Independent Media Hit Back During Ad Ban in Argentina

Publishers, Broadcasters Allege Political Motives Behind Federal Mandate

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As American marketers fight against sales taxes on advertising, their Argentine brethren are facing a scenario in which ads have actually been banned by the government.

Full-page ads protest the ban.
Full-page ads protest the ban.
The battle erupted in Argentina after the government imposed a two-month price freeze on the country's supermarkets, hypermarkets and household-appliance retailers -- and told them not to advertise in newspapers or on TV or radio during that period.

The ad ban was put into place Feb. 1, purportedly to help curb double-digit inflation. The news was delivered verbally to marketers including Walmart, Carrefour, Coto, Disco, Garbarino, Jumbo and Ribeiro by Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno.

Clarin, La Nacion and Perfil -- the three big national newspapers that receive little government support in the form of advertising -- interpreted the ban as an effort to shut off revenue to independent media. Supermarket and household-appliance chains represent about half of Clarin's newspaper ad revenue.

Clarin said in an article, "The government's decision carried out by Moreno is an economic noose around the independent media."

Mr. Moreno's office didn't respond to requests for comment.

Fighting back, Argentina's association for independent media, CEMCI, ran a full-page ad in Clarin and La Nacion with a dramatic photograph of two people wearing blindfolds below the headline "You would have found sales information on this page. Now, due to official pressure, you're buying blind."

The Buenos Aires Association of News-paper Publishers described the ad ban as a new attack on constitutional rights and a "clear reprisal against those who inform the public about inflation rates."

The official inflation rate in Argentina was 10.8% in 2012. Unofficial estimates, considered more reliable and reported by independent media, are closer to 25%.

The federal government has been trying for years to break up Argentina's largest media group, Clarin, which owns the country's biggest national newspaper as well as TV and radio stations and an internet service provider.

It's unclear whether the ban will continue after the two-month price freeze is supposed to end April 1, or, if it does, whether the affected retailers will move their ad budgets into other media. Household appliances retailer Garbarino, for example, has stayed out of Clarin's print pages but is advertising on the newspaper's website.

Newspapers and radio and TV stations have just missed the lucrative back-to-school ads that supermarkets and hypermarkets usually run before Argentina's schools reopen in March.

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