MIAMI, Florida (December 11, 2018)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed surprise and bafflement at the discussion in Colombia of a legislative bill that would re-establish obligatory guild membership by journalists, an issue that more than 30 years ago was ruled out by the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
If Law 234, which went into second debate in the Senate, is passed it would create a Professional Council which "would have the role of studying and approving requests presented by those who want to work as journalists." This Council would also "have the power to suspend temporarily, or even definitively, the credentials of those who engage in social communications, without greater criteria and limitations."
IAPA President María Elvira Domínguez, editor of the Cali, Colombia, newspaper El País, declared that "this envisaged law takes us back more than three decades, when obligatory guild membership and its mechanisms were used by governments and power groups to neutralize uncomfortable journalists." She added that she is concerned that there be an entity that could decide what contents and what editorial stances are appropriate. "This kind of decisions can easily turn into censorship," she said.
The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Roberto Rock, editor of the Mexican news portal La Silla Rota, recalled that in 1985 the Inter-American Human Rights Court issued an advisory opinion in which it declared as "incompatible" the obligatory guild membership of journalists with the American Convention on Human Rights, specifically in its Article 13 which favors access by any person "to the full use of news media," whether "as a vehicle to express oneself or to transmit information."Rock added that the legal initiative "completely censures new generations of journalists who rely on new technologies and social networks to exercise their rights and freedoms to inform and be informed."
Domínguez and Rock issued a public call for there to be put aside this legislative initiative which discriminates all individuals from freedom of expression and violates principles of press freedom.
The Inter-American Human Rights Court issued the opinion at the request of the Costa Rican government and through the IAPA, basing itself also on Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which establishes that every person, not only journalists, has the right to freedom of opinion and of expression and to exercise it by any means of expression. After the 1985 opinion the figure of obligatory guild membership began to become extinguished in the majority of the countries of Latin America.
Domínguez and Rock stated that the IAPA does not oppose any kind of professionalization or association of journalists, but made clear that it should always be of a voluntary nature as established by Article 8 of the Declaration of Chapultepec: "The membership of journalists in guilds, their affiliation to professional and trade associations and the affiliation of the media with business groups must be strictly voluntary."
The IAPA http://www.sipiapa.org 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 publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida.