August 25, 2010 8:41AM

The Kirchners Go After the Newspapers in Argentina

Argentina’s power couple (President Cristina Fernández and her husband and former president Néstor Kirchner) took their fight against the country’s major newspapers one step further today when the government released a report that might ultimately give it control of the company that distributes paper to the newspapers.

The government report targets Papel Prensa, a private company that belongs to a group controlled by Clarín and La Nación, Argentina’s major daily newspapers, and that distributes paper to 170 newspapers all over the country regardless of their editorial line and ideology.

The government claims that the previous owners of Papel Prensa sold the company back in 1976 under pressure from the military junta that then ruled Argentina. The report says that the government will sue the board members of both newspapers for “crimes against humanity” and “illegal purchase” of Papel Prensa. It also brings up charges of financial irregularities and unfair competition in the distribution of paper.

Both Clarín and La Nación vehemently deny the charges, pointing out that in the 27 years under democratic governments, Papel Prensa has never been impugned in the way it was acquired back in 1976. They claim this is a plan from the Kirchners to take over the company, and thus extend government control over the distribution of the newspapers main input: paper.

This is not the first time that the government has targeted Papel Prensa. Two weeks ago, the Commerce Secretary, Guillermo Moreno, stormed the company’s board meeting wearing boxing gloves and a helmet, shouting “you won’t vote here.” Last Thursday, Moreno, along with 10 others, broke into the offices of Papel Prensa shouting “I’m the owner” while trying to take over offices and desks.

Even though they no longer control Congress, the Kirchners have found a way to get what they want largely because of the divided and weak opposition. However, they might be pushing the envelope in picking such a contentious fight in a country where freedom of the press is still valued.