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Bill in Argentinian legislature could give online platforms power to censor users

This statement was originally published on sipiapa.org on 15 November 2014.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern at a legislative bill in Argentina which it accuses of “contributing to news media becoming judges with the power to censor Internet users,” in contravention of basic principles of freedom of the press and of expression contained in international treaties.

The bill introduced by members of the governing party would require Web sites and digital platforms – blogs, social media, news agencies and traditional media with online pages – to block “the dissemination of messages with discriminatory content … produced by the users,” whether these be opinions, comments or news.

Titled “Discriminatory acts and instruments of human rights; promotion of non-discrimination on the Internet”, the bill would authorize periodic inspections of content by a control agency with the power to apply punishments. These will range from fines to ordering the shutdown of the media concerned or taking away its license to operate when it does not comply with the proposed legal obligation to delete content.

IAPA President Gustavo Mohme expressed surprise at the extent of the bill which goes beyond seeking laudable ends to limit discrimination. “It is clearly an intrusion into editorial content and criteria that any media outlet can have, going to the extreme of turning the media into having be a judge and censor of comments and opinions of users.”

Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, added that this would be a law that curtails the public debate that is generated in the media and to the principles expressed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The control agency would be the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, Racism (INADI), a decentralized agency of the Argentine Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. It would act on its own, or through denunciations made by institutions and users.

Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, added, “Beyond the laudable objective that it is said to be pursuing, as occurred with the anti-discrimination law in Bolivia, the risk is that these laws become double-edged swords, as the governments could use them to pursue and censor critical users and the media that carry those criticisms.”

In its latest resolution regarding “press freedom in the new news media” that dates from 2012, and which it subscribed to along with numerous press freedom organizations in the world, the IAPA rejects any new law to punish offenses of content and opinion. It is argued that governments tend to confuse news, opinions and comments with activities such as discrimination, defamation, incitement to violence and hatred, justification of crime, fraud, pornography or pedophilia, all activities that are regulated and punishable under regular laws.

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