Ley de medios uruguaya: ¿modelo para la región?

Uruguay media law: a better model for the region?
Experts challenge NGO report, say Argentine regulation was tailored from the same patterns

por Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 19-01-2015

The nonprofit Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said that the Audiovisual Communication Services Law approved by Uruguay’s Congress in December “could become even more of a regional model” than the one approved by the Argentine Congress in December 2009.

Experts consulted by the Herald, however, aren’t so sure.

The nonprofit Reporters Without Borders (RSF) seems to think so, noting in a recent document that the Uruguayan anti-trust regulation “could become even more of a regional model of broadcasting regulation” than the one approved by the Argentine Congress in December 2009.

Experts consulted by the Herald, however, aren’t so sure.

“The two laws are very much alike,” said media expert Martín Becerra. “They were even inspired by the same document — the Doctrine of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights regarding Freedom of Expression.”

This puts the Uruguayan and Argentine media regulations in the same basket, far from the more controversial regulation passed in Venezuela and Ecuador in the last few years, Becerra explains.

Guillermo Mastrini, a communications professor at the Buenos Aires and Quilmes universities, said that the politically costly debate over the Broadcast Media Law in Argentina was necessary for the Uruguayan experience.

“If you see the arguments the proponents of the new regulations in Uruguay faced, you’ll see that they’re the exact same claims brought up by the opposition when the law was discussed here,” Mastrini told the Herald.

A close look at the laws, however, does reveal a few key differences.

URUGUAYAN LAW ‘MORE GRADUAL’

Becerra explained that lawmakers from the ruling Broad Front (FA) clearly tried to learn from the most problematic aspect of the Argentine regulation: divestment.

“The law passed across the River Plate is more gradual,” the expert — who works as an adviser to Marcelo Stubrin, an opposition representative at the AFSCA media watchdog — said.

While in Argentina the infamous Article 161 provided a time frame of one year for divestment of excess licences, Article 160 of the Uruguayan law says big media outlets will be given “five years since the law enters into effect to complete the transfer” of excess licences to new owners.

Once it was approved in 2009, media giant Clarín Group challenged the Argentine regulation — and one of the things the firm led by CEO Héctor Magnetto argued was that the time frame outlined in the law violated key principles of legal certainty.

Another key aspect of the law passed by the administration of President José “Pepe” Mujica is that it forces cable TV operators to include at least three Uruguay-based TV stations in its grid.

“This will result in a de facto creation of three new television channels, because these outlets will not be created through a bidding process,” Becerra said.

Becerra agreed with Mastrini though that this concession to local big business “did not prevent the attacks against the anti-trust regulation.”

ARGENTINE REGULATION ‘MORE COMPREHENSIVE’

Santiago Marino, Communication professor at the universities of Buenos Aires and Quilmes, is also sceptical about the claim that the Uruguayan law is a better model for the region.

“For starters, Uruguay has passed a specific regulation for non-commercial media... and I believe one comprehensive law is better than two complementary regulations.”

In the case of Uruguay, Marino said, the original enforcement regulator was a body led by the Industry, Mining and Energy Ministry — that is, the Executive branch. (The parliamentary debate created an Audiovisual Communication Council, allowing members of Congress into the regulatory body).

The Argentine Media Law, on the contrary, “is much more clear and specific in terms of participation of members of Congress in both the media watchdog and the state-owned media,” he argued.

There are, however, some small parts in which the regulation passed by the Mujica administration could be seen as an improvement on the 2009 Media Law.

“It’s more comprehensive when definining the object of regulation. And in article 12 it declares a guarantee of universal access to radio and TV,” Marino said.

The Uruguayan law also defines some references to journalists’ rights, which the Argentine law does not because it already has its own Journalist Statutes enacted in 1944 and last amended in 1975.

As Daniel Lema, president of the Uruguayan Press Association, told the Herald earlier this month, lawmakers of his country included a “conscience clause” for the first time.

“It says that while exercising their profession journalists have the right to deny the use of their image, voice or name to contents originally of their authorship that have significantly been changed without their consent,” Lema explained.