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Argentina27 May 2002

Reporters Without Borders concerned about bill before Senate

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern today about a bill before the Argentine Senate that would impose jail sentences for unauthorised broadcasting. "There is nothing wrong with regulating radio and TV operations, but under no circumstances can exercising the right to inform the public be treated as a criminal offence," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Senate president Juan Carlos Maqueda. "We ask you to see that no provision for jail sentences features in the final version of the bill and that the bill is passed in an open manner."

The measure was proposed because radio broadcasts interfered with the automatic landing system at Buenos Aires airport. Although this was caused by legally-operating radio stations, Reporters Without Borders is alarmed that the bill covers stations that may have nothing to do with this situation. Ménard asked that the communications and freedom of expression committees of parliament consider the bill and that civil society groups be consulted.

The proposed amendment to the criminal code conflicts with the UN document adopted in January 2000 in which the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression said clearly that imprisonment for peacefully expressing an opinion is a serious violation of human rights. The measure before the Senate would punish the illegal use of radio frequencies and consists of three new articles, including Article 197b which provides for up to two years in jail for those responsible for illegal radio and TV broadcasting. The airport landing system was disturbed several times, putting planes and passengers at risk. They were initially blamed on "unauthorised" radio broadcasts but authorised stations were also found to be involved, stations that continued broadcasting despite warnings from the national communications commission. The bill was debated by Parliament last October, but the neither the relevant parliamentary committees nor representatives of the sectors concerned were consulted.

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