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IAPA renews its rejection of interference by government in newsprint production

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, December 14, 2011 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today stressed its concern and rejection of further government action in Argentina on the production, sale and distribution of newsprint in declaring the supply as being of "public interest". The organization said this was a violation of fundamental principles of press freedom established in the Declaration of Chapultepec, in international treaties that the South American nation has signed and in Article 32 of the Argentine Constitution.

Five committees of the Chamber of Deputies at an extraordinary session yesterday approved a bill declaring the manufacture, commercialization and distribution of newsprint for newspapers to be of public interest. It was expected that the measure, adopted by the Commerce, Communications and Computer Science, Freedom of Expression, Constitutional Affairs, and Petitions, Powers and Regulations Committees, would be passed by the full lower house this week and that before year-end it would go to the Senate for final adoption.

This bill had already been introduced last year by the Executive Branch in a controversial move which pitted the federal government against the newspapers Clarín and La Nación, the majority shareholders, together with the government, in the Papel Prensa newsprint factory. The bill, in addition to declaring newsprint as being of public interest, sets criteria for pricing, commercialization and production to satisfy newspapers' internal demand through a regulatory agency controlled by the Economy Ministry.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme, said that "this attitude of the government is strange and makes no sense, given that in Argentina there is no shortage of supply, newspapers can freely import newsprint and this kind of regulation does not apply to other industries," so "we presume that what we have before us is a government maneuver to control the media".

Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, went on to say, "Our concern lies in the fact that this possible control law based on the concept of so-called public interest could be used to expropriate the company and, even worse, turn it into a potential tool to control on a whim any or all media in the future."
Mohme insisted that the duty of the government is to deregulate regarding press freedom. "In this case it should encourage mechanisms to enable more newsprint factories to be built and provide guarantees of access to this and other supplies, whether at a national level or abroad."

The IAPA regards control of the production of supplies for the media as violating essential press freedom principles as enshrined in the Declaration of Chapultepec and violates Article 32 of the Argentine Constitution, which prohibits the enactment of laws contrary to freedom of the press.

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