LATIN AMERICA

Clarín wins two legal battles to keep Fernández de Kirchner at bay

President wants court ruling to force media group to divest holdings

The president dances during Sunday´s rights day fete
The president dances during Sunday´s rights day feteM. B. (REUTERS)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Tuesday asked the nation's Supreme Court to reconsider a ruling it handed down earlier this week that stopped the Argentinean government from getting a fast-track decision on its planned divestment of holdings from the country's biggest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarín.

The government has been threatening to take away some of Clarín's cable television and broadcast licenses in order to bring the group into line with a controversial 2009 media law.

The top court's decision on Monday came just three days after the Federal Civil and Commercial Court issued a temporary injunction halting the government's move against Grupo Clarín as it studies an appeal filed by the media conglomerate. The Fernández de Kirchner administration had set Friday as a deadline for all media groups to present divestment plans for their excess holdings. Clarín's owners had refused on the grounds their constitutional rights were being violated.

After the temporary injunction was granted at Clarín's request, the government went to the Supreme Court to file a petition for per saltum - an order by the top court to immediately hear the case without having to work its way through the legal system.

The seven justices ruled unanimously against Fernández de Kirchner

The seven justices ruled unanimously against Fernández de Kirchner. The reverse came on the same day the president began her sixth year in power; she was re-elected to a second term last year. In their ruling, the justices said that per saltums are granted in "obviously serious institutional matters that need a definite and expedited solution."

The government had not made any comment on the decision. But Fernández de Kirchner, 59, severely criticized her country's legal system as judges associations and legal professionals issued calls for her to respect judicial independence.

"What type of democracy are we talking about if you do not respect the will of parliament"

In a nationwide address during celebrations on Sunday to mark Argentina's Democracy and International Human Rights Day, Fernández de Kirchner, who may have had some indication that the Supreme Court would rule against her, demanded that the courts respect "parliamentary independence and the will of the people."

"What type of democracy are we talking about if you do not respect the will of parliament, which in essence is the seat of democracy; the House of Representatives, which represents the people; the Senate Chamber, where 23 Argentinean provinces are represented; and the autonomous city of Buenos Aires?" she asked.

According to the law, media conglomerates can only hold a maximum of 24 cable-television licenses and 10 broadcast radio and television licenses. Clarín has 240 cable networks, and 10 radio and four broadcast television licenses, the government says. Five other conglomerates had submitted plans to reorganize their ownerships, but Clarín refused.

Although Grupo Clarín may have won these two latest legal battles, the dispute between the conglomerate and the Fernández de Kirchner administration is far from over. The group's flagship daily Clarín has been critical of the current administration, and has denounced her government's threats in several international forums, including before the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), which issued a critical report on Friday after sending a mission to Argentina.

While the IAPA said it shared the objective "to bring about a greater plurality of voices and prevent the excessive control of media in a few hands," the law had "turned into an instrument used by the government to do away with its new worst enemy: Grupo Clarín."

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