Control The Printing Presses, And Other "Dictatorial Ambitions" Of Cristina K

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has it in for top Buenos Aires daily Clarin. But it's part of much grander plans to extend her power well past the line of legitimate democracy.

Kirchner's fight with Clarin dates from before she was elected president in 2007
Kirchner's fight with Clarin dates from before she was elected president in 2007


BUENOS AIRES – A few days ago, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner presented a new bill to raise the government’s stake in Papel Prensa, the country’s largest newsprint manufacturer, from 28% to 52%.

Because the ruling political faction controls the Argentine Parliament, it is likely that the bill will be passed into law. If this happens, Cristina K. will have a new lever of control over the Grupo Clarin media holding – which is perhaps her last undefeated enemy.

The objective in nationalizing Papel Prensa is not hard to guess. Currently, La Nacion, the leading conservative newspaper and the Grupo Clarin, which publishes Clarin, the largest newspaper in the country, own the biggest stakes in Papel Prensa.

The new law would reduce their ownership to less than half – giving the government the majority voting power. Thanks to its new majority stake, the government will be able to deny Clarin and La Nacion access to the paper they need to publish their newspapers anytime they criticize the government. In Argentina, there are controls on currency exchange and imports, making it very hard and expensive to import paper – or any other product for that matter.

If the new bill is approved, Clarin and La Nacion will have to think twice before publishing criticism toward the government. Clarin – much more than La Nacion – has become a bastion of independent journalism and opposition to the president.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago, Clarin-owned TV station Channel 13 reported that the president's late husband Nestor Kirchner was implicated in a multi-million money laundering scheme and corruption scandal. It is difficult to imagine that this kind of report could be produced by Clarin if Kirchner had control over the country’s newsprint manufacturer.

She accuses Clarin of monopoly, but the truth is that the president clearly does not believe in free trade. Since she took office six years ago, Kirchner has taken control, little by little, of the Central Bank, pension funds, airlines and Treasury Petroleum Fields (YPF).

She controls monetary policies and fills up the fiscal coffers by nationalizing private companies without compensating their owners. This discourages foreign investment. She locks competition by closing the economy and making it difficult to import. She sets currency prices regardless of supply or demand.

All these actions are bread for today and hunger for tomorrow. It is very sad for Argentina and Argentinians.

No freedom of the press

What is worse is that she does not seem to be interested in pluralism or the independence of the powers of the state. She found enough popular support to be elected to office and obtain a majority in Congress, so that her dictatorial ambitions are legitimized – although if not illegal, than perhaps unconstitutional.

A few weeks ago she managed to pass a law that reduces the independence of the judicial branch, forcing its members to be elected by popular vote and limiting the length of appeals that companies have today. If this law had been in place a few years ago, Grupo Clarin would not exist as we know it today.

Cristina K doesn’t like freedom of press either. Neither she nor her ministers give press conferences or respond to any questions from journalists, limiting themselves to public speeches and voicing their opinions on Twitter.

All propaganda and official publicity comes by way of the state-owned media only. A decision by Cristina to ban advertising from supermarkets in newspapers impacted Clarin very negatively.

Her fight with Clarin dates from before she was elected president in 2007, but her first serious attack came in 2009, when she presented and managed to pass a communications media law that prevented companies with a daily newspaper to own any other print media, and from controlling radio and TV channels as well.

That law required Grupo Clarin to get rid of most of their assets, but the company filed an injunction in court, which lasted three years – during which they searched for ways to get certain unconstitutional clauses annulled. A federal court ruled against Clarin in December 2012, but an appeals court reversed the ruling last month. Cristina’s government said it would appeal to the Supreme Court. At the same time, the government is trying to reduce appeals and injuctions from three years to six months.

During her six years in office, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has done everything in her power to damage the private sector, the independence of the powers of state, pluralism and freedom of press – all of which are pillars of economic growth and democratic coexistence – greatly damaging Argentina.

Luckily, Argentinians are starting to realize what is going on.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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