New broadcast media law is constitutional, supreme court rules

Argentina’s supreme court ruled yesterday that a new broadcast media law known as the Audiovisual Communication Services Law (LSCA) is constitutional, thereby rejecting an appeal by the Clarín multimedia group, which objected to some of its articles. Approved by congress in 2009, the law would have taken effect in December 2012 but for Clarín’s appeal. The new regulatory body created by the law, the Federal Agency for Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA), announced that it will take effect at once. “We have often expressed our support for the overall principles of this law and we welcome the supreme court’s decision,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We think its implementation will be big step forward for pluralism in Argentine and the region. “The supreme court’s arguments in defence of the law were basically ours, namely that the LSCA will reinforce freedom of information and the pubic debate, because it allows a broader spectrum of public opinion to express itself legally.” Unlike Ecuador’s new media law and Uruguay’s future media law, which assign a third of broadcast frequencies to community broadcast media, a third to the state and a third to commercial stations, the LSCA assigns a third to community and non-profit broadcast media without defining how the state and private sectors share the other two thirds. Nonetheless, the AFSCA must adopt clear rules to ensure that pluralism is respected. For example, the principle enshrined in article 106 of Uruguay’s future SCA law, prohibiting any “indirect censorship” by means of the use of ideological or editorial criteria to allocate frequencies, could be a source of inspiration. A detailed plan needs to be drawn up for the allocation of the third of frequencies reserved for community and non-profit media. This should include a list of all the frequencies that can be allocated. The AFSCA’s information should be complete and transparent. “Proper regulation of state advertising is also urgently needed,” Reporters Without Borders added. “Recent years have seen an outrageous increase in state advertising for media that support the government. “We share the supreme court judges’ warning about possible abuses by the government, especially as regards use of the law to support an ideology and to restrict public debate. It is vital that the AFSCA should be an independent agency, one that does not let itself be influenced by the government or pressure groups.” The appeal by the Clarín group, owner of the country’s largest share of broadcasting frequencies, was mainly motivated by commercial interests. The supreme court said: “Clarín’s freedom of expression is not affected by the law’s implementation, because media decentralization and frequency reallocation do not endanger the group’s economic viability.” The ruling added that it was normal that “the law should, as a matter of principle, establish overall limits because preventing concentration of ownership guarantees freedom of expression.” Unlike Argentina’s other major multimedia companies, Clarín has not proposed any divestment plan and has announced that an appeal to international courts remains a possibility.
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Updated on 20.01.2016