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Mexico20 April 2006

Law reform gives protection of sources and decriminalises press offences

Reporters Without Borders hails as a “victory for press freedom” law reform that will allow journalists to protect their sources and decriminalise press offences such as defamation.

Parliamentarians approved partial reform of the criminal code on 18 April, already backed by the Senate, which will allow protection of sources. Deputies also adopted another amendment which will decriminalise press offices, which will shortly go before the upper house.

“This amendment to the law marks a victory for press freedom in Mexico, considering the pre-eminence of federal law over state laws, “ the press freedom organisation said.

“We await with impatience the Senate’s approval of decriminalisation of press offences that will put an end to the astonishing inconsistency in penalties imposed from one state to another against journalists found guilty of defamation or insult.

“We also hope that the Mexican example will prove an inspiration to the United States, where 38 states recognise a journalist’s right to protect sources, which is denied to them at federal level.”

“But this legislative progress should not allow anyone to forget that the biggest problem facing the press in Mexico is violence and impunity,“ said Reporters Without Borders.

The chamber of deputies of the federal parliament voted on 18 April 2006 to allow various professionals including journalists, lawyers, doctors and religious ministers to protect confidentiality.

“They cannot be forced to produce information they may have if they are called before any particular authority,” it was said in the chamber. The new law lays down a prison sentence of up to ten years and a fine from 1,000 to 2,000 days for any official who “forces one of the professionals involved to produce information obtained as part of their job.”

Deputies also voted an amendment on offences of insult, defamation or slander abolishing what it termed “prison sentences for those who abuse freedom of expression, leaving open the possibility of a third party seeking redress for moral wrong through civil law”. This judicial novelty, which has yet to receive Senate backing, means the decriminalisation of press offences.

The criminal code in the 32 Mexican states currently lays down prison sentences for offences of defamation, insult or slander. Maximum penalties for defamation are: -one year in prison in Guanajuato and Morelos states.
-  two years in prison in Lower California, Campeche, Chihuahua, Federal District, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Nayarit, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Yucatán and Zacatecas states.
-  three years prison in Aguascalientes, Coahuila, Colima, Durango, Guerrero, México, Michoacán, Nuevo León and Tabasco states.
-  four years prison in Southern Lower California, Puebla and Veracruz states.
-  five years prison in Oaxaca state.
-  nine years prison and a fine of the equivalent of one thousand times the minimum salary in Chiapas state.

In Jalisco and Guerrero states, there is no penalty if the offending party is the holder of a public office and if the offence is connected with that person’s work.

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