Have you ever heard the phrase Clarín miente (“Clarín lies”)? Under the previous Kirchner government, the phrase was plastered across banners, balloons and even alfajor wrappers in what was considered a government campaign against Clarín Group, a media conglomerate not especially sympathetic to the former government, especially under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Today, the conflict between the two parties once again took center stage when Guillermo Moreno, the secretary of Domestic Trade under Cristina, appeared in court to testify on charges leveled against him for allegedly using public funds to create the “Clarín lies” propaganda against the media company.
Moreno unabashedly hates Clarín Group. But since his feelings toward the company are part of a general conflict between Clarín and the previous government, let’s take a look at some of the main points of the national enmity that changed the media landscape.
What Is The Clarín Group?
The Clarín Group comprises the Clarín newspaper, Cablevisión (a cable TV station), Papel Prensa (Argentina’s main newsprint manufacturer) and the Artear media company, among other things. Basically, it’s a big deal in media. The biggest, actually.
Héctor Magnetto is the group’s president and CEO,
and Cristina’s sworn enemy the focus of the conflict between the former administration and the Clarín group.
Let’s explain the conflict.
It’s important to understand that before Cristina came to power in 2007, Clarín and the government were actually on very friendly terms. Former President Néstor Kirchner even got along splendidly with Magnetto. I’ll let you re-read that for a second. Cristina was allegedly the one who kept a distance from the start.
Cristina’s presidency, which began in 2007, marked the beginning of the Clarín vs. government conflict. However, it got into full swing after the 2008 conflict between the government and the agricultural sector, which saw the government raise taxes on soybean exports and farmers across the land raise their pitchforks in anger. After having gradually fallen out with the Kirchners the year before, Clarín strongly supported the agricultural sector and revealed as much through its various media outlets, so much so that Cristina accused it of compromising freedom of speech by only publishing what she saw as bias. She essentially accused the corporation of robbing “ordinary citizens'” freedom of speech. After that, the rhetoric against each other began to sour.
Clarín Dodges The Media Law: The Government Isn’t Happy
Remember the Media Law? Okay, it basically regulates the distribution of television and radio licenses in Argentina. The law was sanctioned in 2009, under Cristina, and one of its objectives was to prevent potential monopolies from forming. However, the Clarín Group filed several judicial injunctions against four specific articles of the new law:
- Article 41 which forbids the transfer of audiovisual licenses from one company to another (no swapsies without adult supervision).
- Article 45 which restricts the number of licenses that a media company can have (Clarín would have to choose which to keep and which to sell).
- Article 48 which regulates the transfer of said licenses i.e. before the allocation of certain licenses or the authorization of a share deal between audiovisual companies, the corporate relationship must be verified in order to avoid an illicit concentration of licenses or a monopoly.
- Article 161 which established the deadline given to audiovisual companies to adapt to the Media Law (one year).
By filing these injunctions questioning the constitutionality of the articles, Clarín was able to carry on without complying with the Media Law for a while and maintain all of its licenses. However, the Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor in 2013 and told Clarín to adapt to the law’s regulations ASAP. But wait, in February last year, the Chamber of Appeals upheld yet another injunction presented by Clarín that halted that adaptation process.
Clarín’s flagrant non-compliance with the Media Law did not, of course, do the government-Clarín relationship any favors. As the fight in the court rooms intensified, so did the rhetoric outside. Click here for a full explanation on what the Media Law is.
The Government Seizes Fútbol Para Todos: Clarín Isn’t Happy
Television broadcasting rights for all Argentine football matches (the league, at least) used to be held by the cable channel TyC Sports that belonged to Clarín. The Argentine Football Association (AFA) terminated that contract, which had implemented a pay-per-view system, in 2009. The league matches were then handed over in their entirety to Fútbol Para Todos (FPT), a government-sponsored program that was implemented under, you guessed it, the Media Law.
Just as Clarín not complying with the Media Law made the government unhappy, this move didn’t please Clarín very much, either. For more on FPT, check out this article by The Bubble.
Conflict Reaches A Boiling Point Over Papel Prensa
This is the perfect storm for the previous government’s dislike of Clarín: alleged human rights abuses during the dictatorship and monopolistic behavior. Here’s what you need to know:
Papel Prensa is the main newsprint manufacturer in Argentina in which Clarín and conservative newspaper La Nación currently have a majority of shares. It was
originally owned at the time by businessman David Graiver, who died in 1976 (the year in which the last dictatorship came to power). Clarín, La Nación and several other media companies then bought Papel Prensa, allegedly via illicit channels and, worse, by cooperating with the dictatorship.
Fast-forward to 2010: Lidia Papaleo, Graiver’s widow, claimed that Clarín president Magnetto had threatened her and encouraged the police to torture her in order to obtain her shares back in 1976. Her testimony was used in a case against Clarín that sought to declare its shares in Papel Prensa not valid due to the purported illegality of their sale, but she ultimately recanted her testimony. Both Clarín and La Nación saw the whole case as a move by the Kirchner administration to gain control of the much-prized Papel Prensa shares.
In 2011, the Victory Front (FpV) presented an expropriation bill to remove Clarín’s and La Nación shares from Papel Prensa by stating that its role as a newsprint manufacturer was of “national interest” (assuming that the State had the people’s best interest at heart, or at least more so than the corporations.) The bill was rejected: Clarín was left accusing the government of having attempted to limit freedom of the press while the government accused Clarín of colluding with dictators and of course, lying.
All-Out Media War
There is a myriad of cases in which the Clarín-government enmity was apparent, from constant accusations from the government of Clarín’s monopolistic behavior (the “evil corporation,” you get the idea) and reminders of the charges against Magnetto for human rights abuses.
In the video below you can see a clear example: that’s Moreno and former Economy Minister Axel Kicillof at a Clarín Group shareholder’s meeting in 2013. The State owned 9 percent of the company’s shares, so they had a right to be there (they didn’t crash the meeting in that sense). Moreno took cameras in with him to make the process “more transparent” and took to shouting accusations over the microphone. Many were appalled by his behavior, while others applauded him for “sticking it” to the Clarín Group.
Clarín’s headlines, on the other hand, became even more anti-Kirchnerite, generally prioritizing news that cast a negative light on the administration or championed the political opposition. The content of the newspaper often made it to Cristina’s cadenas nacionales, or national broadcasts, in which she would accuse the media outlets of not providing the full picture of what her government was doing or just outright misreporting what they did. Clarín would then strike back by refuting her criticisms in print.
The repercussions of the feud between the government and Clarín went far beyond the court rooms — what was really affected was the relationship between the government and the media as both the Victory Front (FpV) administration and Clarín went on to demonize each other to a point where the reality depicted by either side did not fully reflect the situations being “reported” on.
What’s The Deal With Moreno?
Throughout the conflict, Moreno has been particularly vehement in his rejection of Clarín. You saw the video above (if you didn’t, check it out so you get the idea).
Along with being charged of abuse of authority, Moreno is being charged with using state funds for anti-Clarín propaganda. This propaganda included billboards, balloons, zeppelins, flags and lighters, even socks, marked with the words “Clarín lies.”
The most memorable use of this propaganda was on a trip to Angola with former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, where socks were given to barefoot children bearing the inscription. Out of Africa, banners displaying the phrase could be frequently seen hanging from ministries and Moreno himself even handed out alfajores wrapped in paper that read Clarín miente in the Senate. Kudos for offering breakfast, I suppose.
In an interview yesterday, Moreno said that he “hopes [he] crosses paths with Magnetto, face to face.” Menacing and personal, the end of the Kirchner administration and the end of government support for his anti-Clarín mission has apparently done nothing to diminish his determination.
What Happens Now With Clarín Group?
On principle, President Mauricio Macri has no set agenda against the Clarín Group: in fact, there are worries that because of his links to the corporate world, just the opposite is likely to occur. One of the legacies of the conflict between the Clarín Group and the previous administration is the polarization that one can easily perceive in the media from years of tension and bias from both sides.
The question isn’t so much what will happen to the Clarín Group, but what will happen to the media and its relationship with politics.