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Argentine judge blocks president’s media overhaul

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An Argentine judge blocked President Mauricio Macri from scrapping a media watchdog aimed at preventing monopolies, the conservative leader's latest jab at his left-wing predecessor's policies.

Macri's chief of staff Marco Pena kicked off a tumultuous day in the politically loaded world of Argentine media regulation by announcing that Macri had signed a decree creating a new state telecommunications body.

The new body would absorb the existing AFSCA regulator that prevents monopolies by media firms and the AFTIC technology regulator, Pena said.

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

But later in the day, judge Luis Arias granted an AFSCA official's request to declare the president's decree "null and void."

The judge ordered the government to leave the regulator alone pending the outcome of a federal court challenge against the overhaul.

Clutching the judge's ruling, a group of AFSCA employees opposed to Macri's decree tried to storm the regulator's offices.

A state worker demonstrates against the government of Argentina's President Mauricio Macri outs...
A state worker demonstrates against the government of Argentina's President Mauricio Macri outside the Labor Ministry building in Buenos Aires, on December 29, 2015
Eitan Abramovich, AFP

But federal police blocked them from the building.

The controversy revolves around a 2009 media law introduced by Macri's predecessor Cristina Kirchner, which 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 the law 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.

Protesters demonstrate outside the Federal Authority for Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA) ...
Protesters demonstrate outside the Federal Authority for Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA) in Buenos Aires, on December 23, 2015 after President Mauricio Macri ousted the head of the country's broadcast media regulator
Eitan Abramovich, AFP/File

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

Macri, who has vowed to get Argentina's slumping economy back on track with a 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.

An Argentine judge blocked President Mauricio Macri from scrapping a media watchdog aimed at preventing monopolies, the conservative leader’s latest jab at his left-wing predecessor’s policies.

Macri’s chief of staff Marco Pena kicked off a tumultuous day in the politically loaded world of Argentine media regulation by announcing that Macri had signed a decree creating a new state telecommunications body.

The new body would absorb the existing AFSCA regulator that prevents monopolies by media firms and the AFTIC technology regulator, Pena said.

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

But later in the day, judge Luis Arias granted an AFSCA official’s request to declare the president’s decree “null and void.”

The judge ordered the government to leave the regulator alone pending the outcome of a federal court challenge against the overhaul.

Clutching the judge’s ruling, a group of AFSCA employees opposed to Macri’s decree tried to storm the regulator’s offices.

A state worker demonstrates against the government of Argentina's President Mauricio Macri outs...

A state worker demonstrates against the government of Argentina's President Mauricio Macri outside the Labor Ministry building in Buenos Aires, on December 29, 2015
Eitan Abramovich, AFP

But federal police blocked them from the building.

The controversy revolves around a 2009 media law introduced by Macri’s predecessor Cristina Kirchner, which 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 the law 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.

Protesters demonstrate outside the Federal Authority for Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA) ...

Protesters demonstrate outside the Federal Authority for Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA) in Buenos Aires, on December 23, 2015 after President Mauricio Macri ousted the head of the country's broadcast media regulator
Eitan Abramovich, AFP/File

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

Macri, who has vowed to get Argentina’s slumping economy back on track with a 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.

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