Argentina’s Congress approved a controversial bill that will give the government more control over the broadcast media, handing a victory to the President and her husband, the country’s former leader, who have blamed biased media coverage for many of their political woes.

Early Saturday morning, after more than 19 hours of debate, the Senate approved the media law, 44-24, without modifications. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had proposed the bill to replace a dictatorship-era law that allowed media power to be concentrated in the hands of a few companies.

While many media experts have said the old law was outdated and in need of reform, analysts say the move by the Kirchner government seemed designed to give the executive branch significant discretion in the regulation of the airwaves.

Carlos Lauria, senior programme director for the Americas at the Committee to Protect Journalists, said provisions in the bill could restrict freedom of expression, in particular an article that gives the President the authority to appoint most members of a new broadcast regulatory body. The law is a victory for the Kirchners against the largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarin, which owns the biggest Argentine newspaper and important television properties.

One provision of the media bill will require Clarin and other companies with radio and cable television properties to shed some licences within a year. Media companies have objected, saying it will force them to sell off assets at fire-sale prices.

While Grupo Clarin’s dominant media position would be unlikely to pass muster with American or European regulators, many analysts saw the Argentina government’s push to win swift approval of the bill as a political move designed to shore up support within the Peronist Party before a new slate of legislators are seated Dec. 10. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service

(Charles Newbery contributed reporting from Buenos Aires)

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