25 March 2014


Threats and discussions on the state of press freedom in Peru increased during the last six months. The Law on Informational Offenses: The government has enacted Law 30171, which amended Law 30096, it being passed by Congress in October 2013. However, the new piece of legislation does not amend paragraph 2 of Article 11 which increases the prison sentence by up to one third above the legal maximum set for offenses covered by this law, in the case of the person committing the offense through the use of his or her special position for access to classified data or information or being aware of this information by reason of holding a post or carrying out a function. In application of this article a public official who denounces an unlawful action could be committing the offense contemplated in the Article 7, which refers to “interception of information data,” with punishment of imprisonment of not less than three years or more than six years. The amended wording does not, once again, include “public interest” as justifying the offense. Cases of physical aggression, death threats and judicial harassment of journalists and news media in reprisal for denunciations of public officials, authorities or organized crime have increased in several parts of the country. We call the attention of authorities of the Attorney General’s Office and the Judicial Branch of Government to the indiscriminate and biased admission by the courts of civil and criminal lawsuits against journalists and news media, in particular by the self-styled “Orellana Group” of businessman Rodolfo Orellana Rengifo, the object of an investigation by the Organized Crime Specialist Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Peruvian Congress and numerous news media regarding the offenses of money-laundering, trafficking in land, fraud and unlawful association to commit crime. Peru’s Press and Society Institute (IPYS) and the Peruvian Press Council have complained that the lawsuits filed by Orellana and Benedicto Jiménez (his lawyer) are a pattern of judicial harassment of the independent press in an attempt to silence its investigations. Also a matter of intense debate is the alleged concentration of ownership of the printed press, as a result of the association between the Grupo El Comercio group and the Grupo Epensa group, two of the three leading national newspaper chains, in August 2013. Being discussed is whether the commercial operation has any impact on freedom of expression and pluralism of news media. Other citizens – Enrique Zileri Gibson, Mirko Lauer Holoubeck, Rosa María Palacios, Augusto Álvarez Rodrich, Luz María Helguero, Fernando Valencia, Mario Saavedra Piñón and Gustavo Mohme – have filed a constitutional protection suit against El Comercio and Epensa, seeking the annulment of the commercial operation, based on Article 61 of the Peruvian Constitution, arguing that it has given rise to controlling 78% of ownership and circulation and nearly 90% of the total national sales of advertising in newspapers. This situation fatally damages free competition and freedom of expression, they say. On the other hand, the Grupo El Comercio group argues that there is no such concentration because the two now associated companies “continue to manage their contents independently,” that each company “continues to practice its own principles and journalistic values” and that “the risks for press freedom are only suppositions” and that the association does not affect pluralism. In particular, Luis Agois, Board chairman of Epensa, says that “news production, dealing with content and editorial stance are in the hands of the Agois family. Of the commercial and industrial side El Comercio has 54% and of the news side the Agois family has 100%.” In December Peruvian President Ollanta Humala described as “shameful” the fact that in Peru “we are having one group that is practically the owner of news media.” He added that the buyout ”… for now is not illegal,” which was interpreted as a signal that the Executive Branch will prepare a law to regulate news media. The President said that the alleged concentration should be debated in Congress.  The three main newspapers of the groups in conflict (El Comercio, Correo and La República) published editorials opposing the President’s statement. The chairman of the Inter American Press Association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, called on the Peruvian President “to have his government stay outside the dispute so that it can be debated in the corresponding bodies” and he welcomed the public statements made by Justice Minister Daniel Figallo, who denied that the Executive Branch is preparing a law on the matter. In its turn, the Peruvian Press Council has rejected any external attempt to regulate information and opinion and has reiterated its commitment to self-regulation of the press.