Freedom of Expression

Press Release 35/00


The OAS's Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Dr. Santiago A. Canton, states his concern about a legislative proposal made by Argentine Senator Augusto Alasino calling for "the unrestrained exercise of freedom of expression" to be rejected in cases when reporting would cause "harm to reputations and personal standing."

The proposal, which was submitted to Argentina's Senate Committee on Freedom of Expression, urges that legislative body's other committees to debate legislative bills covering the right of reply and the secrecy of journalistic sources, and it also calls for "freedom of expression to be exercised responsibly." Dr. Santiago A. Canton believes that this proposal represents a backward step in the defense of free expression that Argentina has pursued in recent years with the repeal of its "desacato" contempt laws and the drafting of a bill to decriminalize libel and slander-an initiative that arose from a friendly settlement reached by the Argentine State and the petitioning journalists in which the two sides had asked the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression to mediate.

In addition, Dr. Canton notes the provisions of Principles 10 and 11 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, as recently adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:
10. . . . 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. . . .
11. Public officials are subject to greater scrutiny by society. Laws that penalize offensive expressions directed at public officials, generally known as "desacato laws," restrict freedom of expression and the right to information.

Finally, Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Argentina is a party, warrants being quoted in connection with this matter. The text repudiates all actions aimed at silencing free expression, by stating clearly that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one's choice."

Santiago A. Canton
Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
November 22, 2000 Washington, D.C.