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IAPA condemns "politicised" process surrounding passage of new broadcast law

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami (October 12, 2009) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today criticized the "controversy and politics" surrounding the passage of a new broadcast law in Argentina this weekend and protested the absence of legislation on government abuse in its placement of official advertising, called for in a ruling by the Supreme Court.

The IAPA expressed its support of the news media that criticized the new legislation's content, especially clauses that give the government wide discretionary powers over how the press operates, via an agency that will be mainly composed of members from the executive branch and that will have legal authority to review broadcast licenses every two years.

Controversial aspects of the new Law on Audiovisual Services, passed in the Senate on October 10 with 44 votes in favor and 24 against and unchanged from the version approved by the House of Deputies, include the regulation of cable television channels, federal control over licenses in inland cities with a population of more than 500,000, and the fact that multimedia operations are obligated to relinquish or sell their permits or licenses within a year.

The "undue haste" and the politicking that marked the approval of the new rules could be the reasons for the "lack of real dialogue between politicians and government leaders," said IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón, "as what was seen was a clear intent to 'punish' media, but little to indicate the role of the government in managing information and is responsibility as the one in charge."

Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, was referring to the absence of regulations for the granting of official advertising, thus ignoring the recommendations of the Supreme Court, which in a September 2007 decision ruled that the government may not use public resources to reward or punish news media and called for legislation in this regard.

Beyond the fact that media and organizations plan to have the law declared unconstitutional and the opposition in Congress speaks of amendments after the parliamentary majority changes in December, Santos Calderón said, "It is sad that the controversial and politicized climate distorted the meaning of this piece of legislation, which ended up being revengeful and its proclaimed plurality was left by the wayside. What remains is the feeling that this was an anti-media law, not one that defends the public's right to know."

For his part, the chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, said that the IAPA would remain "on alert regarding this situation," adding that representatives from the Association of Argentine Press Entities (ADEPA), the Association of the Republic of Argentina Inland Newspapers (ADIRA) and the Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA), among other national organizations, will be able to continue discussions at the IAPA General Assembly to be held November 6-10 in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires. "There can be no real plurality unless freedom to do business and other international standards concerning press freedom are guaranteed," Rivard said.

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