Miami (November 23, 2009)–The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) welcomed an Argentine decision to no longer make libel and slander criminal offenses when they involve matters of public interest, saying the decision “sets an important precedent for the press to be able to work freely, without restrictions or fears.”
The Argentine Senate on November 19 passed, by unanimous vote, a law that amends the Penal Code on libel and slander, eliminating imprisonment as a penalty and providing for fines instead. The bill, an initiative of President Cristina Kirchner, had been passed by the Chamber of Deputies on October 28.
IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre, managing editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Américas, expressed pleasure at the passage of the bill, which he said “is in line with our ongoing demand that national laws on press and speech conform to inter-American judicial standards.”
For his part, the chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, declared, “This is a significant achievement because it enables journalists to work freely, without restriction, fear, or having to censor themselves in order to avoid being sent to jail when they investigate complex matters that involve public officials or issues of public interest.”
The Inter-American Human Rights Commission’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression states in Article 10 that “The protection of a person’s reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions in those cases in which the person offended is a public official, a public person or a private person who has voluntarily become involved in matters of public interest.”
The decision to eliminate libel and slander as criminal offenses in Argentina was in response to a recommendation by the Inter-American Human Rights Court in a May 26, 2008 ruling against the government, following a formal complaint filed by Argentine journalist Eduardo Kimel who had been sentenced by the Supreme Court to a year in prison, but granted parole, and ordered to pay reparations.
Kimel had written a book in November 1989 in which he criticized the conduct of a judge in connection with an investigation into the murder of five members of a religious order.
Argentina now joins El Salvador, Mexico and Uruguay where defamation is a non-criminal offense.