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IAPA deplores court ruling against press freedom

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami - December 10, 2010 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed surprise at a recent court ruling in Peru prohibiting the press from publishing telephone conversations without permission from those involved or from a judge, calling the action "a setback for press freedom."

The ruling, made on December 8 by the Peru Constitutional Court, says that media violating it could face criminal charges and describes tape recordings made surreptitiously as "a violation of the reputation and dignity of every person."

The action came in response to a habeas corpus request filed by the wife of Albert Quimper, at the time the head of the state-owned oil company Petroperú, one of the people implicated in a case of alleged corruption that came to be known as "Petroaudios" - a reference to clandestine recordings of business dealings favoring the Discover Petroleum company.

The Constitutional Court held as unlawful the airing of those recordings in 2008 on the television program "Cuarto Poder" and their publication in the newspaper La República, two media outlets that acted after receiving them from an anonymous source.

IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquín declared, "Regrettably we have before us a setback to the principles defining freedom of the press." He explained that "while it can be understood that freedom has its limits, such as that of privacy, the press has an obligation to reveal matters when they are of public interest and in the common good."

"In this case," added Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Prensa Libre, "firstly, the media did not commit any offense and secondly, they have a moral obligation to report facts that because of their serious nature concern the population at large and the government." He said that evidence of this was that the information disclosed served for the government itself to take corrective action against public corruption, which in fact resulted in the removal of members of the cabinet of President Alan García's government.

For his part, the co-chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, editor of the Uruguayan weekly news magazine Búsqueda, voiced concern that the court ruling goes back to criminal action having been taken against the press, thus representing a setback to the new trend evidenced in the case law laid down by the Inter-American Human Rights Court.

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