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IAPA concerned at bill that would "legalise" media self-regulation

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami (February 4, 2010) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern and astonishment at a bill before the National Assembly of Panama that would establish a national agency to oversee the self-regulation of news media.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Dalia Bernal of the governing Cambio Democrático party, originally intended to reactivate a Censorship Board that existed during Panama's dictatorship, but later it was made clear that the proposed new agency would not censor, but rather set norms and oversee media self-regulation.

After a self-regulation agreement governing programming and public criticism of President Ricardo Martinelli was reactivated by the country's leading television channels, Rep. Bernal called for the measure to be extended to newspapers and radio stations.

IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre expressed surprise "at this initiative which demonstrates troublesome government interference and encroachment on editorial positions and independence from officials that news media must maintain."

"We want to make it quite clear," added Aguirre, managing editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Américas, "We are not opposed to the application and promotion of ethical values in the work of the press, in fact we promote them. What we cannot accept is that they be imposed by the government or by any other entity outside the press." He stressed that when rules are imposed, the concept of self-regulation is distorted and "what exists is regulation pure and simple."

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, declared that "government infringement into journalistic ethics" is simply "a step backwards for press freedom."

Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, stated that imposition of ethical standards on the news media goes against international press freedom standards and cited the IAPA-sponsored Declaration of Chapultepec and the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression, a document drawn up by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, whose Article 6 states that ". . . Journalistic activities must be guided by ethical conduct, which should in no case be imposed by the State."

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