* Government in dispute with media group Grupo Clarin
* Ruling party to lose congressional control next year
By Helen Popper
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 27 Argentina's president sent
a media reform bill to Congress on Thursday, saying it would
strengthen democracy by reducing the control of a handful of
companies that dominate broadcasting.
Many people in the industry agree with the need to overhaul
broadcasting regulations drawn up during the 1976-1983 military
dictatorship, to reflect huge technological changes, but the
government proposal has sparked controversy.
President Cristina Fernandez, who has fallen out with the
country's biggest media group Grupo Clarin (CLA.BA) and often
criticizes news media, said the new broadcast law would
challenge private companies' domination of the airwaves.
"Freedom of expression can't become freedom to extort (and)
press freedom can't be confused with freedom for press owners,"
she said in a speech at the presidential palace.
"This bill is for every one of us who wants to live in a
more democratic and plural Argentina," she added.
The reform bill, which has been modified since Fernandez
launched it in March at a series of nationwide forums, would
allocate a third of broadcast frequencies to private companies,
a third to state broadcasters and the rest to nonprofit
organizations such as churches and universities.
It would also limit the number of licenses any one company
can hold and aim to guarantee quotas for Argentine-made music,
films and programs.
Leftist groups have welcomed the government proposal, but
critics say the reform is ill-timed and politically motivated.
Fernandez lost control of Congress in a June mid-term vote,
but the newly elected lawmakers do not take their seats until
December. It will likely be harder for the government to pass
controversial measures when the new legislature is in place.
Much of the suspicion over the government's motives stems
from its spat with Grupo Clarin, one of Latin America's largest
media conglomerates and the company that analysts say stands to
lose most from the proposed reform.
The group's leading newspaper Clarin and television channel
TN have become increasingly critical of the government, and
Fernandez dealt another blow to the group by taking over soccer
broadcast rights that had been owned by a Clarin partnership.
Fernandez, who has boosted state control of the economy by
nationalizing private pensions and the top airline, is
suspicious of the traditional media like many leftist leaders
in Latin America.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)