Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and now Argentina are taking over their media
Argentina's lower house debated Wednesday President Cristina Fernandez's broadcast reform bill . . .
Fernandez says her reform of decades-old media regulations will bolster democracy by allowing smaller players and nonprofits more access to frequencies and putting restrictions on the number of licenses big media players can have.
But critics say her main motive is to crush the powerful Grupo Clarin conglomerate, and opposition politicians also question elements of the reform such as the way the state will be able to assign frequencies in small cities and towns.
Fernandez and her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, have been locked in a bitter dispute with Grupo Clarin since its news outlets criticized their handling of a farming crisis last year.
Fernandez smoothed the passage of the law by removing a controversial clause that would have allowed telephone companies to enter the cable television business.
She said eliminating that element of the bill should dispel opposition concerns that telecommunication companies would form new monopolies.
But dissident Peronists, center-right parties and even the center-left Civic Union opposition party were not swayed by the changes to the law and made a failed attempt to delay the vote until December when a new Congress will be seated.
Fernandez's bill comes against a backdrop of leftist leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela strengthening state media outlets and warring with traditional newspapers and broadcasters that have given their administrations deeply negative coverage.
In Venezuela, Socialist President Hugo Chavez has shut down radio stations and denied renewal of broadcast licenses. But Fernandez's reform is not seen as so radical.
"Approval in the senate will be difficult but, at this point, we believe the senate will likely end up approving the bill, perhaps after further concessions from the government," said Daniel Kerner, a Latin America analyst for the Eurasia group.