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Current president Cristina Fernández Kirchner and former president Nestor Kirchner
I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina during the spring of 2010, and during my time there, a hot topic of discussion was El Ley de los Medios (essentially, "the media law"). When I read about the death of former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner a few weeks ago, an article reminded me about the discussion, and it reminded me of some of our conversations in class. 

Basically, like the United States, Argentina has found itself in a similarly conglomerate-run situation. Except instead of all media being controlled by five companies, like in the US, Argentine media is controlled mostly by two or three. The biggest of these is Grupo Clarín, which owns one of the top-selling newspapers in the country, tons of radio stations, and two-thirds of Argentina's cable network. 

The Basics:
The current president, Cristina Fernández Kirchner (wife to her now-deceased predecessor, Nestor Kirchner), pushed through El Ley de los Medios a little over a year ago, in October of 2009. It's the first real replacement law regarding the media since a reform during the 1976-1983 military junta-led dictatorship that allowed media concentration. You can read all of its specific points HERE (If you read Spanish, of course). 

The new law applies only to audiovisual communication and is primarily designed to put limits on the concentration of media ownership into the hands of just a few companies. Among other provisions, the law said that a single company could hold no more than ten radio and TV licenses, could not control more than 35% of the market, and could not own both a broadcast channel and cable network in the same market. The Kirchners and overwhelming number of Senate members who voted for the bill (44 in favor vs. 24 opposed) said that the bill would provide a greater diversity in the public airwaves and make access at communications easier. The law also requires 70 percent of radio content and 60 percent of TV content to be produced in Argentina, as well as stipulations that cable TV networks host channels maintained by universities and indigenous groups.

The Controversy: 
Various media sources in the country have criticized the Kirchners for having an ulterior motive with the bill. They say the Kirchners were looking to silence their critics, since they have traditionally pointed the finger at big media groups, particularly Grupo Clarín, for unfair and biased media coverage.

Now, I don't pretend to understand the enormously complicated history and current state of corporate ownership and potential presidential corruption in Argentina. It's a country still reeling from its military days and economic crash less than ten years ago, so it's hard to trust anyone's opinion or perspective about what's going on. What I can say, however, is that breaking up media conglomerates is always a good thing. Restricting Grupo Clarín and the other huge companies in Argentina from owning too much can only result in good. We've discussed the institutionalized censorship and conflicts of interest that can appear in journalism when all media is concentrated in the hands of few. United States officials should look into Argentina's law, remove any of the potentially hidden corruption, and enact something similar.

The Coverage:
What's also interesting about this topic is to look at the various coverage of the decision about the law in other publications. The New York Times focuses on the press-censoring angle, The Economist attacks the Kirchners with forceFox News suggests it "replaces a media oligopoly with a state monopoly," and The Wall Street Journal provides perhaps the most biased coverage, equating El Ley de los Medios with a "crackdown on the free press."

Independent news sources coming from within Argentina, however, gave fairer coverage to those in favor of the law. The Argentina Independent and blogs like Patria, Si, Colonia No gave their support, providing a diversely different viewpoint from Clarín and other conglomerate-run news sources; the former published the headline "Kirchner ya tiene la ley de control de medios" ("Kirchner now has law granting control over media"). 

You should also note that civil society groups, Nobel Peace laureates and human rights organizations were generally huge proponents of El Ley de los Medios. When left to decide whose perspective I side with more - business conglomerates or human rights groups - for some reason, the decision's not hard.

Of course, it makes perfect sense for these mainstream U.S. publications to speak out against the new media law; they represent Big Media, and they're surprised and concerned at the Kirchners' blatant violation of the Capitalistic Credo. They're probably quite a bit surprised that the United States' attempts to shock Argentina into a purely capitalistic society (as Naomi Klein so gracefully details in The Shock Doctrine) have been sort of foiled. After all, if a similar law were to pass in the United States, it's these corporations that would be affected. And you can't cheer on the diversification of media outlets and voices when you're terrified that a success story from the bill's implementation could screw up your own shot at making more money and controlling more stuff. 




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