* Gov't backers say measure targets "government by judges"
* Critics fear mechanism will be used in media showdown
* Lawyers warn of risk of conflict of powers
By Guido Nejamkis
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 14 Argentina's Congress
approved on Wednesday a new legal regulation that critics say
President Cristina Fernandez could use to force a conclusion in
her long-running battle with the country's biggest media group.
The regulation, which applies to the use of a legal
mechanism called a per saltum, would let the Supreme Court
intervene to decide cases of "institutional seriousness" even
when they are being handled by lower tribunals.
Opposition lawmakers say the mechanism could be used by
Fernandez's government to force the country's top court to rule
in a high-profile legal case brought by the Grupo Clarin
conglomerate over a broadcasting reform law.
Three years since the combative leader hailed the law as the
start of a new era of media diversity, Clarin has refused to
start selling off radio, television and internet licenses and
she has given the company until Dec. 7 to comply or have them
auctioned by the state instead.
Clarin has vowed to resist and says it was protected by
court injunctions for as long as there was no definitive ruling
on the constitutionality of the law.
Under the per saltum regulatory clause passed by 135-95 by
the government-controlled Congress, the Supreme Court would be
able to reject any government request to intervene.
If the government asked the court to decide on the Clarin
case, and it accepted jurisdiction, the media conglomerate could
have less time to comply with the broadcast law's stipulation
that it sell off "excess" licenses, lawyers say.
However, legal specialists say a refusal by the court to
intervene -- or a ruling that was unfavorable to the government
-- could trigger a conflict between the powers of state.
Opposition lawmaker Graciela Camano said the new per saltum
regulation was "an appendix to the media law."
Fernandez ally Diana Conti, however, said using the per
saltum was aimed at ending "government by judges" and criticized
judges who "put the brakes" on laws.
Fernandez used to have harmonious ties with Grupo Clarin.
Things changed in 2008 when Clarin's news outlets turned against
her government over its handling of tax protests by farmers.
Since then, the company has become one of Fernandez's
favorite punching bags. Military police raided the offices of
Clarin's Cablevision cable TV company late last year and "Clarin
Lies" has become a slogan among her supporters.
The dispute has battered Clarin shares, which are down more
than 40 percent in the last year, and rattled investors critical
of Fernandez's increasingly heavy-handed policies in Latin
America's third-largest economy.
(Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by M.D. Golan)