Clarín corporate history

Clarín Group properties had played an active role in Argentine public discourse for over 60 years. Roberto Noble, a former lawyer, congressman, and rancher, founded Clarín newspaper in Buenos Aires in 1946. When Noble died in 1969, his wife Ernestina Herrera de Noble became publisher. In its first four decades, Clarín negotiated an uncertain and often hostile media environment as Argentina ’s government veered from the authoritarian populism of famed Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, to military dictatorship, back to Perón, and back again to dictatorship. By focusing on sports, entertainment, and crime, Clarín never seriously antagonized the party in power. [1]

In part to help assure the security of its production amid the political turmoil, Clarín in 1977 joined with the government and two other Buenos Aires newspapers to open Papel Prensa, the first newspaper plant in Argentina . This kind of “vertical integration”––whereby a corporation owns content as well as a stake in its distribution––added a commercial component to Clarín ’s complex political relationship with the government, and at the same time facilitated the newspaper’s steady expansion. [2] By 1985, Clarín was the highest circulation newspaper in Latin America .

By then, Argentina had emerged from the yoke of a brutal military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1976–1983. During the so-called “dirty war” of the period, the regime killed or kidnapped an estimated 30,000 Argentines, including 84 journalists, under the stated aim of rooting out left-wing “terrorists. [3] According to one history:

There were casualties from social and political organizations, union leaders in factory shop-stewards’ commissions—some factory owners tended to cooperate with the military to eliminate “troublemakers”—together with political activists of various tendencies, priests, intellectuals, lawyers representing political prisoners, human rights activists, and many others detained solely because they were someone’s relative, appeared in someone’s address book, or were mentioned in a torture session… The operations sought to eliminate all political activism, including social protest… any expression of critical thinking, and any possible political outlet for the popular movements that had been evolving since the middle of the previous decade. [4]

The regime kept a tight grip on newsgathering as well. A 1980 law barred nonprofit enterprises from securing broadcast licenses––assuring their concentration in the hands of the regime’s allies and dependents. The law also barred newspapers from owning other forms of mass media. This was a stricter version of media “cross-ownership” rules elsewhere; the United States, for example, had since the 1970s banned newspapers from owning broadcast properties in the same market. The Argentine military’s press director also notified editors of major newspapers that they were forbidden to reference “the death of subversive elements and/or the armed and security forces” without confirmation from a “responsible official source.” [5] This meant that many of the regime’s atrocities went unreported.

Listen to Clarín reporter Miguel Wiñaski discuss press freedom in Argentina.

Democracy . After Argentina ’s return to democracy in 1983, Clarín found itself in a more congenial political and commercial environment. The 1990s were particularly propitious as President Carlos Menem embraced deregulation and privatization. In 1990, when Menem lifted the dictatorship-era cross-ownership ban at the same time that he was selling off state-owned broadcast properties, Clarín bought Buenos Aires’ second-largest television station as well as a radio station that would grow to become Buenos Aires’ largest. The resulting multimedia conglomerate, Grupo Clarín––or Clarín Group––expanded further as the decade progressed, buying a cable provider in 1992, establishing a free sports newspaper in 1996, and in 1997 buying stakes in several regional newspapers and founding an Internet service provider called Ciudad Internet.

Clarín Group’s expansion coincided with a broader trend of media consolidation during the 1990s, both in Latin America and globally, as states loosened restrictions on media ownership and sold off public holdings. At the same time, waves of corporate mergers resulted in multi-billion–dollar international conglomerates, such as the Time Warner and News Corporation, each of which by the end of the decade owned newspapers, television channels, cable providers, film and television production companies, and publishing houses the world over. [6] Meanwhile, Mexico , Brazil , Argentina , and Venezuela saw the rise of nationally or regionally dominant media players, Grupo Clarín among them. [7]

Some analysts warned of the threat to democratic pluralism if the means of communication were concentrated in a few powerful sets of hands. Media scholar Robert McChesney issued one typical warning in 1999:

With hypercommercialism and growing corporate control comes an implicit political bias in media content. Consumerism, class inequality and individualism tend to be taken as natural and even benevolent, whereas political activity, civic values and antimarket activities are marginalized. The best journalism is pitched to the business class and suited to its needs and prejudices; with a few notable exceptions, the journalism reserved for the masses tends to be the sort of drivel provided by the media giants on their US television stations. This slant is often quite subtle. Indeed, the genius of the commercial-media system is the general lack of overt censorship. As George Orwell noted in his unpublished introduction to Animal Farm , censorship in free societies is infinitely more sophisticated and thorough than in dictatorships, because “unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for an official ban.” [8]

Dominant player. At the turn of the 21 st century, Clarín was the dominant, but by no means the only, media player in Argentina . Indeed, Argentina had one of the most vibrant and varied media markets in Latin America , due in part to high rates of literacy. There were five 24-hour national news channels, of which Clarín owned the most popular, Todo Noticias (TN). It owned the most-watched of five free-to-air channels in Buenos Aires , and four of 44 nationwide. Cablevision, a cable provider in which Clarín had a controlling stake, had a 47 percent market share––and Clarín operated six cable channels of its own. Clarín also had 11 of approximately 5,500 local radio signals in Argentina . Its flagship newspaper was the highest circulating among 13 general-interest national newspapers; it also owned a news agency that distributed content to other providers. Of over 150 smaller local newspapers in Argentina , Clarín owned four.

Clarín Group’s primary competitors were private companies––they included Grupo Uno , Argentina ’s second-largest media conglomerate, and Spain ’s Telefónica, a multinational media corporation with a significant presence in Argentina . The Argentine government also ran a handful of media properties––widely considered the communication arms of the party in power––including a free-to-air television station, a news service, a radio station, and several free local newspapers.

Clarín Group in some form or another was thought to reach into three out of four Argentine homes every day. [9] Its estimated worth in 2007 was $2.7 billion (in US dollars). [10] Printing and publishing brought in 25 percent of its revenues. Cable and Internet access accounted for by far the highest proportion of its revenues at 56 percent. Broadcasting and programming brought in another 17 percent. [11]



[2] Grupo Clarín S.A., Annual Report and Financial Statements as of December 31, 2008 .

[3] Jerry W. Knudson, “Veil of Silence: The Argentine Press and the Dirty War, 1976-1983,” Latin American Perspectives , Nov. 1997, Vol. 24, No. 6, p. 93-112.

[4] Luis Alberto Romero, “A history of Argentina in the 20 th century,” Trans. James P. Brennan (Pennsylvania State University Press; University Park ), 2002, p. 219.

[5] Jerry W. Knudson, “Veil of Silence: The Argentine Press and the Dirty War, 1976-1983.”

[6] For a guide to six of the largest media conglomerates and their properties, see: http://www.freepress.net/ownership/chart/main .

[7] Robert W. McChesney, “The New Global Media,” The Nation , November 11, 1999 .

[8] Robert W. McChesney, “The New Global Media.”

[10] Charles Newbery, “Grupo Clarin raises $463 million in IPO,” Variety , October 19, 2007.

[11] Grupo Clarín, “Fact Sheet,” accessed March 2, 2010.