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IAPA condemns censorship of Colombian daily, attempt to search Argentine newspaper's offices

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, June 23, 2011 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today openly called on officials of the Colombian province of Magdalena to look into the censorship to which the local newspaper El Heraldo was subjected when its Sunday edition was bought up by unidentified individuals from sales kiosks in the provincial capital of Santa Marta. According to information gathered by executives of the newspaper, the action could have been in response to the publication of a report titled "La teleraña mafiosa de Magdalena" (The Magdalena Mafia Spider's Web), written by reporter Oscar Montes, which described alleged links, within the electoral process, between local politicians and people under investigation or convicted for being involved in paramilitary activities.

IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquín, president of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Siglo 21, called on the relevant authorities "to investigate and determine responsibilities so that such acts do not occur again," arguing that reprisals for publishing information and restrictions to the free circulation of media, as noted in the Declaration of Chapultepec, "represent a flagrant violation of the people's right to know."

Argentina

In another development, the chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, expressed the organization's satisfaction at a court ruling in Argentina which denied the issuance of a search warrant that a prosecutor intended to use to seize news reports from the archives of the newspaper La Nueva Provincia in Bahía Blanca, a city in southern Buenos Aires province.

Public prosecutor Abel Córdoba had sought to obtain information regarding criminal acts committed more than 30 years ago, arguing that the newspaper was believed to have hidden or manipulated evidence.

Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, expressed surprise at this "peculiar request, as what is published by a newspaper is in the public domain so there is no need to resort to the courts."

Both Rivard and Marroquín said they were concerned that the public prosecutor had wanted to look into the files of the paper's reporters or executives, which as a general rule, both under national law and in international treaties, are safeguarded by principles of professional secrecy and protection of sources.

"We are concerned," they added, "that this implausible action may be part of a strategy with political ends that could be copied by other public prosecutors to meddle with the guiding principles of press freedom, which were duly defended and protected by the Bahía Federal Chamber that blocked the prosecutor's attempt."

Inflation indices

Also in Argentina, in response to complaints it received, the IAPA expressed concern at developments affecting freedom of expression in regard to fines and threats of legal action levied by the federal Commerce Ministry at those in charge of 12 local bodies devoted to economic research and the production of inflation indices.

The concern is based on a controversy, echoed in the federal Congress, over substantial differences in the inflation indices of these independent agencies from those produced by the National Statistics and Census Institute (INDEC in its Spanish-language acronym).

The IAPA officers said that, beyond the formal regulations that might exist for producing such indices, what should be taken into special account is the freedom that every individual must have to seek and distribute information, a fundamental freedom established under Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

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