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Press Group Criticizes Restrictions

August 18, 1998

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) _ A number of Western Hemisphere nations have long restricted press freedoms with vaguely worded criminal codes and favoritism, said journalists and lawyers meeting here.

``Freedom of the press is the preserver of all other individual freedoms,″ said Danilo Arbilla of Uruguay, coordinator of the Chapultepec Conference, organized by the Inter American Press Association, a hemisphere-wide group of newspaper editors and publishers.

The conference, which began Monday, was called to ratify the Chapultepec Declaration of 1994, which outlined 10 basic principles in the defense of the freedom of expression and freedom of the press throughout the Americas.

The IAPA wants the Chapultepec declaration to become an official document of the Organization of American States, and for its substance to be adopted by countries in the region.

Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez, who spoke at the IAPA’s inaugural session, became the 17th president to sign the declaration and commit to it.

However, despite such verbal support, many countries retain old press laws with criminal penalties, including jail time, even in cases where there is no malice, said Rudy Gonzalez, director of Ultima Hora of Santo Domingo.

``Dictatorships in Latin America fell, but their press laws are still in effect,″ Arbilla said.

Attorney Jairo Lanao said most press laws fail to clearly define ``privacy, intimacy, private life or self-image,″ making it difficult for journalists to publish material that could be construed as violating any of those concepts.

``This gives the judges a lot of discretionary power,″ Lanao said.

The laws, Lanao said, also do not recognize the right to access to information. Or they recognize it in theory, but not in practice.

Other codes hinder the press by restricting the distribution of newsprint, or through favoritism in granting broadcast licenses and official advertising.

A report presented by Lanao cited Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, the United States, Nicaragua, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia and Canada as countries with restrictions on press freedom.

In the United States, the report noted, a judge can decide whether to allow journalists into a courtroom. In Canada, a law says that even a picture cannot be published by a newspaper without the consent of those in it, the report said.

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