* President campaigned heavily for broadcast reform
* Bill sparked intense battle between government, media
* Limits number of media outlets companies can own
(Updates with vote)
By Kevin Gray
BUENOS AIRES, Oct 10 Argentina's Senate passed
President Cristina Fernandez's broadcast reform bill on
Saturday, handing her a political victory that analysts say
will do little to revive her sagging popularity.
The Senate approved the bill on a vote of 44 to 24 after 16
hours of debate that stretched from Friday into Saturday, and
amid opposition charges that the government had placed heavy
pressure on lawmakers. Last month, the lower house backed the
bill in a highly charged session that saw more than 100
opposition lawmakers walk out in protest.
Fernandez says the overhaul, one of her top legislative
priorities this year, will open the country's airwaves to new
players but critics say it will increase state influence over
The proposed overhaul pitted Fernandez against Argentina's
leading media groups, including Grupo Clarin (CLA.BA)(GCSAq.L),
one of Latin America's biggest media conglomerates and owner of
the country's biggest newspaper and most-watched cable news
Fernandez, a leftist who has expanded the state's role in
the economy, called the bill an attempt to make radio and TV
broadcasts more democratic by capping the number of licenses
controlled by a media giants.
However, critics say she hopes to deal a blow to Grupo
Clarin, whose media outlets are critical of her government,
which has low popularity ratings.
LOW PUBLIC PRIORITY
Argentine political analyst Graciela Romer said the bill's
passage would bring limited political benefit for Fernandez.
Her approval ratings are below 30 percent, hit by her combative
style, a lengthy standoff with farmers over export taxes, and a
"This is a government with serious problems of public
support," she said. "This issue is not a priority right now for
Argentines who are more worried about unemployment, rising
crime and inflation."
Fernandez, who lost her congressional majority in June
legislative elections, pushed to get the bill passed before new
lawmakers are seated in December.
It sets limits on the number of media outlets companies can
own, forcing some to sell off their holdings within a year,
which would occur in the run-up to a 2011 presidential
It also calls for a new government-controlled regulatory
body responsible for handing out and renewing radio and TV
Nicolas Fernandez, a senator from the ruling party and not
related to the president, defended the bill during the debate,
saying: "There isn't a single article that regulates content."
Companies are expected to challenge the bill in the courts
if it is approved, which could delay any changes for several
After the bill's introduction in August, both the
government and broadcasters unleashed intense public relations
The government has run commercials accusing big media
companies of holding a monopoly over public opinion, and
officials have at times openly criticized Clarin.
Clarin has responded with more negative coverage of
Fernandez and in-depth investigations of corruption allegations
involving government officials.
(Additional reporting by Daniela Desantis and Vivianne
Rodrigues; editing by Jackie Frank)