The paper used to produce newspapers came under government control in Argentina on Thursday, in a long-sought victory for President Cristina Fernandez in her dispute with the country's opposition media.
Argentina's senate, which is controlled by Fernandez's allies, voted 41-26 to control newsprint's manufacture, sale and distribution to media friends and foes alike.
Newsprint has been a key issue in the never-ending battles between the government and opposition newspapers. Since the early days of the 1976-1983 dictatorship, Argentina's only newsprint provider is Papel Prensa, a joint venture majority-owned by its dominant newspapers, Clarin and La Nacion. The government has been a minority shareholder.
Vice President Amadou Boudou said the law "will improve the quality of information and the plurality of opinions in Argentina."
Ruling party Sen. Anibal Fernandez said Clarin and la Nacion use 71 percent of the newsprint for their media groups and ensure a competitive advantage by distributing the other 29 percent to 168 other media organizations, who must either pay a 15 percent markup or import what they need.
"We are defending the proposal of defending the freedom of expression of all the Argentines," Sen. Fernandez said.
But opponents _ including media groups from all over Latin America _ call it a death blow for freedom of expression.
"We're convinced that state invervention in this area will cause more trouble than what it pretends to correct," said ADEPA, Argentina's main newspaper trade group.
The Inter-American Press Association put it more bluntly: "This attitude of the government is strange and senseless, because in Argentina there aren't any shortages. The newspapers can freely import paper," its statement said. "That's why we assume that we're facing a government effort to control the media."
It's only the latest move that has put Argentina's dominant media groups on the defensive.
This week, federal police raided Grupo Clarin's Cablevision headquarters at the behest of one judge who demanded that the company be dismantled, while another froze the assets of La Nacion at the request of the federal tax agency. Meanwhile, in criminal court, investigative judges are considering charging the papers' publishers with crimes against humanity, accusing them of conspiring with the military junta to wrest Papel Prensa from a leftist banker's family in 1976.
Follow Michael Warren on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mwarrenap