Latin America: media reforms spark debate
Opinion on media law reforms has become increasingly polarised says Ángel García Català
08 Dec 09

This is a guest post by Ángel García Català

On 14 December, the first national Brazilian congress on communication and media will be held in the country’s capital. The four day conference in Brasilia will discuss, amongst other things, the need for a new media law. The Workers’ Party (PT) is trying to amend the current legislation, which they consider to be “anachronistic and authoritarian” primarily because they believe it favours the interest of business over the interests of the wider population. Brazilian president President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has shown that he favours the reform, stating that “the more television there is, the more journalism and cultural programmes that appear, the more political debates ensue and the stronger the democratisation of communication will become”.

Brazil is following a process that has already been initiated by other countries in the region. El Salvador has also started discussions on media law whilst the parliament of Ecuador will begin the approval process of its own law on the 10 December. Other countries like Uruguay and Argentina have already adopted reforms.

Opinions on these laws and their suitability are polarised. Take the various reactions to the law adopted by the Argentinian Senate, for example. Some see this type of reform as a clear attack on freedom of expression, while others applaud it as a mechanism for strengthening democracy.

The new law in Argentina, which replaces the broadcasting law passed in 1980 during the military dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla, provides that the same company cannot own more than 10 audiovisual licences. Those who are currently exceeding that number will be forced to sell the rest. One of the businesses most affected by this measure is the Clarín group, which has 264 licences and whose profits last year stood at around US $500 million.

The Spanish companies Telefonica and Grupo Prisa (which publishes El País) are also greatly affected. No wonder then, that these companies are among the biggest opponents to reform. Ricardo Roa, assistant general editor of the newspaper Clarín believes that “the law promotes a press weaker and docile toward political power”. Associations like the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) have also rejected the new law outright, saying that such reforms are an “enslavement to freedom of expression while promoting the creation and acquisition of media by the state and groups close to power.”

In contrast, the Argentinian reforms have the full support of Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, who considers it as one of the most advanced reforms in the world, as well as seeing it as “an example to others countries [to] ensure access for all social sectors to the media”. Reporters Sans Frontieres has also endorsed the reform, calling it a “brave and necessary law, despite pressure from some pretty selfish press groups”.