December 23, 2015 / 4:15 PM / 3 years ago

New Argentine government fires 'activist' media regulator

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s new government fired the country’s chief media regulator on Wednesday, saying the head of the AFSCA television and radio watchdog commission was openly acting against the country’s new center-right President Mauricio Macri.

Martin Sabbatella, head of the Argentine government's Federal Authority on Audio Visual Communications Services (AFSCA), appears in front of his office in Buenos Aires, December 23, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

Regulator Martin Sabbatella had led previous President Cristina Fernandez’s crack down on then opposition media group Clarin. Early this month he claimed Macri, who was inaugurated on Dec. 10, was orchestrating a “mafia plot” to get rid of him.

His firing followed the forcing out of central bank chief Alejandro Vanoli. Both moves signaled Macri’s determination to get Fernandez loyalists out of key positions and replace them with a team willing to implement his free-market policies.

“Sabbatella has show himself at all times to be a political activist,” Communications Minister Oscar Aguad told reporters in announcing that AFSCA will be combined with the AFTIC telecommunications regulator under new leadership.

“The leaders of both organisms have failed to respond to the hierarchy of the new government,” Aguad said. “They have been in a kind of rebellion.”

Speaking in a loud, defiant tone, Sabbatella told reporters his firing was “an illegal act” that he will fight in court. He agreed with the new communications director that he was “a proud political activist”.

A populist who believed in heavy control of the economy, Fernandez left Argentina in default with scant central bank reserves, a yawning fiscal deficit and high inflation. She is nonetheless revered by millions who were helped by her expansion of welfare programs after a devastating 2002 financial crisis.

Macri opposes a law signed by Fernandez in 2009 limiting the number of radio and television licenses a company can hold. Her critics say the law was aimed at hobbling media company Grupo Clarin, which had criticized Fernandez since a 2008 showdown with the farm sector over planned grains tax increases.

A judge ordered the police to raid AFSCA’s offices on December 4 after Clarin filed a complaint against the regulator over the restructuring obligations called for by the 2009 law.

“The media law will not be touched for now,” Aguad said.

Additional reporting by Jorge Otaola; Editing by Alistair Bell

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