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Sat Dec 26, 2015, 02:46 PM

OAS: Macri's AFSCA takeover puts it “back to when governments had full control of the media office.”

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States (OAS), Edison Lanza, says media concentration still an issue in Argentina. President Mauricio Macri’s offensive against the AFSCA media watchdog is an “unorthodox” move that bypasses the mechanism stipulated by law, he warned yesterday.

Lanza was referring to Macri's use of an allied municipal judge, Julián Ercolini, to declare the Media Anti-trust Law unconstitutional in violation of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, Macri's subsequent removal of AFSCA Director Martín Sabbatella by decree on December 23, and his appointment of a PRO (Macri's party) operative, Agustín Garzón, to the post without congressional review.

AFSCA is Argentina's counterpart to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, and monitors the implementation of the 2009 Media Anti-trust Law; the law, which bars monopolies, has been endorsed by among others the UN, the OAS, the Carter Center, the IJF, and Reporters Without Borders.

While critical of Martín Sabbatella, appointed by former President Cristina Kirchner to the post in 2009, for not being independent enough from political power, Lanza said the trusteeship model passed by decree by the Macri administration puts the media watchdog “back in the times when governments had full control over the office.”

Lanza, a former counsel for the Association of Uruguayan Press (APU), spoke to the Herald on the controversy.

How did you take the Argentine government’s decision to place AFSCA under trusteeship?

We’re closely watching this situation. To take such a decision without using the clear mechanism stipulated by law to remove a member of AFSCA’s board of directors is clearly an unorthodox path. The result is that the decision has been legally challenged.

International standards on the matter say the ideal thing would be to have departments that are autonomous both from the Executive and economic powers in order to be able to regulate media systems following legal principles. Something which all rapporteurs on freedom of expression (from United Nations, from the OAS) agreed on was that the structure of AFSCA was once of the positive aspects of the law. For the first time, the office had representatives from the opposition, civil society.

On the other hand, the announcement to place the department under trusteeship comes just as the new government takes office, which is precisely the moment when AFSCA is being put to the test and it needs to remain an autonomous office. Trying to make (the department) in the image of the new government... well, it’s like saying autonomy is over and that we’re back to the times when governments had full control over the body.

What’s your evaluation of Martín Sabbatella’s tenure as head of AFSCA?

We don’t generally assess how officials have been doing in their posts except when they openly violate their obligations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. That being said, we’ve followed very closely the implementation of the Media Law.

The law, in general, complied with our recommendations of avoiding media concentration in order to favour diversity. Macri's saying that problems of media concentration can be fixed by the market itself, goes against our guidelines. But implementing such a law is a very sensitive issue, and there have been some measures that have been challenged by the Clarín Group and now the courts are examining the question.

In our last annual report we described the way the law was being applied and commented our doubts on whether Telefónica de Argentina was really unrelated to (Spanish conglomerate) Telefónica, and whether there was excessive rigour in the enforcement of the law against the Clarín Group (which controls almost half the Argentine media market) to the detriment of other decisions.

Last month, Macri’s Communications Minister Oscar Aguad argued there was no media concentration in Argentina. Do you agree with that statement?

No. Clearly, there’s a media group that enjoys a great deal of market concentration levels. That’s the important thing, we’re taking about media outlets, not beer companies. Multinationals have bought up practically the entire beer market in our countries, for example; but the difference is that you can dominate the beer market without affecting the institutional life of a country.

Media concentration, on the other hand, hurts democracy. Ignoring that is to ignore the entire doctrine on the matter. Strong democracies put limits to media concentration.

At: http://buenosairesherald.com/article/205594/oas-afsca-move-hurts-autonomy
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Lanza's last answer was reminiscent of Frank LaRue, until recently UN Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, who said that "it's media consolidation, rather than direct government censorship, that threatens freedom of the press and speech most today." He was a strong supporter of Argentina's 2009 Media Law (which he referred to "example to follow, particularly for the U.S." and the AFSCA.

Macri owes his narrow victory to the Clarín Group, which has been seeking to illegally monopolize the "triple play" in Argentine media (phone, cable, and internet - plus radio and print) for a decade. The AFSCA has been the only regulatory body standing in the way of media conglomerates such as the Clarín Group (which is incorporated in Luxembourg).

The "Communications Ministry" - a Macri invention - was created precisely to override the authority of the AFSCA. His appointment of Oscar Aguad - a right-wing politician with close ties to the infamous Third Army Corps commander during the Dirty War, Gen. Luciano Menéndez, and with no media or communications experience - as minister also speaks to the authoritarian intent of the new ministry.

His decree appointment of Agustín Garzón, a failed PRO candidate (Macri's far-right party), as AFSCA director is analogous to Bush's appointment of Michael Powell as head of the FCC (which under Powell came to be nicknamed the 'Fox Channel Commission').

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Reply OAS: Macri's AFSCA takeover puts it “back to when governments had full control of the media office.” (Original post)
forest444 Dec 2015 OP
Judi Lynn Dec 2015 #1

Response to forest444 (Original post)

Wed Dec 30, 2015, 11:02 PM

1. Just found this link, with help! Don't know how I missed it Saturday.

Very interesting in getting up to date with this.

Thank you, in advance, for this essential article, forest444.

Happy New Year to you and to your loved ones.

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