REFILE-Argentina OKs dominant media group Clarin's reorganization plan

Mon Feb 17, 2014 3:39pm EST

BUENOS AIRES Feb 17 (Reuters) - Argentine media conglomerate Grupo Clarin can break up its operations into distinct companies and avoid a forced dismantling to comply with a new media ownership law, the state media regulator said on Monday.

Grupo Clarin will have six months to reorganize its radio and television outlets into half a dozen independent companies under a proposal drawn up by the group last year after it lost a four-year-long legal battle against the law.

The plan's approval by regulator Afsca, headed by a political ally of President Cristina Fernandez, will let Clarin sell its operating licenses or redistribute ownership of stocks.

Clarin is Argentina's biggest media group, controlling the country's main cable television operator, its most read newspaper, the most popular radio stations and two television channels with the widest audiences.

Fernandez' anti-monopoly media law, passed in 2009 and upheld by the Supreme Court last year, limits the number of audiovisual licenses that can be controlled by one company.

"We are moving toward a much more plural, democratic and free panorama of audiovisual services, with no one owner imposing conditions and an agenda on other news outlets," the president of Afsca, Martin Sabbatella, said in a statement on Monday.

Clarin has called the law an affront to freedom of speech and part of a bid to punish government critics.

Fernandez used to have harmonious ties with Grupo Clarin and its chief executive officer, Hector Magnetto, before the company's news outlets criticized her government over its handling of tax protests by farmers in 2008.

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