As a consequence of an escalation by the government against the media that culminated with the public and congressional debate on the new Law on Audiovisual Services, this year has been perhaps the most complicated in a long time with respect to the functioning of democratic institutions and for the practice of independent journalism. there were many derogatory remarks about the work of journalism which did not contribute to free democratic dialogue, in which moderation, tolerance and reasonableness should prevail; in addition the confrontational strategy became the basis for the government to take actions, measures and regulations to restrict and weaken the space of the media What could have been a debate that contributed to the strengthening of the news media and the democratic system has ended up as an abuse under the shadow of old antagonisms. The audiovisual media law was described by its sponsors as “the mother of all battles.” The government has lost sight of the fact that it has to set clear and lasting rules that ensure investment in technology, equality among the various audiovisual news media and balance among the various interests. The law, passed by Congress, was needed and timely in order to repeal the military dictatorship’s previous one. It is likely that many of its provisions are attainable, or were voted on with worthy aims. The government, however, has concentrated more on ensuring control of content and preventing a strengthening of the media. In these debates, it has not been fair for the official sectors to regard as an enemy those who do not agree with the contents and objectives of its political project, much less that it uses aggressive means to discredit them. During this period of consultations and legislative debates on the Law of Audiovisual Communication Services No. 26522, the government confronted the news media harshly. One of the main press groups was the object, not only of persecution and harassment, but of direct attempts to weaken it financially. With the excuse or objective of preventing excessive media concentration which is claimed to be the objective of the new law, regrettably it has ended up limiting privately-owned radio and television broadcasting. Freedom of expression requires being well beyond the reach of all political systems, whether the government in power or the opposition. This is the true meaning of Article 32 of the National Constitution, which prohibits the enactment of laws that restrict freedom of the press or subject it to federal jurisdiction and of Article 14 which guarantees that ideas be published without prior censorship. International treaties adopted by the country that refer to freedom of the press are incompatible with several aspects of the new law. The new law affects rights enshrined in the National Constitution, such as the right to property. Licenses that ignore or limit this were mostly extended by the authorities and recently again extended for a further 10 years, which this law does not respect. An aspect no less prejudicial for the large companies will require them to give up their licenses to the extent they exceed the new license limits and the limits regarding fewer areas of geographical coverage and to do so within a year of the license granting authority setting the time limit, which means that during that period there will be a real liquidation of radio and television stations. The time limit set for the sale of the companies that exceed the maximum limits allowed under the new law clearly impacts the determination of the value of the working capital. This situation requires special attention as to who turn out to be purchasers, the beneficiaries of this situation, and their links or closeness to members of the government. Broadcasters can take advantage of up to 10 licenses or open audiovisual communication authorizations or 24 per subscription with physical links so long as their coverage does not exceed 35% of the national total of inhabitants or subscribers to the service, whichever the case. The license holders in cities of more than 500,000 inhabitants could lose their licenses if the government so deems, with on no greater grounds than they fail repeatedly to comply with the requirements and rules on the percentages of national music or production that must be broadcast, while foreign groups and performers must limit themselves to the allotted quota. It has not been taken into account that with the already available technology, such as the Internet or mobile phones, one is able to see or listen without limitations to any program, to the disadvantage of those making up the privately-owned broadcast stations authorized by the government. The application process is conducted by a Board of Directors made up of seven members – two named by the National Executive Branch, three by legislative blocs according to their size and the other two by a provincial council, which raises the possibility of control of independent media on the part of the government of the day. Commercial broadcast stations will occupy only a fraction of the remaining frequency spectrum, given the set-aside of 33% of the spots for non-profit entities and of the remaining 67% for the federal, provincial or municipal government, national universities and indigenous peoples. This distribution reduces the space for privately-owned broadcasting and looks to be a means of control. In addition, it is not specified how the state-owned broadcast stations or those of social organizations will be funded, and they are allowed to have resort to the commercial advertising market like the privately-owned radios do, which could lead to unfair competition. The criterion is established that cable operators will only be allowed to have their own signal, without distinguishing what is transport (cable system) of content production (own channel). Comparable legislation finds that, for example in the United States unlimited production is allowed, but only 40% of own production may be distributed. Owners of both an on-air channel and a cable system must give up their investments, as they must choose only one of the two. An open or cable channel may produce only one signal. In the United States there are no limits. Most of the principal private media outlets in the country are not covered by the new law because of their property, national coverage or number of licenses. The main one to be harmed by this situation is the Clarín Group, the company that publishes the newspaper Clarín and operates an open channel, a cable system and signals that all are affected by the limits imposed under the law. In mid-stream the government tried to overturn the authorization issued by the Competition Defense Commission for the merger of its two cable companies, Multicanal and Cablevisión. In recent days the Clarín Group headquarters and the private residences of some of its executives received the visit of some 200 inspectors from the AFIP (tax collection office). The Group saw this as clear official intimidation, while the AFIP denied having ordered the action. This law has been rejected by almost all organizations representing the media and local and foreign journalists. Almost all the groups representing the media and local and international journalists have rejected the law. Enrique Santos Calderón, the president of the Inter American Press Association, said during his visit to Argentina during the General Assembly of the Argentine Association of Journalism Outlets in Salta province in September said the state would become a partial regulator of journalistic activity. Santos Calderón challenged governments chosen democratically that attempt to weaken the media. He said it is necessary to be alert to the danger for freedom of expression. The context in which the debate arose also has generated considerable violence – at least verbal – and anger. Large numbers of signs were hung in the streets bearing slogans against news media and there were harsh attacks on them. One of these was reported by a director of the Papel Prensa company, jointly owned by the state and the newspapers Clarín and La Nación. He said he had been threatened by Interior Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno, which was seen by the private shareholders as a first step to take away from them ownership in the newsprint production company. The government denied the possibility that it would be nationalized. The truckers´ union, headed by CGTT leader Hugo Moyano, who is close to the government, blocked the sale of the dailies Clarín and La Nación to their distributors early in the morning of November 4. After negotiating about the affiliation of the distributors´ employees with the truckers´ union, the sale was permitted at 5 a.m. The same thing happened, even more harshly on Thursday and Friday mornings. This is not the first time such action has been taken against free circulation of newspapers. There has been conflict with distribution cooperatives before and eventually the action has extended to the newspapers. The pressure against the distributors and publishing companies has not happened before in this country and has been occurring without any police response. The media business organizations ADEPA, ADIRA and CEMCI condemned the action calling it an excessive move that makes the newspapers hostages in an outside conflict. They said that forceful interference in the delivery of media to citizens harms press freedom. The same operation occurred Thursdays when the magazine Noticias of Editorial Perfil went on sale. This November 7, Newspaper Vendors´ Day, a new system to regulate the sale of newspapers and magazines was announced. The Labor Ministry is to establish a registry of distribution sites, revocations and changes in ownership, leaving the vendor without any share of the cover price. It was also announced that from now on newspaper vendors will be called culture workers and they will become employees of the publishers. This year was also the time for an action awaited by the independent press. The Argentine President has sent to Congress a bill that proposes to amend the criminal law on libel and defamation which currently restricts the freedom of journalists and the media. This initiative is the result of a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that called on Argentina to modify its criminal legislation. The case that led to this development occurred in 2008, when a journalist was convicted of libel over publication of a book. Other journalists, such as Alfredo Leuco, Rolando Graña and several with the newspaper La Nación, are on trial for having published reports against the government. Remaining in effect are limits placed on the decree on access to public information issued by the federal government and a lack of adequate regulation for the distribution of official advertising, a matter that has also been left out of the Law on Communication Services. Other developments affecting press freedom in Argentina: In April and May there were a number of attacks on offices and distribution points of the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarín, investigations into which have so far produced no result. Since early last year, the AFIP (Federal Public Revenue Agency) has been intimidating newspapers, claiming non-payment of Valued Added Taxes since 2003, an action that is currently before the courts. Several representations have been made to the Chief of Cabinet in a bid to find a solution to avoid many media outlets in the country going under. To date there has been no response. Some media decided to take advantage of the moratorium granted by the government, going so far as to acknowledge the debt that is being objected to. Supreme Court Justices Carmen Argibay and Eugenio Zaffaroni accused the press of treating news about lack of security in an exaggerated manner, saying that it magnifies criminal acts that occur day in and day out. Verbal abuse during these last six months occurred incessantly. The press was accused of taking pot-shots at the government as a consequence of official decisions involving press groups. In a tense and confrontational climate, opposed to tolerance and dialogue, the Kirchner husband and wife team accused media and opposition leaders of fostering destabilization. A counter-intelligence director of the former SIDE (State Intelligence Service), Antonio Horacio Stiuso, filed a lawsuit against the editor and president of La Nación, Dr. Bartolomé Mitre and Dr.Julio Saquier, over critical opinions of his role in investigating an attack on the AMIA. He has also sued Clarín reporters. The Chief of Cabinet took legal action against the editor of the Quilmes legal journal, claiming he had engaged in clearly harassing conduct. Numerous provincial and municipal radio stations also suffered attacks on their news coverage. During 2008 and 2009 spying on journalists continued, with illegal computer and telephone wiretaps and interception of their news reports. In October for 17 minutes, images that sought to incriminate a La Nación reporter were broadcast. Neither any official authority nor the program explained the reasons for what had happened, it being blamed on state intelligence agencies. In September during a press conference, former President Néstor Kirchner refused to answer a question by a Clarín reporter, saying he did not lower himself to respond to the monopolistic power of the newspaper and that Clarín was not independent. On a number of occasions slogans have been painted on the streets against the TN television news channel and Clarín saying “Todo Negocio” (It’s All Business) about TN and “Clarín Miente” (Clarín Lies), while going on to say “¿Qué te pasa Clarín? ¿Estas nervioso?” (What’s The Matter Clarín? Are You Nervous?). Also in October it was learned of a proposal to amend Decree No. 1025 which regulates the distribution of newspapers and magazines. The initiative would classify news kiosk owners as “workers of culture.” In July the broadcast equipment of radio station FM Satellital 95.3 in Goya city, Corrientes province, was set on fire and its tower was torn down. There is so far no indication who may have carried out the attack, robbery being ruled out as nothing belonging to the station was missing. Gonzalo Rodríguez, a reporter with the television program “Caiga quien Caiga” (Fall Who May), was attacked as he was doing a report on anomalies in the running of the El Bolsón airport in Río Negro by Mayor Oscar Romera. The Mendoza newspaper Los Andes sued distributors and agents of the government of San Juan province, claiming they prevented distribution of its magazine Rumbos on July 7. Various attacks were made upon Clarín executives. A magazine was even distributed that was fully devoted to attacking Clarín Group and some of its main shareholders during a march organized by labor union leader Hugo Moyano and the La Cámpora picketing group. The Junín publication Democracia complained of unfair competition from Diario La Verdad, belonging to the Mercedes Luján Bishopric. The AFIP (tax collection office) had granted the Bishopric´s newspaper temporary exemption from payment of Valued Added Tax (VAT) on ad space sales, saying it was a media outlet for the dissemination of religion. This inequity was not resolved even though it hinders equality before the law and free competition.