Argentine newsprint maker faces state takeover

Aug. 25, 2010 at 4:52 PM
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BUENOS AIRES, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- Argentina's government Wednesday faced accusations of using an old populist trick -- denying critical newspapers the paper they are printed on.

As widely predicted by the opposition and independent critics, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner ordered measures to wrest control of Argentina's largest newsprint manufacturer from independent Clarin and La Nacion newspapers.

Explaining the state takeover in a broadcast, Fernandez said authorities would investigate charges that Grupo Clarin and La Nacion media companies conspired with Argentina's former military rulers during the 1976-83 dictatorship to seize control of the plant and drive competing media companies out of business.

The newspapers denied the charge in a joint statement. Clarin headlined an opposition lawmaker's comment, "Today the government crossed the line between democracy and authoritarianism," and a La Nacion headline announced, "The president wants an official press."

Inter American Press Association President Alejandro Aguirre voiced concern over the government's intention to control the independent media and called it "a dangerous escalation against the freedom of expression that affects all citizens" in the country.

Aguirre said the government intervention wasn't confined to newsprint ownership and supplies. Fibertel, a Clarin group Internet service provider with 1 million subscribers, recently lost its license to continue operating.

The newspapers said in the statement they had never before faced the charges leveled by Fernandez in her declaration.

Fernandez said the courts would decide whether the Grupo Clarin and La Nacion media companies should be charged with crimes against humanity in the alleged manner they acquired the newsprint plant. Fernandez detailed incidents to argue the two companies acquired control of the newsprint manufacturer in an inappropriate manner after the military junta took action against its owner.

Fernandez cited testimony by Lidia Papaleo, wife of the former owner, David Graiver, who died in a mysterious plane crash during the dictatorship.

The takeover comes after months of feuding between the newspapers and Fernandez. The newspapers accused the government of trying to control the newsprint supplies as part of its attempt to suppress freedom of expression.

In the broadcast, Fernandez produced a report of about 23,000 pages from government investigations into Papel Prensa's history and economic activities. She announced the massive tome in all its parts would be referred to the justice system by her human rights secretary -- an indication of the government's line of pursuit in the case.

Fernandez is seeking legislation that would elevate newsprint to a commodity of national interest to ensure its "equal and fair" distribution. Papel Prensa supplies paper to more than 130 media companies in Argentina.

She said she was opposed to imports of the newsprint for the country's needs.

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