Argentina Government Takes Control of Newsprint

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: Newspapers are losing readers in this country and elsewhere. But in Argentina, they're still going strong. Which is why a law just passed by the Argentine Senate is controversial. It allows the Government to control the supply of newsprint — that's the paper that newspapers are printed on. Reporter Daniel Schweimler in Buenos Aires says it's part on an ongoing conflict over free speech.

Daniel Schweimler: Well, this is in many ways the latest stage in a long-running battle between the Government of President Cristina Kirchner, which started with her predecessor as president, her late husband Nestor Kirchner, who basically fell out with the main media group here in Argentina — the Clarin Group. Which is the owner of the main cable television station, the Clarin newspaper — which is the biggest circulation newspaper in Argentina, very influential — as well as several radio stations and new magazines, and until a couple of years ago the main transmitter of live soccer to the Argentine people. So a very important company in that sense. The Government fell out with them three or four years ago, and one of the areas they have been attacking is the control of newsprint, the paper on which newspapers are printed.

Mullins: So it's kind of the equivalent for us of say the New York Times and you know, ABC, NBC, CNN, whatever, and ESPN, as if they are all part of the same conglomerate. And what the Government in Argentina is saying is: "Look, this can't happen. And because you own a leading share of the company that makes the newspaper, the actual paper itself, we're going to take control of that." So it's kind of a free speech issue.

Schweimler: Exactly that. And those have been the first accusations immediately after the law has passed from the two main newspapers — La Nacion and Clarin. Front page editorials, front page stories, saying exactly that. That this is an attack on the freedom of expression. The front of the Clarin newspaper said this is an attack on the very constitution, democracy in Argentina. They're certainly seeing it in those terms. And the Government here accuses Clarin especially, and La Nacion to a certain extent, of having risen to their positions of prominence during the military rule in Argentina in the late seventies, early nineteen eighties. It's a very sensitive issue here still, many years after the end of that dictatorship. And the newspapers, to many degrees, have responded in kind with almost daily attacks on the Government, on different ministers in the Government, which the Government here sees as blatantly unfair and undemocratic.

Mullins: Can't that conglomerate get the paper someplace else?

Schweimler: They're going to have to certainly look at getting the newspaper someplace else. I mean, increasingly in the modern world, people are reading their newspapers more and more online. So I wonder whether the issue of paper is as dominant, is as important now as it perhaps might have been five or six years ago. But most Argentines still read their newspapers as tangible pieces of paper rather than online. So it's still an issue. And what the Government has said is that it will now control the production, the price of the paper, the newsprint. If they don't like what the company is doing, it will now have the power to intervene. Newspapers fear that they will only intervene if they don't like, if the Government doesn't like whats being printed in the newspapers. The Government said its really an issue of control. Its an anti-monopoly measure, more than anything else. They don't see it as a freedom of speech, a freedom of expression issue. So again, it depends very much on which side of the fence you're on.

Mullins: Alright. David Schweimler, based in Buenos Aires. Thank you very much.

Schweimler: Okay. Thank you very much.