Parliament may repeal controversial information law

New York, July 25, 2001–After a firestorm of criticism from the Paraguayan press, Parliament has announced plans to repeal a controversial new access to information law that severely restricts the ability of journalists to obtain public records.

President Luis González Macchi signed Law 1728 on Administrative Transparency and Free Access to Information on July 16. The law ostensibly codifies Article 28 of the Paraguayan Constitution, which states that public sources of information “are free to all.”

In fact, Law 1728 makes it extremely difficult for journalists to obtain any public records and leaves a dangerous amount of discretion in the hands of the president and other officials. For example, the law gives the president unlimited power to restrict the release of information that could damage “national defense or the security of the State or international relations.”

Moreover, ongoing investigations into the conduct of public officials are entirely shielded from public scrutiny, as is access to information about government purchases that could give rise to “speculation.”

Paraguayan journalists contend that public officials could take advantage of Law 1728 to hinder or delay newspaper investigations into corruption, and that the complicated bureaucratic procedures provided for obtaining official information hamper the media’s ability to report news.

In response to these criticisms, the parliamentary deputy who sponsored the original legislation promised to amend it, according to local press reports. And President González Macchi has been quoted in the Paraguayan press as saying that he did not examine the bill before signing it, because he delegated that task to one of his aides.

On July 19, Senator Juan Carlos Galaverna introduced a bill to repeal Law 1728. On July 23, the Constitutional Affairs Commission passed the bill by a 7-2 vote. It goes to the Senate floor next week and then to the Chamber of Deputies for a final vote.

“CPJ is pleased that Paraguayan government officials listened to the many legitimate arguments against Law 1728,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We hope that any future legislation will not interfere with the right of Paraguayan journalists to cover matters of obvious national concern.”