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ARTICLE 19 reviews free expression and the law in 2011

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 01 Mar 2012 - This statement highlights the major legal developments relating to freedom of expression and information in Latin American and Caribbean countries in 2011. They include new laws, bills, rules and decisions made by national Supreme Courts.

The trends were mixed in the region in 2011. On the positive side:

The Supreme Court of Bermuda ruled that defamation was unconstitutional and a number of nations took steps towards decriminalising defamation including Mexico, El Salvador, Peru and Jamaica.

The Argentina and Mexico Supreme Courts made strong decisions on limiting discrimination in awarding government advertising. Brazil, El Salvador and Guyana all adopted right to information acts, leaving only a few countries in the region without a law. Five countries adopted comprehensive data protection laws giving individuals a right to access, correct and control the use of their personal information held by public and private bodies.

However, there were also negative trends:

- A number of countries, including Bolivia and Venezuela, adopted new telecommunications laws giving the governments strong powers over broadcasting and the internet.
- Most countries failed to act decisively to improve their legal structures for fighting impunity.

This statement covers these developments in greater detail and explains ARTICLE 19's positions on the issues.


Almost all the national constitutions across the region recognise freedom of expression. In 2011, only a few countries proposed changes to their constitutions which substantially affect freedom of expression.

Brazil: On 30 November, the Senate approved a bill (by a vote of 65 to 7) to modify the Constitution to require journalists to have a college degree in journalism. The bill overturns the 2009 decision of the Supreme Federal Tribunal, which ruled that provisions of the media law were unconstitutional. The new bill was supported by some journalist groups. ARTICLE 19 believes that this proposal is unwise, as it sets arbitrary limits on who can practice journalism and violates principle 6 of the Inter-American Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression.

Mexico: In November, the Chamber of Deputies approved a bill to amend Article 73 of the Constitution, making crimes against freedom of expression, information and the press subject to federal – rather than exclusively national - jurisdiction.[ii] The new bill allows federal investigation and, therefore, offers enhanced protection to journalists in states where the local authorities refuse or fail to investigate crimes against the media. ARTICLE 19 welcomed the bill as being necessary to address impunity in states which fail to adequately investigate crimes against journalists.


In 2011, numerous bills to regulate the media and impose new punishments for restricted speech were introduced in the region. Most of the bills were rejected following public opposition.

Brazil: In May, the Commission on Constitution, Justice and Citizenship of the Lower House of Congress approved a bill which criminalises the publication of leaked confidential information about official investigations.

Ecuador: In May, a constitutional referendum was held, calling on the National Assembly to create a new council to regulate the media. The referendum was approved by a small majority, though there were allegations of voter fraud. A new Communication Bill to create a council to regulate the media is now being considered by the National Assembly.

Nicaragua: In January, the Nicaraguan Supreme Court submitted a draft bill to the National Assembly, creating a new criminal offence of “media violence” for those who publish materials which “offend, injure, satirise, degrade a woman for the fact that she is a woman.” The bill was withdrawn a week later.

Panama: In September, a bill to regulate journalists was introduced. The bill required all journalists to be Panamanian citizens and have a university degree in journalism and set a salary structure. The bill was withdrawn shortly after its introduction.

Peru: In July, the Supreme Court sent a proposal to Congress for a bill that would prohibit the media from publishing information gathered by illegal wiretaps or photographs. The bill recommended sentences of three to six years. The bill included a public interest defence if illegal wiretaps of photographs are used to prevent or stop a criminal offence.


Click here to read the full report

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