September 10, 2009 / 10:14 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-Tax authorities raid Argentina's biggest newspaper

 * Opposition lawmakers criticize raid
 * Tax agency says raid is routine
 * Clarin would be hurt by proposed media reforms
  (Recasts, adds reaction, adds byline)
 By Guido Nejamkis
 BUENOS AIRES, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Scores of tax officials
raided Argentina's biggest newspaper on Thursday, intensifying
a fierce battle between the government and one of Latin
America's largest media groups.
 More than 150 tax inspectors searched the Buenos Aires
building housing the offices of daily Clarin, which is owned by
media and telecommunications company Grupo Clarin CLA.BA, and
removed files and documents.
 The raid comes as center-left President Cristina Fernandez is
pushing a media reform bill that analysts say will weaken Grupo
Clarin's role as the dominant media company in Argentina.
 An opposition lawmaker said the tax operation damaged
Fernandez's argument that her bill is aimed at bringing more
democracy and competition to the media sector.
 "There are no more doubts about what the bill's aims are.
It's meant to damage an economic group and not to help
citizens," Deputy Julian Obiglio, head of the center-left PRO
party in the lower house, said in a statement.
 Fernandez and her husband and predecessor, former president
Nestor Kirchner, have increased state intervention in some
sectors of the economy and have clashed with the agricultural
industry over farm policy.
 Ex-president Kirchner has publicly criticized Clarin's
coverage of the government as biased and described the company
as a "monopoly."
 Grupo Clarin used to have a harmonious relationship with
Kirchner but its news outlets criticized Fernandez's handling
of a dispute with farmers and have stepped up negative coverage
of the proposed media reform.
 Grupo Clarin owns newspapers, television and radio
interests, as well as cable and Internet access companies. Its
share price closed down 1.6 percent at 6 pesos per share on
Thursday at the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange as local television
stations covered the tax raid.
 A spokesman for the AFIP tax agency said the raid was aimed
at examining the company's books and was similar to recent
inspections carried out at other companies.
 But Martin Etchevers, a Grupo Clarin spokesman, questioned
the raid and said the company was being singled out.
 "This kind of inspection has never occurred in the history
of Clarin," he told a local TV channel.
 Last week, the head of Argentina's broadcast regulator said
he had vetoed the merger of the country's two cable TV
operators owned by Grupo Clarin, a move that also drew
criticism from company officials.
 Argentine lawmakers are currently debating President
Fernandez's media reform bill, which would overhaul the
country's broadcast regulations, which date from the 1976-83
military dictatorship.
 (Reporting by Guido Nejamkis, Luis Andres Henao, Juliana
Castilla and Jorge Otaola; Writing by Kevin Gray)

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