Economic liberty intertwined with civil liberty, part 7,914,886: “The paper used to produce newspapers came under government control in Argentina on Thursday, in a long-sought victory for President Cristina Fernandez in her dispute with the country’s opposition media,” reported AP last month. More from the BBC, and earlier from my Cato colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo.
Independent papers in the South American republic are quite right to fear for their future, if earlier ventures into government newsprint control are any indication. Dictator Juan Peron used similar methods to muzzle the press, while in Mexico for decades governments of the ruling PRI closely controlled newsprint allocation, a power they were not hesitant to use to bring excessively independent publishers to heel. It came as an important move toward Mexican political liberalization in 1990 when the Salinas government did away with the controls, by allowing free importation of newsprint to any buyers subject to a modest tariff.
Significantly, the measure just signed by Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner inserts the government directly as a prospective owner of the business and contains provisions on newsprint imports as well. Per Impunity Watch:
Clarins newspaper notes that there are a number of disturbing aspects to the bill. First is the passage that allows for the state to unilaterally take a majority share of the company as the newsprint distribution is now classified a national interest. Also of concerns is the portion that would permit the Economy Minister to determine how much newsprint to import, establishing government quotas that have never before existed….
Concurrent with the media bill passage is a new anti-terrorism bill that classifies certain “economic crimes,” including certain actions taken by the media, as terrorist acts. The bill states that “economic terrorist acts” are those done with an intent to terrorize the general population.
Whether relatedly or not, the Argentine government last year launched prosecutions of independent economists who have asserted that the country’s actual inflation rate is higher than that reported by the government (& Coyote).