The move by Argentina’s President to revoke the licences and seize the assets of Clarin Group, the country’s main independent media organization, is a setback for democracy and the free flow of information in this G20 country.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has couched her decision to use a controversial new media law to dismantle Clarin as an attempt to limit media concentration. However, what she is really doing is wielding the law as a political tool to try and silence her opponents. The losers are ordinary Argentines.
The move is the latest in a series of political and economic missteps by Ms. Fernandez, who seems determined to damage her country’s international brand with erratic and anti-free-market measures such as the nationalization of YPF, an oil company controlled by Spain’s Repsol, and a foreign policy overly focused on the Falkland Islands issue. Her government has so seriously underestimated the rate of inflation that those with an interest in the economy are actually hiring independent economists for a more accurate read. It is little wonder foreign investment is shrinking.
In the case of the media, the government already engages in a form of censorship by investing huge amounts in advertising with media organizations that provide favourable coverage, while withholding advertising from Clarin and other more critical media outlets. It has also used the country’s national tax agency as a political tool, dispatching tax agents to Clarin in 2009.
The media conglomerate’s owners are right to challenge the new media law’s constitutionality, and should not be cowed into silence. Last month, thousands of Argentines protested in the streets, banging pots and pans to signal displeasure over strict currency controls and other government measures.
Ms. Fernandez needs to reassure Argentines its long-term economic policies are sound, and work to re-establish credibility in global financial markets – which remains shaky after its 2001 default on nearly $100-billion of debt. She should stop engaging in unnecessary battles with the media, and focus on her own government’s performance with foreign investors, and with the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands, and on improving her own government’s credibility and performance.