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Buenos Aires Herald, Sunday, June 7, 2015

Martín Becerra, media expert

‘The next government won’t be as confrontational with Clarín’

By Fermín Koop
Herald Staff

Over the years, Martín Becerra has become one of the country’s go-to experts to discuss everything related to the country’s often-polarized media landscape, known for criticizing both sides of the contenious debate. While he recognizes the Clarín Group has failed to fulfill all the mandates of the Media Law, Becerra warns the country’s largest media conglomerate is likely to enjoy a closer relationship with the government regardless of who wins the presidential race. In an interview with the Herald at a café in Boedo, Becerra warned the Argentina Digital Law will lead to a more concentrated telecommunications market and said the country needs a state media that has more diverse opinions and a government that doles out state advertising in a fairer way. This past week, Becerra presented his latest book: From concentration to convergence: Media policies in Argentina and Latin America.


Age: 47
Place of birth: Santa Fe
Education: Doctorate in Communication Sciences from the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Job: Professor at the Quilmes and Buenos Aires universities and a researcher at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (Conicet)
Books published: From concentration to convergence: Media policies in Argentina and Latin America, The owners of the word: Access, structure and media concentration in Latin America (with Guillermo Mastrini) and Wiki Media Leaks: Latin American media and governments under the prism of WikiLeaks (with SebastiánLacunza).
Newspapers: La Nación, Página12, El País and The Guardian.
Last book read: When Google met WikiLeaks by Julian Assange.

After the Supreme Court declared the Media Law was constitutional, the government moved ahead with its efforts to force the Clarín Group to get rid of excess licences but the issue quickly returned to the courts. What could have been done differently?
The state should have been more demanding with Clarín’s voluntary divestment plan, which had already been approved and would have meant an important step. It would have been the first time in Latin America that a large media group admits it has exceeded the limits set by the law and adapts, legitimizing the goals of the Media Law.

What scenario will Clarín Group face after this year’s presidential elections?
The media group will enjoy less confrontation with the government — regardless of which one of the three main candidates ends up winning. That doesn’t mean the Executive will end up doing whatever Clarín or other media groups want. Politicians have learned that arguing with the media can lead to more votes and more cohesion among supporters, even if they don’t say it in public.

The AFSCA media watchdog has asked the judiciary to ban Clarín’s cable company Cablevisión from signing up new customers because it’s exceeding the authorized market share. Can it move forward?
It’s a reasonable complaint considering that Clarín has 38 percent of the market share in the paid television market, exceeding the maximum 35 percent. The figure is even higher when only cable TV is considered. The company’s divestment plan is now in the courts so it’s reasonable for the state to ask Cablevisión not to sign up more customers because sooner or later Clarín will have to adapt to the media law, making the adaptation process more complex if it continues getting new clients.

Telecommunication companies are now allowed to provide cable TV and other audiovisual services thanks to the Digital Argentina law. That had been banned by the Media Law. Why did the government change its mind?
That change proves that while Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration has changed the country’s media policies it lacked a long-term and coherent strategy. The president made several decisions based only on circumstantial impulses and her objective hasn’t been to make media more democratic and less concentrated. That’s why there are so many pending issues with the Media Law — the goal was always to dismember Clarín.

What will the scenario be then in terms of telecommunications and media with companies like Telecom and Telefónica authorized to expand their services?
We’ll have a more concentrated market with foreign companies as the main actors. The only powerful domestic player is Clarín.

Meanwhile, telecom firms see their business model threatened by new players such as Netflix. What changes could we see in the near future?
It’s a scenario full of uncertainties, even for the state. Nobody knows how the process is going to evolve. Regardless of what happens, the clients will end up footing the bill.

You’ve described Open Digital Television (TDA) as an initiative that shows the virtues and defects of Kirchnerism regarding audiovisual media. Why is that?
The government managed to create high-quality channels for TDA such as PakaPaka but sees the initiative as only a piece of technology, without thinking about the social aspect. The government fails to ask viewers what they want and just imagines they want what it is offering.

In your book you describe state advertising as a black hole for media policies. Why is that?
It’s a problem that affects all parties. When they are the opposition, they describe it as abuse and vow to fix it but then nothing happens. There’s always an excuse.
So there’s a need for it to be regulated?
Yes, only a few districts have regulated the issue, such as Tierra del Fuego and Morón. The Buenos Aires City Legislature even approved a law on the issue, which could inspire national regulation, but it was vetoed by Mayor Mauricio Macri.

What about state media?
Kirchenerism largely improved state media over the last few years, creating many new channels — but without a clear communicational plan. Meanwhile, it took to new levels the amount of time that is devoted to broadcasting the government’s point of view, criticizing or even censoring alternative opinions. This will allow the next administration to go down the same path. State media must be more plural and we don’t have to think about the BBC in order to look for alternative models. Many developing countries can also provide good examples.