Argentine judge tells Clarin that media law is constitutional

Fri Dec 14, 2012 6:28pm EST

Related Topics

* Law calls for Clarin to break up its broadcasting empire

* Company challenged two articles of the law

* Judge upholds them, Clarin vows to appeal

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Argentina's Clarin media group may be forced to dismantle part of its broadcasting empire after a federal judge ruled on Friday that a law ordering the sell-off is constitutional.

Grupo Clarin said it will immediately appeal the decision, arguing that the law violates freedom of speech and private property rights, among others.

The country's biggest media group has resisted pressure from President Cristina Fernandez to comply with an anti-monopoly broadcast law that would force it to sell off dozens of operating licenses - or have them auctioned by the state.

Critics have accused the center-left government of trying to stifle dissent. Backers of the 2009 law say it aims to do the opposite by diversifying the airwaves.

Clarin challenged the constitutionality of two articles in the media legislation, one of which would force companies to sell off previously acquired radio, television or cable TV operating licenses.

Last week, the group won a last-minute court order suspending the law's implementation while the underlying case continued. This came a day before Clarin faced a deadline to submit a divestment plan.

Friday's ruling went against the company, however. Judge Horacio Alfonso upheld the articles of the law and ordered that any judicial stays halting their implementation should be lifted immediately.

Grupo Clarin disputed that, saying a higher court must review Alfonso's orders before they can go into effect.

"The stay in this case continues to be in full effect," the group said in a written statement.

Government officials frequently lambast opposition media such as Clarin's top-selling daily newspaper and the group's cable news channel, TN. Military police raided the offices of Clarin's Cablevision cable TV company late last year and "Clarin Lies" has become a slogan among the president's supporters. (Reporting by Guido Nejamkis and Hilary Burke; editing by Andrew Hay)

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