Protests hit Argentina state b’caster effort

Plan addresses demand for free-to-air radio, TV

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s outgoing President Eduardo Duhalde on Tuesday authorized the creation of state radio and TV broadcasters in every province, sparking immediate protest from the private sector about unfair competition for ad sales.

Duhalde decreed that the 23 provinces could set up their own AM radio and TV broadcasters and he gave cities the go-ahead for FM radio stations.

Plan is to meet a growing demand for more free-to-air radio and TV by broadening the reach of state media.

Argentina has 46 TV stations, 29 of which are privately owned. However, in many areas, especially outside Buenos Aires, viewing is limited to one broadcast station.

To see more, including the popular Buenos Aires stations Grupo Clarin’s Artear-Canal 13 and Admira’s Telefe, people must subscribe to pay TV, something not possible for many Argentineans with unemployment at 18% and poverty at 58%.

Industry groups the Argentine Television Broadcasters Assn. and the Argentine Private Radio Broadcasters Assn. denounced the decree as a “surprise attack on private broadcasters.”

They urged President-elect Nestor Kirchner to “immediately repeal” the decree after taking power on Sunday.

The private broadcasters said more state media would create unfair competition for advertising coin. State broadcasters can sell at lower rates because they are subsidized, dragging down prices. The private companies say this would worsen an already weak ad market, making it harder for them to find funds for producing and buying content.

Ad spending fell 50% in 2002 from a year earlier, and it is recovering slowly as the country emerges from five years of recession.

Hardest hit by this increased competition would be broadcasters outside Buenos Aires, including those owned by Artear and Telefe, as they already have to contend with the tight ad market and heavy competition from illegal broadcasters, the industry groups said.

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