The charge reflected the long-held conviction among human-rights groups, who have been strong Kirchner supporters, that the Noble Herrera children, thirty-four-year-old Marcela and Felipe, were born to parents who had been kidnapped and then murdered by the junta. The siblings were adopted in 1976, during the early days of the military dictatorship. The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a human-rights group that has helped identify and recover more than 100 children stolen from political prisoners during the dictatorship, is the plaintiff in a court order that required the Noble Herrera children to undergo DNA tests to determine their identity. The Kirchner camp insists that Clarín for years has used its power to prevent the DNA testing. Last December, Marcela and Felipe voluntarily submitted DNA samples to a forensic center that is under the oversight of the judiciary, but the samples have not been examined. They refused to be tested by the National Genetic Data Bank, which is under the executive branch, arguing that the results could be manipulated for political gain. In June, the issue gained wide visibility after the police raided their house and forced the siblings to hand over pieces of clothing to get DNA samples. When it was announced that their clothes contained DNA from different people, the rumor mill went into overdrive around the possibility of foul play.

Since the Kirchner-Clarín fight broke out, the government has taken actions unequivocally aimed at damaging Clarín’s business. It convinced the national soccer association to take away Clarín’s cable broadcasting rights and assign them to state-run Channel 7, which broadcasts over the air and does not require cable. Officials explained that the measure was intended to democratize citizens’ rights to watch the popular sport. In a country where fútbol is big business, as well as a patriotic badge of honor, the decision was an act of political bravado. In contrast to most politicians’ gentle handling of any matter affecting Clarín, which exerts unmatched influence in Argentine politics, the Kirchners have displayed unusual chutzpah. Such attitude was also evident in the government’s decision to take over Papel Prensa, the national newsprint company in which the state, Clarín Group, and La Nación have been partners since the early 1970s.

The Kirchners’ recent media “reform” effort is also inseparable from the conflict. President Fernandez de Kirchner sent a broadcasting bill to Congress in early 2009. Officials touted it as much-needed legislation to democratize broadcasting, by putting limits on cross-media ownership and securing a third of broadcasting licenses for community organizations. But even those who recognized the merits of the law believed the effort was driven by different goals, namely, to curb the Clarín Group’s power and strengthen the official media apparatus. Although Congress passed the law in October 2009, provincial judges held it up. The Argentine Supreme Court revoked the suspension in June 2010, clearing the way for the law to take effect.

Tensions keep escalating. Clarín offers a daily dose of news critical of the administration. And the Kirchners frequently lambast “the media monopoly” and quip that the acronym TN of the Group’s cable news channel Todo Noticias stands for “Todo Negativo”—“All Negative.” In a phrase that has entered the vernacular, Nestor Kirchner taunted, “What is the matter, Clarín? Are you nervous?” to criticize what he portrays as deceptive and malicious news. Kirchneristas see the Clarín Group as a rattled powerhouse that has met its political match.

Clarín, in turn, a news company that rarely wears its politics on its sleeve, has pretty much abandoned balance. Its star columnists see little but disaster in the Kirchners’ policies and political style. The publication of the ambassador’s kickback charges came in the wake of a series of stories rifling through the government’s closets. Members of the Kirchners’ political circle, including several cabinet members, are regular targets for exposés.

Silvio Waisbord
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