Argentina moves to take control of newsprint business

by Walter Olson on January 3, 2012

Economic liberty intertwined with civil liberty, part 7,914,886: “The paper used to produce newspapers came under government control in Argentina on Thursday, in a long-sought victory for President Cristina Fernandez in her dispute with the country’s opposition media,” reported AP last month. More from the BBC, and earlier from my Cato colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo.

Independent papers in the South American republic are quite right to fear for their future, if earlier ventures into government newsprint control are any indication. Dictator Juan Peron used similar methods to muzzle the press, while in Mexico for decades governments of the ruling PRI closely controlled newsprint allocation, a power they were not hesitant to use to bring excessively independent publishers to heel. It came as an important move toward Mexican political liberalization in 1990 when the Salinas government did away with the controls, by allowing free importation of newsprint to any buyers subject to a modest tariff.

Significantly, the measure just signed by Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner inserts the government directly as a prospective owner of the business and contains provisions on newsprint imports as well. Per Impunity Watch:

Clarins newspaper notes that there are a number of disturbing aspects to the bill. First is the passage that allows for the state to unilaterally take a majority share of the company as the newsprint distribution is now classified a national interest. Also of concerns is the portion that would permit the Economy Minister to determine how much newsprint to import, establishing government quotas that have never before existed….

Concurrent with the media bill passage is a new anti-terrorism bill that classifies certain “economic crimes,” including certain actions taken by the media, as terrorist acts. The bill states that “economic terrorist acts” are those done with an intent to terrorize the general population.

Whether relatedly or not, the Argentine government last year launched prosecutions of independent economists who have asserted that the country’s actual inflation rate is higher than that reported by the government (& Coyote).

{ 5 comments }

1 Andreas Moser 01.03.12 at 7:49 am

More work for bloggers on Argentina then.

2 Richard Nieporent 01.03.12 at 7:57 am

A more apt headline for this post would be: You will cry because of me Argentina. It would appear that Kirchner is an Eva Peron wannabe.

Also of concerns is the portion that would permit the Economy Minister to determine how much newsprint to import, establishing government quotas that have never before existed….

How 20th century of them. The government may be able to control the newsprint but they can’t control the electrons. The government seems to have forgotten about that newfangled invention call the Internet. You don’t need any newsprint to publish online. Of course with the “new anti-terrorism bill that classifies certain “economic crimes,” including certain actions taken by the media, as terrorist acts” the government will be able to punish any publisher who prints anything that the government does not like. It would appear that Argentina has not yet gotten the hang of Democracy.

3 Julie Fisher Melton 01.03.12 at 2:41 pm

As the author of the forthcoming Importing Democracy: The Role of NGOs in South Africa, Tajikistan and Argentina, (Kettering Foundation), I would agree that Argentina has not yet “gotten the hang of democracy.”

Argentine political culture, however, has become more democratic in the last 30 years. The change was initiated by the rejection of the military’s role in politics following the collapse of the regime in the early 80s. The human rights movement has since been strengthened by the emergence of other types of democratization NGOs that work on everything from elections to women’s rights to public deliberation. An NGO called Periodismo Social, for example, focuses on both public journalism and freedom of the press.

Democratization in Argentina will be a long, hard slog, but the process is underway.

4 Smart Dude 01.03.12 at 8:55 pm

Democracies are not immune to conversion into dictatorships. Happens all the time in modern history.

Argentina is following Ms Kirchner’s money man, Hugo Chavez, into the loss of freedom. Won’t be the first time the bad guys won out in Argentina, either.

5 ps 01.04.12 at 6:53 am

South Africa is another one that hasn’t got the hang of democracy. Witness the recently enacted Protection of Information Bill which gives the ANC government carte blanche to declare any informaton a state secret, including corruption which is a particular sore point as the current government seems unwilling to crack down on rampant corruption in its own ranks. Then there is the ongoing harrassment of journalists and activists, threats to media freedom etc.

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