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IAPA trusts that law regulating newsprint will be declared unconstitutional

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, December 23, 2011 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today described as "malicious" attempts by the government of Argentina to control press freedom through the adoption of a law on the manufacture, sale and marketing of newsprint, and said it trusted that the judiciary would annul a "law that is clearly unconstitutional because of its subjugation of principles concerning freedom of expression."

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme, said the organization "regretted the move by the government against freedom of the press," in reaction to the passage yesterday of the law, which declares the production, sale and distribution of newsprint to be of public interest.

Mohme added, "Now all we can do is hope that the affected parties resort to the courts, and we are sure that an eventual ruling will not ignore the fact that this law contravenes Article 32 of the Argentine Constitution and principles in Inter-American case law that prohibit the enactment of laws that restrict the free expression of ideas."

The law, passed by the federal Senate with 41 votes in favour, 26 against and one abstention, regulates, via the Economy Ministry, the pricing, marketing and production of this input for newspapers, whose principal manufacturer in the country is the Papel Prensa company, in which the newspapers Clarín and La Nación are partners, along with the state as minority shareholder.

The IAPA had already on numerous occasions complained about the legal and administrative actions that the government was taking against Papel Prensa, which it called "malicious attempts" to control press freedom.

The IAPA also expressed surprise this week at other developments affecting Argentine newspapers, which it suspects were not isolated incidents.

In this regard, it voiced concern at the December 20 court-ordered raid on and seizure of the Buenos Aires headquarters of the cable television channel Cablevisión, a company belonging to the Clarín Group, saying it was an act of excessive public force in a conflict which, if it exists, should be resolved by more appropriate means.

The raid, in which 50 armed members of the military police took part, was carried out based on a court order resulting from a formal complaint filed by the media group Vila-Manzano of the Argentine province of Mendoza, against the merger of the Clarín Group channels Cablevisión and Multicanal, based on an allegation of "abuse of a dominant position". The merger of the channels was authorized in 2007 but overturned in 2010. The legal action also involves the takeover of the company for one year and the separation of the channels within 60 days.

The IAPA also noted with concern another court order, issued on December 22, concerning the assets of the Buenos Aires newspaper La Nación and another 22 Argentine papers. At the request of the Federal Public Revenue Administration (AFIP), a federal taxation judge issued a general injunction concerning the assets of La Nación over a long-standing tax debt controversy. The Supreme Court had in 2009 ruled in favor of the newspaper companies and suspended payment of the debt, an action that was not taken into account by the judge who this week ordered the freezing of assets.

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