Media as a web of interests
Media in Argentina can either be a bad business or a springboard to sign highly profitable public works agreements, or lobby for the benefit of other private interests and support political candidates.
The diversification of media group interests and the influx of capital from other branches of the economy into the media industry are two relatively recent developments in media businesses. This has been confirmed by research on the political economy of communications and culture in recent decades globally, as it becomes visible also in Argentina with some striking features, as shown by MOM Argentina’s report.
The interests shared by media and other sectors in the economy in the last decade are twofold. On the one hand, there is the unprecedented expansion of a media group, which today is one of the largest and wealthiest companies in the country. On the other hand, there are conglomerates investing in media, but without an interested in maintaining and increasing those units. Though not profitable, these stakes work as “lubricants” to support the development of interests in other sectors of the ecomony.
Some of the main media groups in Argentina have their origins in the journalistic activity itself (such as La Nacion, La Gaceta de Tucumán or the Fasceto family) or in the entertainment industry (Telefé, which belongs to Viacom International since 2016 , or Afakot), and most of their profits still come from media operation. In other cases, media solely constitute a part of a wider and more diversified set of economic interests. Examples of this are Grupo Moneta, Olmos, Cadena 3 and Octubre.
Grupo Clarín, the country’s largest media group, is also one of the main economic conglomerates in general. It became the largest business corporation two years ago, when its shareholders purchased one of the wealthiest companies of Argentina, thanks to the official approval of the merger between Cablevisión and Telecom.
Apart from having a dominant position in all media segments and other auxiliary and complementary activities (such as holding a majority interest in the only newsprint factory in the country, Papel Prensa S.A., together with La Nacion and the National Government), Grupo Clarín holds interests in the following areas: trade fairs and exhibitions (it organizes the main farming trade fair of the country), fixed and mobile broadband services (it is the main operator), landline and mobile telephony, content exhibition rights, film production, newsprint manufacturing, book publishing, bookshop chains, logistics and transport, tourism and video gaming.
Grupo Clarín is firmly established in Argentina. However, unlike dominant media conglomerates in Brazil (Grupo Globo) or Mexico (América Móvil, Televisa), it has yet to achieve regional or international presence. According to an extensive doctoral research on Clarín’s history conducted by journalist Martín Sivak (edited in two volumes and published by Editorial Planeta in 2013 and 2015), the newspaper turned into a multimedia group and then into an economic conglomerate thanks to the favors granted by several governments. Besides, the group designed an effective corporate strategy to avail itself of its increasingly privileged dialogue with the National Government during its more than seven decades of existence.
Grupo América (former Grupo Uno), whose main shareholders and founders are Daniel Vila and José Luis Manzano, has managed to further its growth in different areas of the economy thanks to its close ties with governments of different political parties. Leveraged by reach of its mass media and political connections (Manzano was one of leaders of the Peronist renewal in the 1980s and a minister during Carlos Menem’s first administration; he later forged strategic collaboration bonds with Cuban-American businessman Jorge Mas Canosa), the group holds powerful interests in the energy and oil industries, as well as in the supply of public services. Additional funding comes from real estate businesses conducted by Daniel Vila’s father.
One of the group’s CEOs and star producers is Gabriel Hochbaum. By the time this study was conducted, he had been mentioned in a case of unlawful association and illegal espionage by fake attorney Marcelo D´Alessio on behalf of federal prosecutor Carlos Stornelli (who, in turn, is in charge of the prosecution in a large case of corruption during the Kirchner administration). Hochbaum appears in the investigation as the economic link between the Government of the province of Buenos Aires (Cambiemos) and Grupo América.
Indalo Media is another significant conglomerate within the Argentinian media system. However, its activities were originally in transport, gambling, oil and fuel. Not until 2010 did it enter the media industry, when it started to acquire radio stations, TV channels and print media in Comodoro Rivadavia (province of Chubut). Between 2011 and 2013, the group, whose main shareholders were Cristóbal López and Fabián De Sousa, backed by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration, established Indalo Media and grew its business after closing a multimedia deal (including five radio stations and a cable TV signal, as well as an open channel on digital TV) with businessman Daniel Hadad in Buenos Aires. Indalo Media subsequently strengthened its position by acquiring other audiovisual outlets such as tv production companies and studios and newspapers.
Since 2016, the group’s shareholders face prosecution for evading fuel taxes worth millions. Both Cristóbal López and his partner Fabián De Sousa are in prison for tax evasion.
Another group whose origins are related to activities other than the media is Electroingeniería. Since 1977, the group has engaged in construction, gas and electrical energy generation and distribution in the province of Córdoba, where its shareholders were born. These are Osvaldo Acosta and Gerardo Ferreyra (who joined the group later, since he was in jail during the last military dictatorship) and their sons. In 2008, thanks to the excellent relationship with the Kirchners, they forayed into the media industry by purchasing radio stations and TV channels. Today, they only own Radio del Plata, which is undergoing an asset-stripping and disinvestment process. Grupo Electroingeniería benefited from official advertising and, above all, from the public works contracts it was awarded during Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández’s administrations. It still benefits from agreements entered into with Mauricio Macri’s administration.
Albavisión is a foreign holding present in the Argentinian media map. The group, led by Ángel “El Fantasma” González (the Ghost) also operates in Mexico (where González was born), Guatemala, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia. González is currently being investigated in the United States for corruption. An Interpol international arrest warrant for money laundering has been issued for his wife Alba Elvira Lorenzana Cardona.
The Argentinian media system has been able to export formats and contents, but has not gone beyond the national borders – with the exception of Perfil, which belongs to the Fontevecchia family. The company focuses on the production of informative content and entertainment, mainly in digital and print media. Over the last few years, it forayed into the audiovisual segment as well. In addition, it owns successful publishing companies in Brazil, China and Portugal.
All the groups surveyed by MOM Argentina have strong ties with Argentinian politics via different political parties, whose leading figures are usually involved in business associations, clubs, civil partnerships, social events and gatherings with media owners and managers. Opinion leaders are part of this elite as well, which also includes bankers and other wealthy individuals who are, in turn, the main private advertisers of the media conglomerates.