Argentine leader criticizes media monopoly ruling

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Associated Press

Posted on April 18, 2013 at 6:05 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 18 at 6:06 PM

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina's president said Thursday that she was "left speechless" by a court ruling striking down key aspects of the law she is trying to use to reduce the influence of her leading media opponent, Grupo Clarin.

Now President Cristina Fernandez is aiming for a Supreme Court showdown against the media conglomerate, while pushing judicial system changes through Congress so judges with lifetime appointments will be vulnerable to removal.

Her opponents, meanwhile, prepared to stage mass anti-government marches around the nation Thursday night to challenge these and other moves that they describe as brazen attempts by Fernandez to neutralize any challengers to her power. They accuse Fernandez of trying to pack the courts with her supporters so she can control all three branches of government and protect her appointees from prosecution for corruption.

Fernandez, who was re-elected by a wide margin last year, said she's "never seen anything" like Wednesday night's federal court ruling, which she said was clear evidence that the judicial system must be brought under the control of the democratic process.

The judges upheld Argentina's 2009 media reform law, but declared unconstitutional the key provisions that apply to Grupo Clarin, one of Latin America's most powerful media conglomerates. The judges said limits on how many broadcast stations and cable networks a company can own are unconstitutional violations of private property rights.

Her point-man on enforcing the media law, Martin Sabbatella, urged the Supreme Court to settle the case quickly.

"The ruling destroys the limits, denies the virtue of the anti-monopoly spirit of the law and constructs another law that defends the corporate interests over the collective rights," he complained at a news conference. "We ask that it be resolved quickly, with speed, because it deals with a serious institutional problem since this law was approved by Congress more than three years ago and still can't be applied in full."

Clarin cheered the ruling, saying on its website that a ruling upholding the law in its entirety would have forced the company to choose between its popular Channel 13 or its Cablevision network in Buenos Aires as well as sell off its cable systems in many other cities and abandon its Internet services.

Fernandez's allies, who control Congress, are rushing to reshape the judiciary, hoping to deliver legislation for her approval next week.

The proposed changes would expand and make directly elected a judicial board that appoints and disciplines, with the power to remove, judges who otherwise serve for life. They aim to reduce nepotism by filling judicial posts through open competitions.

The legislation also would set a six-month limit on court injunctions, and would suspend injunctions immediately if the government appealed. This last point raised objections even among some of Fernandez's closest supporters, who argued for exceptions Thursday when poor and defenseless people challenge the government in court.

The president has complained that injunctions have become a tool of Argentina's powerful to prevent democratically approved measures from taking effect — just as Clarin has done with the media law.

"I have to say it: Here in the judiciary there's a kind of ghetto that remains stuck in time," Fernandez said. "There are judges who were never removed and go on showing their aristocratic past."

"Reforms are necessary to open closed doors, so that the people can participate and that the courts have legitimacy," she said.

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Associated Press writers Almudena Calatrava and Debora Rey contributed to this report.

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