"Oops." Photo via Infobaires 24

It couldn’t have been more of a controversial coincidence if they tried. President Mauricio Macri, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña and Communications Minister Oscar Aguad signed a decree this morning modifying the Media Law, which basically regulates media licenses in the country. Touching the Media Law is already controversial, but the decree’s number is also causing a stir: they signed Decree N° 678. The number is highly suggestive because it shares the name of the program 6,7,8 which was considered to have a Kirchnerite slant and no longer airs on public television. Furthermore, since the Media Law was sanctioned under former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, some have taken this decree to be a cynical jab at the previous administration.

Hold On, What’s The Media Law?

Law 26.522 for Audiovisual Communication Services, better known as the Media Law, regulates the distribution of television and radio licenses in Argentina. The law replaced Law 22.285, which was sanctioned in 1980 under the last military dictatorship. Under Cristina, the new law was passed in 2009 with a considerable margin in both the Lower House and the Senate in Congress. The new law is actually based on 21 basic points that were outlined by the Coalition for Democratic Broadcasting in 2004. Among the boatload of new measures were the creation of the Federal Bureau of Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA, also known as the “media watchdog”), a designated space on television for nonprofit organizations and universities, as well as ways to control monopolies in the media and the promotion of national, Argentine cinema.

However, Macri’s government has already changed the law via decrees, with measures such as dissolving the aforementioned AFSCA altogether in order to replace it with the new National Entity of Communications (ENACOM), which will have representation in Congress (set to be voted in this week). The government’s main idea is that the law should be changed because it had been used discretionally against media outlets that were at odds with the previous administration and because it is “outdated” as far as technology is concerned.

What Does The Decree Actually Do?

The decision made by the government in Decree N° 678 eliminates and modifies parts of the original Media Law. The changes were decided in a meeting of the ENACOM and announced in the Official Bulletin.

The decree does the following:

  • It eliminates the second paragraph of Article 81, which basically stipulates the announcement of the beginning and the end of commercial breaks — you’ve probably heard a deep voice on the radio announce Espacio publicitario and ruin your jam. That won’t be a problem anymore because the new decree takes that out completely on both TV and radio. The announcements were supposed to “protect the audience from excess advertisement and publicity,” but according to the government they “were not indispensable or enough to comply with that objective.”

  • Have you ever switched on the TV to see what time it is? Probably not, because you have a cell phone now. The government considers that having the time on the TV screen should no longer be compulsory because it is “anachronistic” and modified the 76th article of Decree 1125. Plus, should a channel want to keep the time, the numbers do not have to be restricted to the bottom of the screen. Go crazy, people!
  • The decree also lifts the obligation of radio shows to play the Greenwich time signals (or the “pips”: you know, those beeps at the top of the hour?) and instead simply state the time as provided by the Buenos Aires Naval Observatory.

  • According to La Nación, ENACOM also dropped the regulation which stipulated that public TV channels had to present their program schedules a month in advance: now, they can do so 10 days into the month in question. Various members of the ENACOM are from the television industry and allegedly considered that the previous measure unnecessarily got the State involved in TV channels’ commercial strategies.

Repercussions

Obviously, the name of the decree was not lost on anyone. 6,7,8 was a TV show that aired political commentary on the public channel TV Pública. It was often criticized for its perceived promotion of Kirchnerite policy, which was exacerbated by the fact that the channel is State owned: since the program aired during Cristina’s presidency, their alleged advocacy was all the more controversial. After Macri became President last year, the channel announced that 6,7,8 would no longer be aired on TV Pública as its contract with the production company of the show would not be renewed.

Since the Media Law was sanctioned under former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, some have taken this decree to be a cynical jab at the previous administration. “Decreto 768” became a Trending Topic on Twitter:

“Unexpected bout of humor in the government. They eliminated the beginning and end of the commercial breaks with Decree N° 678 on TV and radio.”

“Decree 678.” You had to be a jerk about it, didn’t you?”

“No way. They changed the Media Law with Decree 678. #StopBullying #NotOneKircherniteLess”

Maybe this is Macri’s idea of a joke. He is an engineer, after all.