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IAPA concerned over government's plan to create a national news media watchdog group

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 5 December 2008 IAPA press release:

Honduras announcement on media watchdog raises concern for IAPA

Miami (December 5, 2008). - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today voiced concern at a plan by the government of Honduras to sponsor the creation of a national news media watchdog whose objective would be to assess and keep an eye on editorial content.

Minister of the Presidency Enrique Flores Lanza announced that President Manuel Zelaya's government is promoting "the setting up of a national watchdog on news media, in which different sectors of society could assess how news of national interest is handled objectively and professionally or, on the contrary, is manipulated, tendentious and irresponsible."

IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, declared, "It is not the responsibility of the government to oversee, assess or evaluate the content of information that the media disseminate. When the authorities assume the role of watchdogs over the press they act contrary to freedom of expression and freedom of the press guaranteed under the constitutions of our hemisphere, and such action thus becomes an interference."

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, editor and executive vice president of the Texas-based San Antonio Express-News, said, "Governments should govern for the people that have elected them and allow the press to freely and independently serve the public without interference. Any attempt to regulate the individual actions of a journalist or control the media in any manner is an unhealthy step and one that is contrary to the values of a democratic society."

The Presidency Minister said the watchdog unit would be made up of various community organizations and would not be run by the government. He added that the body would have as its goal the production of reports on "the manner in which some news media conduct themselves" and "it will determine which news media outlets become enemies of the general interests of the population by tendentiously manipulating information and systematically harming the image not of the government but of the country."

The IAPA earlier this year warned of an attempt by the Argentine government to create a similar media watchdog group. Following public debate and criticism by international free speech and human rights organizations the government finally dropped the idea.

For further information on the attempt to create a media watchdog group in Argentina, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92509

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