An escalating battle

The law was a frightening—but so far still hypothetical—prospect for Clarín’s commercial interests. If it passed, which seemed likely, Clarín could appeal to the courts. But as the bill wended its way through Congress in the summer and fall of 2009, there were more immediate threats to Clarín’s business. In August 2009, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) broke its contract giving a Clarín cable partner nearly exclusive rights to broadcast soccer games until 2014. The AFA would instead partner with the government to broadcast games for free on state television. Argentines would no longer require a subscription to a Clarín-affiliated cable service to watch soccer.[1]

Fernández billed the deal as “a giant step in the democratization of Argentine society,” for the first time making a popular sport available to those who could not afford cable. In a nationally televised speech announcing the new contract, Fernández took a jab at Clarín in language that evoked the disappearances common under the military dictatorship:

Only those who paid could watch a game of soccer, because [Clarín] kidnapped the goals… I do not want any more kidnappings. I want a free society. [2]

Clarín argued that the goal of “democratizing” soccer in a country with one of the world’s highest rates of cable penetration—60 percent—was a pretext for stripping Clarín of a lucrative franchise. Another blow to Clarín’s business came on September 3, when Argentina’s broadcast regulator, the Federal Broadcast Committee, halted a merger between two Clarín-controlled cable companies, which then-President Kirchner had approved in 2006.[3] 

A little over a week later, on September 10, 2009, 200 tax agents descended on Clarín’s newsroom in what the government called a “routine” inspection but Clarín representatives labeled “harassment”—perhaps retaliation for a front-page report that morning that the government had improperly granted a farm subsidy.[4] The head of the government tax agency claimed that he had not ordered the raid and apologized to Clarín, promising to order an investigation.[5]

[1] Juan Forero, “In mixing soccer and politics, score one for Argentine government.” Washington Post, November 1, 2009.   

[2] Juan Forero, “In mixing soccer and politics, score one for Argentine government.”

[3] Shane Romig, “Argentina TV Regulator Blocks Cablevision, Multicanal Merger,” Dow Jones Newswires, September 3, 2009.

[4] “Tax raid on Argentine Newspaper,” BBC, September 11, 2009.

[5] “CPJ seeks comprehensive inquiry in Clarín tax raid,” Committee to Protect Journalists, September 11, 2009.