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IAPA highlights media implications of proposed law on teenagers and children

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, July 30, 2010 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today raised doubts about a bill in Colombia's Congress that would severely punish news outlets and even shut down media that break the law regarding specific information about teenagers and young children.

The bill, currently under review by the justice department, was drawn up by the State's Council - Information and Civil Service Bureau, an administrative judicial agency, in response to an order issued on July 4 2009 by the Constitutional Court mandating Congress to regulate news media responsibilities in accordance with the Code on Childhood and Adolescence.

A letter signed by IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre and the chairman of the organization's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, urges the Colombian judiciary to reconsider the regulations before sending the bill to Congress in order to avoid the restriction of press freedom, in particular via penalties that include temporary suspension, closure and stiff fines.

Aguirre, editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Americas, and Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, expressed concern that "this bill could lead to serious consequences, such as direct censorship, since it leaves interpretation to the discretion of administrative officials (Communication Ministry) who will rule on conflicts arising over the news value of the facts and the very mission of the media," which "could end up resulting in prior censorship, with serious consequences."

According to Aguirre and Rivard, the impression is that the proposed law "would place responsibility for the facts on the news media, whose main responsibility is to communicate and report on them and whose obligation it is to challenge society and the authorities with an agenda and public debate which, while they may not be socially accepted, are essential in the formation of public opinion and enrich society with varied points of view."

They also questioned the intent to impose the same regulations across the board on news media without taking into consideration differences; for example, in the case of the print media "that is regulated by general laws, they do not come under the same rules that govern the airwaves which the government is required to manage."

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