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Proposed electoral reform must protect people's right to know, IAPA tells Congress

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 30 November 2007 IAPA press release:

Planned electoral reform must protect people's right to know, IAPA tells Mexico Congress

MIAMI, Florida (November 30, 2007) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today reminded the National Congress of Mexico that regulations governing a planned electoral reform currently under debate and due to be enacted on December 13 must ensure that "the fundamental principles of freedom of expression and the people's right to know are observed."

The appeal by the hemispheric free press organization is contained in a resolution adopted at its General Assembly held here in October. It is in response to the passage of a constitutional amendment that includes control over election publicity in online news media and the granting of powers to the country's political parties in this. Both the electoral reform and the regulations concerning it have given rise to a sharp controversy over the controls and penalties to be imposed on media that contravene what the Federal Electoral Institute may stipulate and the rules set out in the Federal Code of Electoral Institutions and Procedures.

The controversy concerning free speech and press freedom issues centers on the control that political parties will have over election publicity and the guidelines that they will be able to impose. The attention of lawmakers has also been drawn to the ambiguity existing concerning penalties, as it is feared that these could affect the media's editorial content beyond political publicity as such.

Yesterday there was a lack of a quorum needed for debate in Congress. It is expected that the regulations governing the reform, which were introduced in the Senate, will begin to be discussed next Tuesday.

IAPA President Earl Maucker and the chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gonzalo Marroquín, stressed that "while an attempt is being made to bring order to the matter of elections, what is needed is for the legislators to take into account that in such an effort there should be no impairment of the necessary guarantees of freedom of expression that must exist for citizens to feel that their right to know is being respected."

Maucker, senior vice president and editor of the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, newspaper South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and Marroquín, editor of Prensa Libre newspaper of Guatemala City, Guatemala, recalled the special request that the IAPA had made to the Mexican national legislature in October, adding, "With the current debate in Congress and the imminent passage of the regulations, we must reiterate our concern."

The IAPA resolution they referred to states that the organization resolves "to ask the National Congress to ensure that in the establishment of regulations governing the approved electoral reform, any ambiguity that may exist in the constitutional amendment be removed, so that there may not be any shadow regarding freedom of expression in the practice of politics in Mexico, and that both this and respect for the right of citizens to know may be duly defended by the legislature."

In the resolution's preamble, the IAPA expressed its concern over one of the most debated points regarding the constitutional changes, declaring "that part of the reform that prohibits persons or public and private institutions from contracting or broadcasting messages on radio and television that seek to influence voters' choices, or favor or are detrimental to any party or candidate in a popular election, is a limitation of freedom of expression."

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