Argentine president scraps media-monopoly watchdog

Buenos Aires (AFP) –


Argentine President Mauricio Macri on Wednesday scrapped a media watchdog aimed at preventing monopolies, his office said, the latest in a series of reforms reversing measures by his leftist predecessor.

Macri's chief of staff Marco Pena said that by presidential decree a new state telecommunications body would be set up, absorbing the existing AFSCA regulator that prevents monopolies by media firms and the AFTIC technology regulator.

"We are launching policies for the 21st century. The war against journalism is over," Pena told a news conference.

A 2009 media law introduced by Macri's predecessor Cristina Kirchner aimed to break up what she described as media monopolies. It established AFSCA to grant and regulate broadcast licenses.

Argentina's biggest media group, Clarin, condemned it as an attack on the free press and private property -- a viewpoint Macri's party shares.

Clarin, whose newspapers and cable channels are sharply critical of Kirchner, has challenged the law in court. It has so far successfully resisted having its media empire dismantled.

Pena said the government would table a new media law in Congress.

A prosecutor last week brought charges against the AFSCA's ousted head, Martin Sabbatella, after he defied Macri's decision to sack him.

Macri issued a decree replacing him but Sabbatella showed up for work anyway, insisting he could not be removed before the end of his term in 2017.

Macri, who vows to get Argentina's slumping economy back on track with business-friendly government, has steadily hacked away at Kirchner's legacy since taking office on December 10.

In his first week, he scrapped the official exchange rate, prompting a sharp devaluation of the peso, as well as axing heavy export taxes.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Buenos Aires earlier this month to defend the existing media law and protest against Macri's other reforms.