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Controversial bill would restrict freedom of opinion, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders urges legislators to reject a government bill submitted to parliament on 19 August 2009 that would toughen the provisions regulating the publication of corrections and retractions in the media and would increase the penalties for violators. The bill applies to all kinds of media, including online media.

"This bill, which is still pending examination, is both questionable and inopportune," Reporters Without Borders said. "It would hold the media systematically responsible before the civil courts, not only for the facts they report but also for the views that are expressed though them, often by outside contributors, and which they do not necessarily share."

The press freedom organisation added: "This bodes ill for the future of public debate and comes at a time when media critical of the government are being subjected to a great deal of pressure. The adoption of this law would exacerbate an already unfavourable situation."

Presented to parliament by Mercedes Cabanillas, a former interior minister who now chairs parliament's constitutional commission, proposed law 2971/2008-CR aims to guarantee "the right to a correction for anyone affected by inaccurate or insulting statements in the print, broadcast or electronic media."

It would apply not only to the allegation of facts deemed to be defamatory, but also to opinions. Writing in the daily "La República", human rights lawyer Alejandro Godoy noted that President Alan García recently complained about the criticism he was receiving in many blogs. The bill stipulates that if a correction to a contentious statement is demanded within seven days, the correction must be printed, posted or broadcast within the following three days, instead of ten days as the law currently stipulates.

The National Association of Journalists (ANP) has reacted angrily to the controversial bill, saying it "reinforces a tacit desire by the political class to silence all forms of journalistic criticism and opinion by means of legislative changes." The ANP statement mentions two media in Amazonas department that have been targeted by the authorities since an outbreak of indigenous unrest in June.

One, Radio Oriente, is under constant surveillance. The other, a radio station called La Voz de Bagua Grande, was closed down in an entirely illegal manner. Reporters Without Borders has urged the government to allow it to reopen but its requests have received no answer.

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