Strong Disapproval of Bill limiting Freedom of Expression

Fundación LED (Libertad de Expresión + Democracia) strongly disapproves of the Bill which was introduced at the House of Representatives under number 7379-D on September 18, authorizing Instituto Nacional contra la Discriminación, la Xenofobia y el Racismo (INADI – National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism) to shut down any Internet platforms accepting user comments containing discriminatory messages.

In this sense, please note that:

As an organization committed to spreading and defending Human Rights in their broadest meaning, Fundación LED condemns any type of discriminatory act or conduct against any person or group of persons on account of their beliefs, sex or religion.

Nevertheless, violating freedom of expression (including free access to information and freedom of opinion) with the purpose of safeguarding respect for diversity (that should prevail in any democratic society and which has been recognized by the Argentine Supreme Court of Justice and given a preeminent place in the country´s institutional agenda) is unacceptable. Indeed, on occasion of the Constitutional Reform, respect for diversity was expressly recognized by the 1994 Constitutional Convention (Article 75, sections 22 and 23 of the Argentine Constitution).

In the “Campillay” case the Supreme Court developed a doctrine whereby, on certain occasions, nobody may be held criminally or civilly liable when reproducing statements made by somebody else. To this effect, the source of such information must have been identified and the statements in question must have been faithfully transcribed in essence. The origin of the information is thus transparent and the readers may trace it back to the news media outlet from which it was obtained. The “Sujarchuk” case ruling is clear about the Campillay doctrine in that no media owner may be held liable for merely posting an opinion in a blog when the source from which it was obtained has been expressly identified.

Empowering the INADI to impose sanctions which can go as far as cancelling concessions and shutting down media disclosing third party contents considered discriminatory constitutes a clear limitation of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of press enshrined in the Argentine Constitution and in the international Treaties incorporated in it and expressly recognized by the Supreme Court of Justice of Argentina.

Subsections c) and d) of Section 9 of the Bill signed by Frente para la Victoria (the ruling party) representatives Diana Conti, Remo Carlotto, Jorge Rivas, Mónica Contrera and Walter Santillán grant the agency powers to “shut down facilities or suspend the service in question for up to a THIRTY (30) day term”, as well as to take other actions against the media outlet on which sanctions were imposed, eventually resulting in “loosing concessions, privileges, special tax or credit schemes granted” to it.

Clearly, within the rule of law, the only place to solve tensions arising from statements made by somebody and considered harmful to somebody else´s integrity or intimacy, or which might constitute some kind of offence or crime, is in a Court of Law.

The powers to be granted to INADI under the Bill in question may therefore turn into a tool for direct or indirect censorship, inconsistent with our democratic system and clearly unconstitutional.

At present, the Internet is the place where all ideas and opinions are voiced with great freedom. Fundación LED strives for this to keep being possible, favoring the development of a society every day more informed and plural.

Fundación LED´s position in this sense is crystal clear, the validity of freedom of expression must be guaranteed in every possible way, the Internet being no exception whatsoever.

Internet website managers have opinion publishing policies seeking to safeguard legitimate user rights and interests. As in so many cases, self-regulation has proved useful, with acceptable results, and is worthy of consideration.

The incorporation of punitive rules imposed by a government agency will no doubt result in restrictions on the free circulation of ideas and opinions in the Internet.

In December 2013, the province of Entre Ríos promoted a similar law, which was condemned by Fundación LED and other organizations devoted to safeguarding freedom of expression. The Bill introduced by Representative Almará provided that, in the event of “civil unrest,” the Executive is entitled to block social network contents “in order to prevent social disruptions.”

Initiatives of this type violate citizen rights, establishing an inadmissible “guardianship system” over the freedom to publish and voice contents, ideas or opinions by any means, as set forth in the Human Rights Treaties which have been incorporated in our Constitution.

Fundación LED shall keep on disseminating and defending the right to freedom of expression and to freedom of press, and shall keep on striving so that all the media may serve as a vehicle enabling the free circulation of ideas and opinions.