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IAPA hails repeal of university degree requirement in Brazil, welcomes Mexico Supreme Court decision to overturn special safeguards for public officials

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami (June 19, 2009). - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today welcomed Brazil's elimination of the requirement to have a university degree to practice journalism and stated that the ruling "is consistent with international freedom of expression standards" and fulfills "an ambition long-held by our organization."

On June 17, Brazil's Supreme Court abolished a legal regulation dating from 1969 that required journalists to hold a university degree in journalism and required mandatory union membership in order to practice the profession, an obligation that the justices held to be unconstitutional and "a direct interference in freedom of expression."

IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, expressed "our deepest satisfaction that this long-standing goal has been met, one that favors a diverse and varied press that will not discriminate against anyone's ability, whatever his condition, to exercise freedom of expression and the press, a fundamental right of every human being."

Robert Rivard, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, added that the IAPA is in favor of an increasingly professional and responsible press. "We are not against having a university degree or being a member of a professional trade association, quite the opposite, but it is our position that those requirements cannot be mandatory," he said.

For decades the IAPA has fought against mandatory licensing of journalists in organizations based on Principle 8 of the IAPA-inspired Declaration of Chapultepec, which states "The membership of journalists in guilds, their affiliation to professional and trade associations and the affiliation of the media with business groups must be strictly voluntary."

One of the most important legal decisions to set a precedent for repeal of similar laws throughout the Western Hemisphere was the 1985 Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, originated by the IAPA through the government of Costa Rica. The opinion established that requirements for mandatory membership in professional guilds, licenses or obligatory university degrees in journalism constitute a serious limitation of freedom of expression and of the press and are, therefore, not compatible with Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

Mandatory requirements against journalists still apply in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Court ruling in Mexico

The IAPA also hailed a decision by the Mexico Supreme Court that found a state law protecting public officials from press criticism to be unconstitutional.

In a June 17 ruling, the Court declared the 1951 Press Law of the State of Guanajuato unconstitutional, thus overturning a lower court sentencing of José Sacramento Orozco Herrera, editor of the newspaper La Antorcha in Acámbaro, Guanajuato. In January 2008, Orozco Herrera was sentenced to three years' prison for libeling the former mayor of that city, Antonio Novoa Acevedo.

Supreme Court justices held that "the rights to reputation and privacy of public officials are in general less extensive and enduring when freedom of expression is involved, due to the importance of the capability that the news media and public opinion in general need to exhaustively scrutinize the activities of government employees and officials." In this way the justices' decision was in line with inter-American standards concerning freedom of expression.

La Antorcha had published an interview with the mayor's former chauffeur revealing that Novoa Acevedo benefited personally from misuse of municipal funds and the work of public employees. The mayor filed criminal charges against the newspaper, alleging the published information had discredited him and thus damaged his reputation.

The IAPA recalled that in 2007 the offenses of defamation, libel and slander were removed from the Federal Penal Code, an action that has yet to be adopted by many Mexican states.

As part of the activities of its Chapultepec and Impunity projects, the IAPA, in conjunction with the Supreme Court and other entities within the legal system, will hold a national forum to discuss the application of inter-American standards concerning freedom of expression and of the press in Mexican case law, in Mexico City on August 12-14.

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