18 March 2013

IAPA warns of so-called ‘democratization’ of media in Honduras

Miami (March 18, 2013)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has respectfully asked the Honduras Congress that a planned amendment of the Basic Law of the Telecommunications Industry should take into account “strictly technical and reasonable criteria and international parameters” that govern the regulation of telecommunication services.

It calls on Congress to debate a bill to amend the telecommunications law on the basis of technical and reasonable criteria

Miami (March 18, 2013)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has respectfully asked the Honduras Congress that a planned amendment of the Basic Law of the Telecommunications Industry should take into account “strictly technical and reasonable criteria and international parameters” that govern the regulation of telecommunication services.

At its recent meeting in Puebla, Mexico, the IAPA regretted the political and “disciplinary” nature of the bill to amend that law, drafted by the executive branch of government. Honduras President Porfirio Lobo said that he would be sending the bill to Congress this week.

IAPA President Jaime Mantilla, editor of the Quito, Ecuador, newspaper Hoy, expressed regret that the excuse of “democratizing the media” was being used to impose “new rules of the game and could end up in disciplining and silencing criticism by independent and privately-owned media.”

Mantilla added that “true democratizing” is when an environment is created to increase competition and ownership of privately-owned and independent news media, “the opposite of what can be happening in Honduras.”

The process of the drafting of the executive branch’s legislative bill came within the framework of continual criticisms by President Lobo of the media, which he has accused of conspiracy, serving their own financial interests and damaging the people’s morale.

Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, said that “democratizing the media” was the justification used by many governments in this last decade – those of Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, among other countries – to impose tight controls over independent media and to allow the birth of state monopolies of news media which distort democracy. Among other things the new law would create a “Content Regulatory Commission” which would have a direct influence on the media’s editorial stances. It would prohibit the shareholders of a telecommunications company from participating in other businesses, while it would distribute 33% of frequencies in the public sector, 33% in the private sector and 33% to “community” radio stations. It would set competition rules through a regulatory agency which would give no guarantee of transparency to ensure an adequate distribution of frequencies and supervision unconnected to political influence. The bill would also set absolutely excessive penalties for those breaking the law or its rules, including those that enable confiscation of property, equipment, networks and other assets of companies in the telecommunications sector. It would lay down prior conditions on “accuracy,” “timeliness” and “impartiality,” which would in effect put in place prior censorship. It would also set rules that would violate treaties concerning investment guarantees, international commerce and free trade. At its membership meeting in Puebla the IAPA decided to send a mission to Honduras to observe this planned amendment’s process and to discuss with members of Congress other problems for freedom of expression, especially     violence against journalists and still unpunished crimes. Following is the text of the official IAPA resolution on Honduras that was sent to the Central American country’s Congress: WHEREAS The government is now promoting a reform of the Basic Law of the Telecommunications Industry which violates constitutional provisions and universally accepted principles of freedom of expression and human rights, such as that expressed in article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits prior censorship and restriction of free expression by indirect means, such as the abuse of official control of the radio frequency spectrum; WHEREAS The rules proposed are totally removed from international standards for telecommunications, by establishing arbitrary sanctions, market quotas not based on reasonable criteria, and a regulatory agency that lacks independence and which enjoys great discretion to adjudicate and revoke licenses, as well as for the imposition of sanctions, thus enabling indirect editorial control; WHEREAS Said bill of law contains additional discriminatory provisions against persons who are shareholders in communications media by limiting their corporate participation in companies in other industries; WHEREAS Said reforms are being promoted in the midst of serious questioning of independent media houses by government officials who blame them for the high levels of insecurity that the country is experiencing; WHEREAS Due to the difficult situation that Honduras is going through, the IAPA has been asked to send an international mission to that country. WHEREAS The content of the bill clearly violates principles 1, 2, 5, 7, and 9 of the Declaration of Chapultepec THE MID-YEAR MEETING OF THE IAPA RESOLVES To demand that the Legislature, when considering the bill of law, comply without restriction to universally recognized principles of freedom of expression, particularly those contained in the American Convention on Human Rights, and that it base its decision on strictly technical and reasonable criteria, and in accordance with international parameters that govern the regulation of telecommunications services; To solicit corresponding international spheres of influence so that competent entities may keep watch so that the fundamental principles that the bill violates can be preserved, in particular those tied to freedom of expression and other fundamental guarantees; To express its concern for the negative consequences that the bill, if approved, will have on freedom of expression, diversity, and the sustainability of the media active in the country, particularly due to a lack of a technical regulating authority that is independent and protected from political or any other type of influence; To alert the American and world business communities to the corporate restrictions that discriminate against those who hold shares in communications media companies and other provisions that contradict bilateral and multilateral treaties that guarantee investments and free trade; To demand that the government immediately cease its disqualification of , and stigmatization against, communications media, journalists, and other persons or groups who exercise their right to free expression and dissemination of thought. To deploy an international IAPA mission to Honduras as a continuation of the Association’s visit to Mexico to analyze issues that affect freedom of press in that country. The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. For more information please go to http://www.sipiapa.org.