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Politicians, journalists and government officials jointly recommend reforms to defamation and access to information laws

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is an 11 May 2007 IAPA press release:

IAPA welcomes political will in El Salvador to enact access law, repeal insult law
Salvadoran President Elías Antonio Saca, in an allusion to plight of Venezuela's RCTV, assails stance of 'governments that are canceling broadcast licenses'

MIAMI, Florida (May 11, 2007) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today welcomed the outcome of a legislative conference held in El Salvador on May 8 in which political leaders, journalists and members of the three branches of government declared a need for that Central American country to enact a law ensuring access to public records, repeal its insult law and pass legislation to decriminalize libel and defamation.

The keynote speaker at the event, El Salvador's President Elías Antonio Saca, praised the work of the IAPA and the consensus among various sectors it had achieved that morning, and in a speech rich in declarations about the role of the press in society, said that journalists must be watchdogs over politicians, "because if they are not, they leave society defenseless."

In a clear allusion to problems in Venezuela, where the government continues with its aim of cancelling the broadcast license of RCTV television station, President Saca said, "We must keep an eye on governments that are cancelling operational licenses and restricting the freedom of news media that point out abuse of power and excesses of the government of the day."

Saca, a journalist himself who, as El Salvador's chief of state, signed the IAPA-sponsored Declaration of Chapultepec in 2004, reaffirmed his pledge to defend press freedom and issued a call to not allow the enemies of liberty to make a mockery of the virtues of the system in order to achieve the ambitions for political power that they have been unable to achieve by democratic means. "If we are going to fill the gaps in the law so as to enrich the framework of press freedom, let us also be sure that it is so as to guarantee and consolidate the values of the democratic system," he declared.

During the IAPA conference, held under the auspices of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, a group of public officials, federal lawmakers, journalists and media editors agreed that legislative reforms are needed to enable the expansion of free speech, press freedom and the public's right to know.

Working groups drew up a document containing a series of recommendations which were delivered to Legislative Assembly President Ruben Orellana and other national congressmen. Orellana and El Salvador Supreme Court Chief Justice Agustín García Calderón signed the Declaration of Chapultepec during a special ceremony, to which the public was invited.

The IAPA was represented by José Roberto Dutriz, La Prensa Gráfica; Enrique Altamirano, El Diario de Hoy; Juan José Borja, El Mundo; Asdrúbal Aguiar, former justice of the Inter-American Human Rights Court and a member of the IAPA Chapultepec Committee; Executive Director Julio E. Muñoz; Press Freedom Director Ricardo Trotti, and Chapultepec Project Manager Sally Zamudio.

Text of the recommendations:

Access to Public Information:

Legislation is needed, the law on governmental ethics being regarded as not sufficient and codification being needed that brings together the various regulations on the matter, concerning protection of personal details (habeas data) and the responsibility of officials. The IAPA presented other recommendations made in Washington, D.C., on May 11, 2004.

Repeal of the insult law and decriminalization of libel and defamation.

Regarding contempt (insult), it remains an offense under criminal law, contrary to international standards, and legislative action is therefore needed to eliminate it.

Preferential treatment for public officials is contrary to the principles of equal treatment among citizens and goes against the principle of public scrutiny of government action in a democracy.

The legal protection and interpretation of case law that editors and journalists rely upon in exercising freedom of the press under current law in El Salvador shows gaps and regulatory vagueness susceptible of weakening such protections.

Reform of the relevant criminal law is needed, as is adjustment of civil law to bring it into conformity with international standards.

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