Being a media mogul is not much fun if you live in Argentina. And it can be especially tough if your name is Ernestina Herrera de Noble. The owner of Grupo Clarín, publisher of the country’s most popular newspaper, is currently caught up in numerous court cases and political battles.
The first struggle sees her company fighting to prevent a new media law being enacted. Passed in October 2009 – but subsequently delayed by the courts while they determine whether it is constitutional – the government says that it needs the law to break the unfair dominance Grupo Clarín and La Nación (publisher of the second most widely read newspaper after Clarín) exert over the nation’s media landscape. In addition to its print empire, Clarín is also a key player in radio and television.
Perhaps this wide-ranging power might go unnoticed if your papers and stations didn’t spend so much time tweaking the tail of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government. De Noble certainly has sympathisers who believe the legislation was introduced not to promote freedom of expression but to control it by silencing critical media organisations.
But there is another darker, more personal case keeping De Noble awake at night. And it’s one that also has poisonous political links and ramifications. De Noble is a key figure in an ongoing court case about the identity of her two adopted children. It’s claimed that the children were adopted illegally from parents tortured and killed by the military. During the “Dirty War” that was waged between 1976 and 1983, up to 30,000 opponents of the regime were killed: abducted, tortured and “disappeared” by men in uniform.
Now grown up, De Noble’s children have already given DNA samples to a court and these may soon be compared with the national gene bank. This will ascertain who their real parents were and whether the accusations have any substance. And once again Cristina Fernandez is involved: her government strongly promotes the notion that any child born during the military junta whose identity is questionable should submit to a DNA test.
The final dramatic icing on the cake for De Noble came a few days ago, with a mock trial staged by the vocal social group, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. These pensioners are the mothers of the disappeared and even now they are determined to find out what happened to their missing children. They have marched around Buenos Aires’ central square every Thursday since 1977 demanding answers.
Last week the women’s customary vigil was accompanied by the staging of a symbolic trial of journalists they accuse of justifying the Dirty War. Some of the accused are current Clarín journalists but the mothers also named De Noble as being guilty of conspiring with the former dictatorship.
The heat has also been turned up on the case by posters that have appeared around the city featuring pictures of 12 Grupo Clarín journalists. Although no group has claimed responsibility, the posters pose a blunt question: “Can you be independent journalists and serve the owner of a multimedia company accused of appropriating children of the disappeared?”
Media and politics are not for the fainthearted in Argentina. Yet while it may be tough being a media mogul here, your papers are certainly never short of stories.