Argentina to tighten controls on newsprint supplies

Cristina Fernandez was sworn in for her second term on 10 December 2011 President Fernandez has long had a difficult relationship with the Clarin media group

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Argentine legislators have backed a government proposal to tighten controls over the supply of newsprint.

The bill orders the sole producer of newsprint, Papel Prensa, to operate at maximum capacity to meet demand.

Its main shareholder is the Clarin media group, long at odds with President Cristina Fernandez.

Critics say the bill is an attack on press freedom, but government supporters say it will ensure paper is available to all at a fair price.

The government-backed bill was approved in the lower house of Congress by 134 votes to 92, and is expected to pass in the Senate.

The legislation says the production, sale and distribution of newsprint is of national interest.

Papel Prensa must both operate at maximum capacity to meet domestic needs and draw up regular investment plans to ensure it can do this.

The Clarin media group currently has a 49% stake in Papel Prensa; another major media group La Nacion owns some 22.5%, while the state has 27.5%.

Opposing views

Clarin and La Nacion have described the move as an underhand attempt to expropriate private property.

"The intention to seize Papel Prensa isn't an isolated case, but the latest in a whole series of measures aimed at controlling the media," said opposition deputy Federico Pinedo.

Government supporters say that the new measures will mean newsprint is available to all newspaper publishers at a fair price.

"We don't want to encroach upon the company's property. What we do want is for this business not to be a monopoly any longer," said Agustin Rossi, head of the governing party bloc in the lower house.

President Fernandez has long argued that Clarin, which has newspapers, television channels and radio stations, gives unfair coverage to her and her government.

Ms Fernandez has also alleged that the sale of Papel Prensa to Clarin and La Nacion during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship was illegal - charges the companies deny.

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