* Leading media group skirts Dec. 7 deadline to divest
* Supreme Court still reviewing 2009 media reform law
* Law calls for Clarin to break up its broadcasting empire
By Nicolás Misculin
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 6 (Reuters) - An Argentine civil court handed a victory to Clarin media group on Thursday by granting a request by the conglomerate to delay application of a law calling for it to dismantle part of its broadcasting empire.
The order came one day ahead of a deadline by which Clarin was ordered to submit a plan for selling off dozens of operating licenses or risk having them auctioned by the state instead.
Part of the law, passed by congress in 2009, is still under constitutional review by a lower court judge. So the Civil and Commercial Court ruled on Thursday that Clarin should not be forced to sell licenses until the judge “renders final judgment” on the contested elements of the media reform law.
The media group objects to the law’s most controversial clause, Article 161, on the grounds that it violates the constitution by forcing companies to sell off previously acquired radio, television or cable TV operating licenses.
Clarin, Argentina biggest media conglomerate, issued a brief statement welcoming Thursday’s order while government-allied politicians took to the airwaves denouncing it for delaying the implementation of a three-year-old law.
About two months ago President Cristina Fernandez appointed a political ally, congressman Martin Sabbatella, to head the AFSCA watchdog in charge of enforcing the legislation. He reacted to Thursday’s ruling by calling it “shameful”.
“We are going to ask the Supreme Court to review this decision, which poses a threat to democracy,” Sabbatella told state news service Telam.
The reform is part of a push toward greater media diversity, says Fernandez, who is known for holding few news conferences while often lambasting opposition media such as Clarin’s top-selling daily newspaper and cable news channel TN.
Fernandez used to have harmonious ties with Grupo Clarin and its chief executive, Hector Magnetto. All that changed in 2008 when Clarin’s news outlets turned against her government over its handling of massive tax protests by farmers.
Since then, Magnetto 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.
Left-leaning Fernandez easily won a second four-year term last year, promising to deepen the unorthodox policies begun by her late husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner. (Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)