BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — President Cristina Fernandez appealed to Argentina’s Supreme Court on Friday seeking to enforce a government-imposed deadline for dismembering Grupo Clarin, a media company that has become her leading rival in the court of public opinion.
Two lower-court judges stayed a midnight Friday deadline for media companies to announce how they'll sell off properties that exceed anti-monopoly limits imposed by Congress three years ago.
They said the injunction should hold until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the effort to limit the power of private media companies. The ruling suspended the centerpiece of the Fernandez presidency, and all but guaranteed that her supporters and opponents would keep fighting for the known future.
Fernandez still planned to celebrate her campaign against corporate-funded speech with a Sunday rock concert and presidential address in the capital’s historic Plaza de Mayo.
Meanwhile, the media landscape in Argentina has mostly been reduced to warring alliances of newspapers, television and radio stations lined up for and against the government. Both sides devote vast resources to rewarding friends and attacking enemies in country’s insular political world.
Journalists in Buenos Aires say the collateral damage is painfully evident: The quality of news coverage has declined, and media credibility is abysmal, with any effort to hold officials accountable dismissed as low blows fed by partisanship.
‘‘Between the government and Argentina’s leading papers, they’re destroying journalism,’’ said Roberto Guareschi, a former Clarin editor and professor at University of California at Berkeley who now edits Project Syndicate, which publishes opinion pieces internationally.
This fight ‘‘has diminished the quality of journalism in general,’’ agreed Andres D'Alessandro, director of the Forum for Argentine Journalism, whose survey of 1,000 reporters last year found that declining standards of their craft was their highest concern, after salaries.
The Miami-based InterAmerican Press Association sent a delegation to Buenos Aires to evaluate press freedom, and concluded Friday that ‘‘serious inconveniences remain for the free exercise of journalism in the country.’’
IAPA said it ‘‘shares the stated goals of the media law — to bring about a greater plurality of voices and prevent excessive concentrations of media in a few hands.’’
However, IAPA said ‘‘this healthy proposal’’ has been betrayed and ‘‘turned into an instrument used by the government to do away with its new worst enemy—Grupo Clarin.’’
The government asked the Supreme Court on Friday to rule directly on the media law’s merits, bypassing multiple layers of lower courts where the case has been stuck for three years without a decision. Media regulator Martin Sabbatella said any additional delay ‘‘damages democracy.’’
‘‘The Argentine justice system isn’t prepared to fight against the corporations, because much of the courts have been colonized by the same corporations,’’ Sabbatella argued.
In a Friday editorial, Clarin Executive Editor Ricardo Kirschbaum called such claims ‘‘politically inept.’’
‘‘This frontal offensive shows how this administration conceives of politics and democracy: all or nothing. And in this dichotomy, when it comes to connections, reasonable negotiations, the exploration of accords that bring solutions and progress, their position is win or lose,’’ Kirschbaum wrote.
Fernandez has described her efforts as a moral imperative. In speech after speech, she says democracies stop responding to the people when corporations can use media power to pressure governments to rule in their favor.
The idea of the 2009 reform was to decentralize the media industry and empower a constellation of new voices to come forward with a plurality of views.
Unfortunately, the president’s obsession with Clarin has overwhelmed efforts to foster this diversity, said Martin Becerra, a communications professor at the National University of Quilmes, outside Buenos Aires.
Fernandez has spent millions of dollars assuring the loyalty of pro-government newspapers and broadcast stations by showering them with lucrative government announcements — the same official advertising Clarin once benefitted from when it was aligned with previous governments.
With both sides ‘‘playing the victim,’’ the goal of media reform has been forgotten, Becerra said.
Also lost is common ground for addressing Argentina’s many problems. Economic, security and environmental problems, corruption, decayed infrastructure, unpaid pensions and other important issues are ignored.Continued...