BUENOS AIRES — Supermarkets and electronics retailers say Argentina’s government has ordered them to stop advertising in the country’s top newspapers, in a bid to weaken independent media companies as President Cristina Kirchner turns to increasingly unorthodox policies to prevent inflation from derailing an ailing economy.
The order, confirmed by retailers and newspapers but denied by government officials, comes after retail executives say price-control czar Guillermo Moreno pressured them earlier this week to agree to freeze prices for two months. Executives say Mr. Moreno then told them to pull all newspaper sales ads in hopes this would somehow curb inflation.
“This was an imposition, not a request. He simply decided that nobody should publish any ads. It’s not sustainable and will be hard to comply with,” said one retail-sector executive…
Susana Alonso, a spokeswoman for Mr. Moreno denied that he ordered anyone to drop their ads. She noted that one large supermarket chain, Coto, placed large ads in papers on Friday. “That’s the best proof there is that this order doesn’t exist,” Mrs. Alonso said.
But retailers insist that Mr. Moreno gave the order. Businesspeople have long said that Mr. Moreno uses verbal edicts and threats to impose controversial government policies. Executives say they usually comply because they fear not doing so could lead to government reprisals, including higher taxes or even criminal charges.
Mr. Moreno has repeatedly declined to comment on the charges.
The Buenos Aires Newspaper Editors Association said the order was a reprisal against those who publish independent inflation estimates. “This is another display of how far authoritarianism can go in a context that is dominated by discretional policies and bullying,” the group said in a harshly worded newspaper ad Friday.
The controversy comes as Mrs. Kirchner attempts to implement a three-year-old media law that would overhaul Argentina’s media industry and dismantle media giant Grupo Clarín SA, which publishes Argentina’s bestselling newspaper, Clarín, and runs a profitable cable-TV and Internet network.
“This aims to inflict economic damage on all independent media companies,” Clarín spokesman Martin Etchevers said. “On the one hand, it’s another attempt to weaken media that don’t depend on government money. On the other, it’s an attempt to keep people in the dark about inflation.”
And if it causes financial damage to Grupo Clarín, a prominent source of opposition to Mrs. Kirchner, so much the better, I would guess . . .
Mrs. Kirchner accuses Clarín of using its sway to undermine her government. Clarín officials say the government started targeting it in 2007, when it began reporting that the government was underestimating inflation. In 2011, the government started fining economists for publishing their own inflation estimates. To protect them, a group of opposition legislators began publishing the economists’ monthly inflation estimates anonymously.