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Argentina4 September 2007

One year work ban slapped on journalist in "shameful" and "dangerous" court ruling

Reporters Without Borders today protested against a one-year suspended prison sentence and a one year professional ban imposed yesterday on radio and news agency proprietor Sergio Poma for “insulting” Juan Carlos Romero, governor of Salta, in north-western Argentina, whom he had accused of malpractice.

Carlos Romero laid a complaint against Poma, of radio FM Noticias, after he accused him of fraud on the programme “Usted Opina”. The journalist also accused the governor of irregularities in funding his 2003 election campaign.

The political ally of former president Carlos Menem allegedly received financial support from the Fundación Argentina Solidaria to which his private secretary Angel Torres and Romero’s wife belong.

“Even a suspended prison sentence for a press offence seems excessive,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “Even supposing Juan Carlos Romero to have been in his rights, a fine would have been quite enough.”

“Banning Sergio Poma from doing his job is a “shameful and dangerous” decision. What can justify punishing a journalist by robbing him of his right to speak? Above all a decision like this, if upheld, could make jurisprudence and push the press into self-censorship. It therefore represents an obstruction to press freedom and we call on broadcast regulator COMFER, to which the case has already been referred, to annul it while waiting for a possible appeal ruling,” it concluded.

The court which handed down the sentence sent the case to COMFER, which is supposed to rule on any further sanctions against Sergio Poma. The judge also ordered that the conviction should be reported in the regional press.

Members of the journalist’s family greeted the verdict by insulting the magistrates and singing songs against the governor. Poma’s lawyer said the ban on his client working was “censorship”

Carlos Romero had called for an “exemplary” sentence so that “the journalist understands there are limits”. It is the second time he has brought a case against Poma in similar circumstances. In 2003 the journalist was sentenced to a six-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay the governor 20,000 pesos (about 4,600 euros) damages for “insults” and “libel”. Poma is currently facing another complaint for the same reason, brought by Angel Torres.

A few days before the court ruling, journalist Carlos Del Frade was threatened with prison for condemning in the monthly El Eslabón in August 2005 the unjustified closure of the daily El Ciudadano, in Rosario, Santa de Fe province. The proprietor, Eduardo López, also president of a first division football club, brought a case against the journalist for “libel”, “insults” and incitement to extortion”.



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