BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina's Supreme Court approved the country's four-year-old broadcast media law on Tuesday, deciding that it's constitutional to force private news media monopolies to break themselves apart if they exceed government-imposed audience limits.
The ruling is a huge victory for President Cristina Fernandez and a bitter defeat for Grupo Clarin, which has been a leading voice against her administration.
The state has an unquestionable role in protecting public discourse by preventing monopoly power in the media industry, the court ruled.
"As ideas and information represent goods that are distributed through the media, if there is concentration, only some ideas or some information will reach the public, seriously harming public debate and the plurality of opinions," the court said. "All of this demands the active protection of the State."
Clarin is one of Latin America's largest media companies, with interests in newspapers, magazines, a nationwide television network and broadcast TV and radio stations. It would be forced to sell off its lucrative cable TV licenses once the law is implemented.
Among other restrictions, the 2009 law limits cross-ownership of media companies and says no TV network can command more than 35 percent of the nation's viewers and bars the same company from owning more than one or two radio stations in a single municipality.
By a four-three vote, the justices approved the law in its entirety, including four articles that seek to eliminate existing concentrations of media power. Two other judges approved the law in general while disagreeing on some of these articles. Only one declared the entire law unconstitutional.
Clarin says the law is unfair because it applies no limits to competitors that deliver news, internet access and other media services through telephone wires or by satellite to consumers nationwide. Government supporters celebrated, calling the ruling a victory for diversity and freedom of expression in a media landscape too often dominated by private interests.
The 392-page ruling also warned the government that it must act fairly to all media companies, and said many questions won't be resolved until the law is implemented, according to an official summary on the court's website.
The justices said that license holders must be compensated when forced to divest their stations, that subsidies currently going to Clarin's pro-government media competitors should be redistributed fairly and transparently, that state-owned media must be more than government mouthpieces, that the broadcast media regulator must be independent of executive power, and that any efforts to reform Argentina's media industry must be done fairly and with due process.