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WPFC condemns blocking of papers' Sunday editions

(WPFC/IFEX) - Washington, DC, USA, March 29, 2011 - The World Press Freedom Committee of Freedom House, an international organization representing 45 press freedom groups from throughout the world, expressed condemnation of the blocking of the Sunday editions of Argentina's two largest newspapers, Clarín and La Nación, on March 27.

The workers at the Artes Gráficas Rioplatenses printing and distribution plant, owned by the Clarín Group, kept the edition of La Nación from being distributed for four hours, after which it finally reached the newsstands. The blocking of the Clarín edition, on the other hand, lasted for 12 hours, effectively preventing the newspaper from reaching its readers.

The workers at the plant said that the print blockage was done to protest an alleged ongoing conflict with their employer, Clarín Group, which they accuse of harassing the union membership. Clarín Group, on the other hand, denied the existence of such a conflict and said that the action was aimed at silencing criticism against the government of President Cristina Fernández.

"In any instance, this is an unacceptable act of censorship against two media outlets that all too often have been the target of government harassment in retaliation for their criticism of President Fernández," said Javier Sierra, projects director of the World Press Freedom Committee. "It also is the most notorious instance in a long chain of similar actions on the part of workers belonging to unions affiliated with the party in power."

The Clarín Group took the workers to court in January, and the judges ruled that the free circulation and distribution of the newspaper must be guaranteed.

Only one member of the Fernández cabinet, Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo, has indicated that "any attack on freedom of expression" is unacceptable. But the entire administration has adopted the position that this is simply a labor conflict and has ostensibly washed its hands of it.

WPFC agrees with the OAS's Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, which in a report titled "A Hemispheric Agenda for the Defense of Freedom of Expression" declares that the State is not only responsible for respecting the right to free expression but also it must keep private citizens from violating it.

"The Argentine State must act decisively to investigate whether the court order was ignored, and if that is the case, as it seems, it must apply the necessary sanctions to keep these kinds of attacks on press freedom from happening again," continued Sierra. "The incident is not only an attack on press freedom, but it also violates the public's right to know about issues of social relevance, just as it is defined by Art. 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, of which Argentina is a signatory."

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