The media v. Kirchner: The case for a free Argentinian press

October 3, 2012

You won’t hear me say this a lot, but Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) has a point about the media. It’s just not the point she meant to make when she came to the Hilltop last week.

For those of you who don’t follow Argentine press politics (including me, until last Wednesday), a little background is in order.

President Kirchner has long feuded with the media in her country, especially Clarín, the nation’s largest paper, and La Nación. Grupo Clarín, which owns both papers, also owns half of Papel Prensa, the sole domestic publishing company that controls more than 75 percent of the market and is vehemently critical of Kirchner’s administration. The government is also a major stakeholder in Papel Prensa, a source of endless tension between the press and state. Both Clarín and La Nación have spotty histories, including allegations of collusion with Argentine dictators in the ‘70s and ‘80s and conspicuous silence about the ‘dirty war’ the despots waged against their own citizens.

Even Grupo Clarín’s acquisition of the publishing company is still under dispute in court. Opponents, including CFK, claim the military junta conspired with the papers to force the leftist owner, David Graiver, to sell Papel Prensa in 1976. Some members of the Graiver family confirm Kirchner’s claims, while others have taken out full page advertisements in La Nación and Clarín refuting them. Local media studies (of course, contested by the papers) indicate that up until 2010, Papel Prensa would routinely sell paper to the two large outlets at a 25 percent discount, allowing them to be more competitive than their opponents.

Given all these problems, it must have seemed only natural to the Peronist president to intervene in the media market as she did last year. But she didn’t go in and break up the monopoly outright. Instead, CFK and her legislative allies wrote up a law that demands Papel Prensa satisfy the entire domestic demand for newspapers. If it does not, the state has the right to increase its stake in the company (currently a bit less than 28 percent) to help it fill the void. Supporters echo Kirchner’s claim that she is trying to ‘liberalize’ the media market, while many journalists and other opponents see the act as a thinly-veiled attempt to bring the two largest papers under government control.

I’m not Argentine, but I can’t help but be suspicious about both sides of the debate. As a leftist, I’m naturally inclined to support trust-busting, especially in the media. With so much of the market under its control and so many uncomfortable questions about its history, I too probably would have wanted to break up Papel Prensa if I were in Kirchner’s thousand-dollar shoes.

But instead of eliminating the private monopoly, Kirchner seems inclined here to transform it into a public one. A particularly contentious line in article 41 of the law referring to the government’s power to help the publisher satisfy domestic demand admits “…the State’s shareholding in Papel Prensa S.A. will eventually increase through this mechanism.” That, of course, does much less to liberalize the media than give the government the power of the press.

Furthermore, the advisory commission set up to oversee enforcement and implementation of the law includes representatives from all the nation’s newspapers except La Nación and Clarín, the two outlets it targets. In essence, the government is relying on an enforcement body under the purview of its Finance Ministry and stuffed with Papel Prensa competitors to tell it if and when it should take a majority stake in the two newspapers most critical of it.

If that all sounds a bit backwards to you, you aren’t the only one. But, Argentine reporters rarely get the chance to ask the president about media policy, or any policy for that matter. As famed Argentine journalist Jorge Lanata put it on his Facebook page last week, “Hecho: CFK ganó las elecciones sin dar una sola entrevista,” or “Fact: CFK won the [presidential] election without giving a single interview.” I figure that limited access is why the Argentine press jumped all over me last week when I asked the president why Georgetown students had the opportunity to ask her questions when she doesn’t speak freely to journalists at home.

In the end, I think I understand Kirchner’s reasoning when it comes to Papel Prensa. But here, as in other places, she has the politics right and the policy wrong. If Kirchner really wanted to foster a free and independent press in Argentina, it would have been easier and more effective to slice the media conglomerate up, separating the papers from the publisher and calling it a day. If the president ever makes good on her offer to fly me to Argentina to see a press conference, this is the first question I’d ask. And until I have an answer from CFK or her surrogates, I’ll stand with the millions of Argentines suspicious that the president wants to be the not only the commander-in-chief, but the editor-in-chief as well.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article indicated that publishing company Papel Prensa owned the newspapers Clarín and La Nación. In fact, it is Grupo Clarín that owns the largest stake in Papel Prensa.

Gavin Bade
Gavin Bade is Managing Editor of The Georgetown Voice

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“If the president ever makes good on her offer to fly me to Argentina to see a press conference, this is the first question I’d ask.”.

How innocent. She does not and will not *ever* give a press conference. Her “official tale” has such heavy flaws that will put her model and the very government in risk with the mere confrontation with reality.

It was EMBARRASSING to see how 3 or 4 simple questions made by 20ys old students almost made her government tumble, because she had no serious answers to none of them, and it was even more embarrassing that she had to resort to pure, BLATANT LIES. Examples?

1. “I speak to the press everyday” (WTF! Not a single press conference for more than 2 ys, TWO YEARS. She only addresses the nation by the use of the national broadcast, with no press present. All the ppl you may see while she talks to the nation, are her ministers, and other “employees” which will never (ever) confront her.

2. “The inflation is 8.something percent” (She KNOWS its > than 25%-30%, just won’t ever admit it). Nor any other manipulation of other indexes, as POVERTY (which is at least 3 or 4 times the official figures).

3. “There are no restrictions (cepo) to dollars” (WTF! Noone, I mean, NOONE can buy dollars LEGALLY. There is however some joke paperwork that you can fill out 7 days before a trip (*not before*, why?? need me to answer? the reason is to make things difficult for you, so that you desist from doing it) that if you are LUCKY AND PATIENT ENOUGH, you might be entitled to buy a RIDICULOUS amount of dollars in order for you to travel abroad. This amount has now been maxed at less than 1.000 USD PER TRAVEL (it doesnt matter how many days or how many ppl will go with you). And no more than 20USD per day (not even for a hotel)).

4. “She WANTS to be re-elected, She NEEDS to be re-elected, All her party need her to be re-elected” but in this one she managed to dodge the question, so she was not forced to blatantly lie like before.

These are just the few times I remember her LYING, but I’m sure I’m missing at least one more time.

Please try to make her keep up her word about bringing you to Argentina. Or better, come here by your own, and I will personally make the arrangements so that you can see how the government OWNS 99% of TV channels and papers.

We are living DARK times in Argentina, all thanks to our proclaimed QUEEN. I never thought I would live to see this happen in my beloved country.

Do you think Venezuela is a democracy? I don’t.
Well, Argentina is almost there, if not already.

Best regards.


Hi! Very interesting article. But I think there’s a mistake where you wrote “Both papers are owned by Papel Prensa”. Papel Prensa S.A. doesn’t own Clarín and La Nación, it’s the other way around. Grupo Clarín, La Nación and the Argentine government own Papel Prensa (Grupo Clarín: 49%, the Argentine government: 27.5%, La Nación: 22.5%). By the way, thanks for asking such an interesting question to Cristina Fernández. Many of us appreciated it in Argentina.


Hi Gavin,

Perhaps one day Clarin might have to be divided, but not under these circumstances with this government. There’s no doubt that this is more about obtaining government control than creating incentives for free press.

The government subsidized press has articles that have blatant bias with tones of arrogance and intolerance. They contain 250 words or fewer, and there’s no indication of who wrote them, or who to give feedback to.

Real journalists welcome corrections when they miss a couple of facts. They don’t try to impose their own point of view upon the reader and conceal their identity.

Cristina was hoping for some positive press when she came to Georgetown and Harvard. The international press has viewed her as a \crusader for human rights\, and condemned her for her poor economic decisions. The angle you should be shooting for is the effects of her legislation on the everyday lives of her citizens.

The crime rate has skyrocketed which ranges from rape, murder, theft, assault, drug and human trafficking and animal abuse. She has turned a blind eye toward these issues, and some of us feel that to some degree, she supports it. This is what the international press should be looking into. Clarin isn’t the most urgent priority here.

Take Care,