, such as the details of limits such as the one mentioned above, being inherited from them. From the short public consultation that took place in 2009 were derived plentiful but minor points, which hardly meant that the crucial parts of the law were well thought out.

    Debate at Congress was shameful. The decisive text was entered late during the night preceding the session, giving no practical possibility for a serious analysis by each legislator, their experts, or society at large. On the TV broadcasts we could see legislators not being able to clarify the text when being inquired by the opposition. Yet, they quickly proceeded to vote and pass the law, after many had left the chamber in protest.

    These vices are reflected in the resulting text. Some parts are just silly. For example, it seems they thought ‘biannual’ means once every two years. Thus, the regulations will be reviewed twice per year in order to adapt them to new technologies, which sounds absurdly frequent. Elsewhere, a UNICEF summit on youth media is mentioned as taking place twice per year, though they probably thought it was held every two years. In the reality, it takes place once every three.

    Other oddities are more serious. For example, according to the law, the 35% limit mentioned above is to be calculated from possible consumers over either total population or total amount of subscribers to the service in question, “según corresponda”. That leaves a lot to interpretation. With pay TV, does the possibility to consume imply having subscribed to the service or having the chance to request it? When does it correspond to use one total or the other? What is the service that defines the last total? I mean, for example, is it cable TV or pay TV?

    The AFSCA is currently interpreting that, for satellite TV, the 35% corresponds to the number of subscribers over the population of Argentina, while, for cable, it is the percentage of the national population that can be supplied by the service, regardless of them being subscribed to it or not. That implies that a cable company can have no more than a fraction of the amount of subscribers that a satellite company can attain, despite them being competing and similar services. With the 24-licence limit, the difference becomes even larger, to the point of possibly being about 3 or 4 times as many. Why would the law discriminate between these services that much? Why leave so much room to interpretation on an regulation that involves billions of pesos of revenue and some power over public opinion? It feeds corruption to place that sort of discretionary power in the hands of politicians at state officers. The law could have specified more concrete and better balanced formulas.

    I’m giving just two examples that suggest that this law was not well thought out, political intents aside.

    Just as Werner, I don’t care about Grupo Clarín, plus I make them partly responsible for this mess. But I grew up in a country dominated by boot-sucking journalism and it is sad, to say the least. Please look into this more carefully or correct me if I’m wrong.

  13. Celina says:

    Andres: as the article states, the law was based on the “21 points for democratic broadcasting”. As the article also states, as well as the forums that took place across the country in the 6 months previous to the congressional debate, the opposition had the chance to include modifications to the law, which it did.

  14. Celina says:

    Werner: you’re forgetting that the aim of the law is to allow for more players, not to swap one local monopoly for another. Your point of view is restricted by the fact that you’re imagining the current landscape to remain static, with only some changes in names. Once, and if, the law is applied properly (something that goes beyond articles 45 and 161, and that has to do with the support the state should be giving to non-profit media) it should not only open up the spectrum to non-private actors, it should also allow smaller, private local players to stand more of a chance in terms of not having to compete against massive national media conglomerates.

  15. Celina says:

    Andres: the wording in the article may be off (you’re right, it seems to refer more to reach than market share), however it reflects the wording of the law, which refers to that 35% as follows: “The multiplicity of licences -nationally and for all services- cannot under any circumstance imply the possibility of providing services to over 35% of the total of the population or [cable subscribers]” -it clearly talks about reach, and that’s what the numbers show.

  16. Eugene says:

    The new law would give 33% of TV and radio to the government and 33% to NGOs/ non-profits. How would this 66% be supported? By advertising revenue, a TV tax? More bureaucrats. What about content? The thorny issue of political bias comes up. Will the people be allowed to choose or will the government, in its infinite wisdom, dictate? What if an anti-Peronist non-profit wants a TV and radio license? Who decides what? The best solution is for the people to choose. Giving the people what they want may sound so very bourgeois, but if you don’t allow them freedom to choose, they will stay away from the 66% in their millions. This is a slippery slope and no good will come of it. It looks like CFK has discovered the secret of making the “lotta continua” a permanent part of Argentina’s existence.

  17. haroldo says:

    Celina / Celina Andreassi…..the same?

  18. Andres Djordjalian says:

    Celina, I’m not sure I understand your last message. You say that the article reflects the wording of the law. But the law is talking about reach (as you later confirm), and so are those numbers that were presented for Grupo Clarín. Yet, in the article, Mariel refers to those as market ‘held’ by Clarín, ‘market share’ and ‘market penetration’, which imply something different, as I was arguing before.

    Perhaps the confusion originates from Sabattella calling that concept ‘market share’ sometimes, but he’s wrong, and probably tendentiously so. Never does ‘market share’ imply the possibility to serve a client but not some real sales. If you open a pizza shop that can deliver to the whole neighborhood, you don’t suddenly hold 100% of the pizza market there, neither have 100% market penetration, etc.

    When the article says that Clarín ‘holds […] 38.78% of the open-air television market’ and that the law will limit that to 35%, it implies that the other companies are left with just 61.22% and that the law will mildly correct that to a 65%, at least in regards to that clause. But it is not true, and the mistake is crucial if we are to evaluate how much of a ‘monopoly’ Clarín really is, and how reasonable or not is this law.

    BTW, the portion that you’re quoting is open to interpretation, as I argued in my previous message. When you paraphrase the ending by saying that it means ‘cable subscribers’, you’re making an assumption that is not the only possible one. It could mean ‘pay TV subscribers’ instead. The choice between those two interpretations makes a sizable difference concerning cable and satellite companies.

    Regarding your previous comment, the ’21 points’ deal mostly with brief, dogmatic concepts, not with the crucial, concrete regulations, such as the level and ways of the fragmentation required from the industry, or the selection of the authorities of AFSCA. Perhaps the most concrete part of those points is reserving for non-profits a 33% of the frequencies, whatever that means (I mean, is it over the allocated frequencies or all possible ones? Possible according to which technology and technical criteria?) It is not surprising that the non-dogmatic point is that, given that the document came from an association originated from community radios, which I doubt can reflect the balance and multiplicity of disciplines required to design a good law on this subject.

    The draft that entered Diputados at an irregular timing had many modifications from the one that was published months before. That’s why I said they had no time to study it. There was never a climate of openness to objections, which were plentiful all along. I’d rather say that government was trying to obtain votes in the chambers while installing that criticism from legislators and other parties was due to pressures from Clarín and such.

    That last thing is just my subjective appreciation but, in any case, my point is that, based partly on the irregularities of the process and the oddities in the final text, I find little grounds to be assertive as you were about the law being well thought out.

    Spanglish infiltrated the final sentence of my previous message. I meant ‘boot-licking’, of course. :)

  19. kristie says:

    Yes, Haroldo. Celina is Celina Andreassi.

  20. kristie says:

    Werner – the caption on the image is correct. The vast majority of those at the rally in 2009 were in favour of the new law’s creation, and against what many viewed as Clarín’s monopoly on the media.

  21. haroldo says:

    Celina, Don’t you think it is somewhat unprofessional of you to comment in the forums of a news site you contribute to,.(numerous articles.) It’s a bit like a journalist working for the Clarin posing as commenter in the columns.

  22. Werner Almesberger says:

    Thanks for the confirmation, Kristie ! It’s funny how ambiguous that picture looks when taken out of its immediate context.

    – Werner

  23. Werner Almesberger says:

    @haroldo: why shouldn’t journalists be allowed to express their personal opinions in any forum they wish ? As long as there’s no direct conflict of interest or a risk of misunderstanding their role, I don’t see much of a problem.

    Things would be different if the author of an article then went to write – under an alias or maybe even several – comments praising the article or its author, falsely corroborate its content, mount a false flag operation and attack the article/author thus making other readers side with the “victim”, or do what other such little games there are. That would be crossing the line. But just commenting on the same site ? Naw.

    To make sure no confusion about roles or intentions arises, it would make sense if authors/co-authors commenting/expanding/etc. on their own articles would clearly identify themselves as such if the association isn’t obvious from context.

    – Werner

  24. haroldo says:

    “To make sure no confusion about roles or intentions arises, it would make sense if authors/co-authors commenting/expanding/etc. on their own articles would clearly identify themselves as such if the association isn’t obvious from context.”

    Werner,
    You’ve hit the nail on the head. Once I had understood who Celina was , I was guessing as to what her role was,..moderator? Who wants to argue with the moderator? (It usually won’t get you anywhere other than banned, ignored, or at the very least stifle spontaneity of the discussion.) Was she offering insight to details about the article itself? Yes. Did she have a slant to the information? Yes. OK,.. was she, or could she have been,.. just an innocent poster? Maybe,.. in an ideal world.

  25. kristie says:

    Haroldo – to clarify, the article was written by Mariel Matze, not Celina Andreassi. Do you have a problem with the balance of the article itself?

    Yes, Celina who has been commenting on the article is also a collaborator for the Argentina Independent. Celina is not a moderator of the debate – we approve ALL comments on ALL articles, regardless of their point of view. You comment frequently on our articles and your comments are not always glowing compliments of the piece in question – have you ever had a comment not be approved by us?

    To clarify, comments are approved by three people – myself (Editor in Chief), Marc Rogers (Editor), and Celina Andreassi (News Editor). As a publication that thrives to bring forth debate on issues such as this one, we do not censor our journalists or editors any more than we do our readers – all of our journalists are free to comment on any of the articles using their own name as Celina did in this case.

    Often we, as the person who approves the comment, will reply to clarify points and improve the understanding of the subject, in case something we have written was not entirely clear. Other times, we comment – as do other contributors – in ways that do show our own personal opinion. This is something I, as director of this project, have no problem with, as it is the comments section, and the space for debate and personal opinion. So long as the article is written in a balanced, objective and independent way, comments that come after the piece can be used to show individuals’ points of view.

    I hope that clarifies your point and if you have any further issues, please let me know.

    Regards
    Kristie

  26. Werner Almesberger says:

    Haroldo, we don’t know if she had anything to do with the writing of the article. At least she’s not indicated as the author.

    The general slant of the article is towards minority interests, but that’s generally the style of the Indy. It is normal and expected that news outlets have their world views. E.g., at the Indy, I would be surprised to find an article proposing privatization of the entire educational system and use of the proceeds to finance deforestation of areas suitable for strip mining, with relocation of the natives inconveniently dwelling there. Likewise, if looking for my monthly dose of xenophobia, I know that I’ll have a rich picking in the reader comments at La Nacion online. And so on.

    What’s perhaps more questionable is that the article accepts the supposed virtues of the law without asking whether the law is in fact an effective means to those ends. Furthermore, there is bias in implying that it benefits a broad public while positing that it hurts only one small group of magnates.

    That’s pretty much the party line which isn’t above suspicion, as various comments discuss. Of course, one role of comments (in general) is to provide room for critical analysis.

    Speaking of “dual use” laws, there’s also the Music Law that hasn’t gotten much public scrutiny and that was also presented in very favourable terms by the Indy. It claims to benefit local artists, but there is (globally) plenty of precedent of laws with similarly noble goals being a cover for reducing or eliminating intellectual property freedoms. I would have hoped to find an analysis of potential threats (if there are any) over at Via Libre, but what little I could dig up [1] wasn’t overly useful.

    Regarding moderators, I wouldn’t expect this to be a place where moderators are prone to abusing their power. What I see as a much larger problem with moderation is the often very long lag between posting an article and the time a moderator comes around to approve it. Mandatory moderation has some benefits, such as eliminating spam and reducing legal exposure to the point of making even de facto anonymity feasible, but it also takes a lot of the dynamics out of discussions.

    – Werner

    [1] http://www.vialibre.org.ar/2011/09/01/se-aprueba-la-ley-de-la-musica-socializar-los-costos-privatizar-la-musica/

  27. Werner Almesberger says:

    Okay, Kristie was quicker and already clarified the issue :-) The first paragraph of my last post is thus obsolete.

    – Werner

  28. kristie says:

    Agreed Werner – we could do with approving comments more quickly. But as a volunteer-run project, I don’t think we do too badly!

  29. Werner Almesberger says:

    Kristie, if moderators tend to find no issues in posts from real people (as opposed to spambots) and provided that the legal situation is sufficiently friendly (*), how about approving users for posting without moderation ?

    (*) In some countries, the operator of a blog, comments section, etc. has to remove offending content if advised but is generally not considered to be the offending party or an accessory before having had a reasonable chance to react to a troublesome contribution. I don’t know what the situation is like here, though.

    Users could be identified either by introducing accounts with a login and such, or, a bit less secure but perhaps more user-friendly, by setting a cookie that identifies the author, similar to or even reusing the cookies that currently fill some fields in the “Leave a Reply” form and that make the site show me my postings waiting for moderation.

    The cookie approach would have the drawback that one would have to get approval for each system/browser/browser identity one is using and the identity would be lost when deleting cookies or running an anonymous session (for browsers that support such things), but I think it would work pretty well for the average use(r).

    The effort you (and your team) are putting into this is admirable and I’m far from saying that you should work harder. But if you can make things better while working less, wouldn’t that be sweet ? :)

    – Werner

  30. haroldo says:

    Kristie,
    Thank you for taking the time to clarify things. To be honest Celina did clarify some points of interest and well done too. But, if you mix moderation/”collaborator “ with subjectivity it can raise red flags. I still have issues but perhaps they are personal. I see no way around them so I will end that discussion here.
    As for my “not always glowing compliments,” of past articles, you are too kind. I will attempt to do better in the future.

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