Argentines cap foreign ownership

Law doesn't keep out foreign investment, offers rules

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s Senate approved legislation late Wednesday limiting foreign ownership of broadcasters, TV production companies and other media.

“We don’t want to shut out foreign investment but give it clear rules,” said Vice President Daniel Scioli.

The law restricts most foreigners from owning more than 30% of media firms. It also prohibits them from controlling decisions on content.

The legislation was drafted last year in response to a revision of the bankruptcy law that allowed creditors to swap their debt for equity. This would have made it possible for foreign creditors to take control of many of the country’s debt-ridden media companies.

Many entertainment companies, including media conglom Grupo Clarin, are struggling to repay debts. The cost of U.S. dollar-denominated debt and supplies, such as imported films and TV series, has almost tripled because of the 65% depreciation of the peso against the dollar since January 2002.

Ownership restrictions don’t apply to investors that already control local media companies or to those that have signed agreements to buy stakes of more than 30%. Nor do they extend to investors from countries such as Spain and the U.S. that have reciprocity investment agreements with Argentina.

During the 1990s, U.S. investors Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, Liberty Media and Walt Disney; Spain’s Telefonica; and Venezuela’s Cisneros Group bought large stakes in media companies in Argentina. They now own the country’s leading cable operators, film studios, radio stations and TV broadcasters.

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