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IAPA concerned over plans for governmental "media observatory"

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is an IAPA press release:

The IAPA expresses concern over plans for governmental "media observatory" in Argentina

Miami (April 9, 2008) - The Inter American Press Association expressed its concern today over the Argentine government's announced plans to set up an agency to monitor the media.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández called this week on public universities and the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) to resume efforts to create a "media observatory," which would work to "ensure that the media accommodate all opinions." The president's announcement came after her repeated criticism of the media as a whole for its coverage of the nationwide farmers' strike. While the exact nature of the observatory's work has yet to be announced, several officials explained that it would not be authorized to assess penalties.

"We always go on alert whenever the government intervenes in a way that can undermine press freedom," said IAPA President Earl Maucker, senior vice-president and editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "The Argentine press features a rich variety of opinions, and so we do not understand why the government seeks to intervene in matters that are the exclusive concern of civil society."

Gonzalo Marroquín, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, said the Argentine government should take other measures to bolster press freedom, as the IAPA has been urging. "During the previous administration," said Marroquín, editor of the Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre, "we sent two missions to Argentina and requested several times that the government cease its discriminatory treatment of the media and its use of advertising and other perks as ways of punishing or rewarding media outlets and journalists. With this announcement, we fear that these practices will continue under this administration."

Both Maucker and Marroquín agree that "if the government truly wants a wider variety of voices in the media, it should stop seeking subtle ways of exerting control through such 'observatories' and instead should have Congress resume the debate on a freedom of information law that would enhance freedom of speech in Argentina."

They added that stronger protections are needed to help journalists do a better job of serving the public's right to be informed, which is essential to democracy and the common good. Along these lines, Maucker and Marroquín expressed support for the statements of concern issued by the Association of Argentine Journalistic Organizations (ADEPA) and the Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA).

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