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IAPA rejects Congress's attempt to criminalise press act

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, June 25, 2010 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today condemned a bill by Peru's Congress to create a "new and special press offense" that would imprison decision-makers of any news medium that publishes obscene or pornographic material, claiming that such a step would violate freedom of the press.

On June 22 the Congressional Justice Commission approved a bill that would punish editors, publishers or anyone responsible for disseminating obscene or pornographic content "in newspapers, magazines, posters, brochures, radio, television or other media that produce a similar effect." They would face imprisonment of not less than two years or more than six years, says the bill proposed by Congressman Ricardo Belmont Cassinelli.

The bill would amend Article 183 of Chapter 11 of the Penal Code, which deals with offenses to public decency by adding a clause making "the publication in audiovisual news media of obscene and pornographic matter" a punishable offense.

IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre expressed surprise at the legislative action, despite the legislators' good intentions, stating "it violates principles concerning freedom of the press by creating a special press offense when there should be no press offenses under consideration, rather those committed through the media, and those are governed by the country's existing laws that regulate such activities."

Aguirre, editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Américas, added, "If this stands, Peru will penalize journalists and news media, going against the international trend in press freedom which no longer views actions committed through the press as criminal offenses." The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, declared, "This is a broad legislation that will bring problems of interpretation to define the differences between what is obscene and what is erotic."

Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, said that this initiative "could be used to censor, lynch and shut down the media when regulations are already in place." He compared it with Venezuela's Law on Social Responsibility, described as a simple set of rules for the protection of minors but which "ended up turning into a tool to shut down news media."

The IAPA officers added their opinion to those of other groups dedicated to press freedom, such as the Peruvian Press Council, which are calling for wider debate on the issue and asked legislators to bear in mind that on matters of social relevance they are required to listen to many and diverse views in order to legislate wisely and considering above all that freedom of expression must not be jeopardized.

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