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Argentina2 July 2008

Radio station’s closure highlights need to replace radio broadcast law

Reporters Without Borders hopes that the forcible closure of Freeway FM, a Buenos Aires province radio station operated by rock music enthusiasts, will stimulate a thorough debate and hasten repeal of a broadcasting law that was adopted under military rule in 1980. The current federal government has promised to replace the law, which was slightly amended during the presidencies of Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989) and Carlos Menem (1989-1999).

“This rock music station was able to broadcast for more than 10 years without the least problem,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The censorship to which it has been subjected strikes us as abrupt and belated, if it is true that it was operating illegally. We also think it is questionable that another station’s complaint is the reason being given for its closure.”

Reporters Without Borders added : “The court order closing the station is based on rules dating from another era, when free expression was heavily regulated if not non-existent. Both the letter and the spirit of Law 22.285 of 15 September 1980 are incompatible with the principle of media diversity. It is hard to understand why this happened to Freeway FM at a time when the country is debating the law’s repeal and replacement.”

Three representatives from the National Communications Commission (CNC), accompanied by three federal police officers, went to Freeway FM studios in San Martín, near the capital, at 10 a.m. on 23 June with a seizure order from San Martín criminal court judge Martina Isabel Forns and confiscated all of its broadcast equipment. The judge issued her order in response to a complaint by radio Disney, which claimed that the frequency used by Freeway FM was too close to its own.

“We are surprised that this is happening to us at the very moment that the drafting of a new law to replace 22.285 is being discussed,” Freeway FM journalist Omar Moreti told Reporters Without Borders, adding that the station was supported by “all sectors - parliamentarians, journalists and unions.”

Law 22.285, the legal basis for the confiscation order, was promulgated when Gen. Jorge Videla was military president. It imposes drastic condition on the creation of radio stations and intervenes in their programme content, requiring that they :

“Contribute to the strengthening of national unity and reinforcement of faith and hope in the Argentine nation’s destiny” (article 14, subsection c). Article 5 required radio stations to “raise the population’s morale” and “preserve Christian morale,” but these clauses were taken out by a 1999 decree. Article 14, subsection e, still urges radio stations to “promote the responsible participation of all inhabitants, especially the Argentine man, in achieving national goals.”

Article 18 says : “Information must be accurate, objective and timely. The content and formulation of news coverage must avoid causing a public shock or collective unrest.” It also says that : “News relating to sordid, colourful or repulsive events must be treated with restraint and sobriety, and must be strictly limited to the facts.” Article 21 bans “programmes or messages of a political partisan nature.”

The requirements for creating a radio station include “having a moral quality and cultural aptitude, both demonstrated by a prior career path that can be objectively verified” (article 45, subsection c). The amendments to the law adopted since the return to democracy in 1983 mainly concern an article 45 provision banning any media group from owning a radio station and TV station at the same time, and two article 46 provisions limiting the number of people who can work for the same radio company to 20.

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