April 7, 2000
His Excellency Alberto K. Fujimori
President of the Republic of Peru
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to protest the outrageous fine of 290,000 soles (US$84,000) that the National Elections Board recently imposed on the television station Canal N after it inadvertently broadcast results of the most recent election polls. Article 191 of Peru's Organic Law of Elections prohibits the publication of poll results less than 15 days before the election.
On the evening of Wednesday, April 5, Canal N aired a live broadcast of a political panel discussion from the International Press Center in Lima. Before the discussion began, Canal N advised all participants that they should not cite poll results on the air. One panelist, who had arrived too late to hear the warning, nonetheless quoted recent polls to support his analysis. Since it was a live broadcast, Canal N was not in a position to edit out the remarks.
CPJ believes that Article 191 inhibits the full exercise of press freedom, and is concerned in this specific case that Canal N is being punished for an unintentional violation. In addition, Canal N, which has been critical of Your Excellency's government, appears to have been assessed a much higher fine than other stations accused of such infractions. In 1995, a television station that committed a similar error was fined only 29,000 soles, one-tenth the fine imposed on Canal N.
With the presidential election scheduled for Sunday, April 9, the fining of Canal N is the latest in a series of press freedom violations documented by CPJ. In a letter sent to Your Excellency on February 22, CPJ condemned the court-ordered confiscation of broadcast equipment belonging to the independent radio station Radio 1160. On March 17, we issued a press release criticizing a highly dubious lawsuit filed against the independent newspaper El Comercio by supporters of your government, shortly after the paper reported on allegations that Your Excellency's campaign staff was responsible for forging more than one million signatures in order to register you as a candidate.
Meanwhile, many other critical voices have been silenced altogether. Authorities have effectively censored journalist César Hildebrandt by shutting down his station Radio 1160 along with his television program, "Enlace Global." Reporters from Hildebrandt's newspaper Liberaci--n, meanwhile, have been denied accreditation to cover the campaign. And in the last few months, at least five other radio journalists have been threatened for criticizing your government and the Perú 2000 party, according to CPJ's research.
A free press is essential to the functioning of any democracy, and this is especially true at a time when the Peruvian people are choosing their next leader. Unless this condition is met, the legitimacy of the electoral process can be called into question.
Ann K. Cooper