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IAPA concerned at government bid to control newsprint production

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, December 2, 2009 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed deep concern at Argentine government measures against the country's leading producer of newsprint, claiming that the acts conceal the underlying intention that by controlling supply flows the intent is to control the press.

Papel Prensa, local supplier to the majority of Argentine newspapers, was taken to the economic crimes court last week by Interior Commerce Minister Guillermo Moreno and charged with "administrative irregularities" that allegedly occurred during two Board meetings. The company's major shareholders are the Buenos Aires newspapers Clarín and La Nación which, together, control 71.5% of the company's stock. The government, the minority shareholder, has been showing hostility towards the two papers in recent months.

According to Moreno, who represents the government on the board, the alleged irregularities are detailed in the minutes of two November 4th electoral meetings which were altered and failed to reflect what had really occurred chronologically. Moreno is due to appear before the economic crimes court on December 9 to present his case. In addition to his charge, Economy Minister Amado Boudou has accused Clarín and La Nación of mismanaging Papel Prensa to the detriment of the state.

IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre declared that beyond the board's administrative procedures, "what greatly concerns us are the actions against the company, just at the time we were denouncing a government offensive against the Argentine press that includes an attempt to manipulate the newsprint manufacturer as a way to gain control over the print media that is critical of the government."

Aguirre, deputy editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Américas, noted that the IAPA has repeatedly spoken out against governments applying pressure on the media by impeding the circulation or imposing restrictions on the import of supplies. "It appears to be no mere coincidence," he added, "that recently in Argentina there has been a series of confrontations between the government and the press - ranging from the new Communications Law to libel campaigns - as well as efforts to intimidate the media, such as blocking the distribution of papers or sudden tax audits without due process being observed."

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, expressed fear that "as in many other countries, the Argentine government wants to control media content through control of the print media's distribution and production channels, just as it has managed to (exert its control over the) electronic media with its new Communications Law."

The two IAPA officers declared that the organization bases its position on Principle 5 of the Declaration of Chapultepec, which states, " . . . restrictions on the circulation of the media or dissemination of their reports, forced publication of information, the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of news, and restrictions on the activities and movements of journalists directly contradict freedom of the press."

Aguirre and Rivard referred to the resolution adopted by the IAPA membership at the recent General Assembly in Buenos Aires, later sent to Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner for her consideration, in which the organization "urges the Argentine government to act to ensure the unfettered practice of journalism within a framework of democracy and peaceful coexistence."

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