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Argentina9 January 2002

Bill to decriminalise press law violations submitted to parliament

In a letter to Senate Speaker Juan Carlos Maqueda and Chamber of Deputies Speaker Eduardo Oscar Camaño, RSF asked them to include in their agenda the approval of a bill to decriminalise press law violations, in order to ensure that the bill is adopted into law as soon as possible. To come into effect, the text, signed by former president Rodríguez Saá, must be voted on in parliament. "The Argentine authorities are being presented with the opportunity to make their country the first Latin-American nation to decriminalise press law violations," underlined RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "As such, Argentina would respect its international press freedom commitments," he added. According to Article 10 of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, "the protection of a person’s reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions". RSF also addressed the leaders of parliamentary groups, asking them to approve the bill.

According to information collected by RSF, on 27 December 2001, former Argentine president Saá signed a bill, originally proposed by the Argentine press freedom organisation PERIODISTAS, to decriminalise press law violations. The bill was sent to both houses, which must both approve it. It stipulates that press law violations will henceforth only be subject to civil, rather than criminal, proceedings. It also provides for the incorporation into Argentine jurisprudence of the principle of "real malice", as defined by the United States Supreme Court ("New York Times vs. Sullivan" case, 1964). This notion establishes that a plaintiff must establish proof that a news item distributed by a journalist was false and was published with full knowledge of the facts. The U.S. Supreme Court’s writ also recognises that freedom of information takes precedence over the defence of civil servants’ honour. Finally, the bill incorporates the Campillay doctrine into Argentine legislation, which establishes that the exact reproduction of a news item, duly accompanied by a reference to the original source, does not make the journalist who reports the story responsible for its accuracy, and is therefore not punishable under the law.

In October 1999, the Argentine government had given its commitment to the IACHR and PERIODISTAS to decriminalise press law violations. This was to be made possible by making the civil and penal codes conform to the principles on the protection of freedom of expression as established in the country’s constitution and in international human rights treaties signed by Argentina. Though it has been on the Senate’s agenda since 1999, the bill was not examined within the assigned two-year time limit.

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