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Court axes sweetheart media law

Justices overturn license renewal provision

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s Supreme Court has thrown out a linchpin article of a new TV and radio law, saying it gave unconstitutional privileges to the two webs that dominate Mexico’s market.

The high court voted 8-1 Thursday to overturn a provision that granted holders of broadcast license the right to automatically renew licenses. Justices said such automatic renewal, without having to undergo a revision process and possibly a new public auction, prevented the possibility of new players entering the market.

In the coming week, the court will rule on challenges to other provisions of the law. The rulings could redraw the map for awarding new broadcasting licenses. Currently NBC Universal’s Spanish language net Telemundo and other Mexican groups are gunning for licenses to compete against Mexico’s local duopoly of media conglom Televisa and its smaller rival TV Azteca.

Televisa holds around 70 percent of the broadcast market while TV Azteca has 30 percent. Together the two hold 95% of the nation’s broadcast licenses.

Mexico’s Congress approved far-reaching reforms to the nation’s TV law early last year in the midst of a divisive presidential race. Critics claimed the law had been drafted to privilege Televisa and TV Azteca against any new competition.

Whistle blowing lawmakers say political parties feared their candidates would lose airtime during the campaign if they didn’t back what became known as “the Televisa law.” A group of lawmakers challenged the reform before the Supreme Court.

Lawmakers opposed to the reform heralded the court’s decision Thursday. Some had expected the court to cave in to pressures as Congress had, and it is still unclear how far ministers will go in the coming week.

“The Supreme Court is beginning to take the stand that the reforms were playing favorites with the duopoly,” said Sabino Galindo, director of the Mexico City-based think tank the Center for Interdisciplinary Social Research (CISI). “It’s a positive sign in general that Mexico’s institutions are beginning to act against monopoly positions.”

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