September 17, 2002
Juan Carlos Maqueda
Provisional President of the Senate
Republic of Argentina
Via fascimile: +54-11-4379-5858
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed about legislation currently before the Argentine Senate. The bill proposes adding three articles to the Penal Code that would criminalize operating a radio station without a license, putting at risk the thousands of stations currently broadcasting without permission.
One of the articles proposed, Article 197bis, states that “Those who without the authorization of the Federal Broadcasting Committee (COMFER), carry out permanent or temporary radio or TV broadcasting activities, or reproduce them without permission by those duly authorized to broadcast them, shall be punished by one month to one year’s imprisonment and special disqualification for twice the term of the conviction.”
The bill obtained swift approval in the Chamber of Deputies in October 2001, with little debate and without the participation of concerned parties, according to Argentine press freedom and community media organizations.
On September 4, the bill was discussed in the full Senate after the Senate’s Penal Affairs and Prison Regimes Committee and the Communications Committee approved it. Faced with lack of consensus on the bill, senators sent the bill back to the committees for further discussion. The full Senate is scheduled to take up the measure again on Wednesday, September 18.
Representatives of the “unauthorized” community radio stations have tried for years to achieve legal status and have insisted that Argentina needs a broadcasting law that is consistent with the democratic system the country now has in place. They claim that Argentina has an array of outdated, sometimes contradictory decrees, resolutions, and laws_some of them promulgated under dictatorial regimes_that regulate radio and TV broadcasting.
Many of these radio stations have been awaiting broadcast licenses for years, but the government has not responded to their requests. Others have remained on the air without a license and have developed a loyal audience. Politicians have used these radio stations for electoral campaigning, and many of them receive government advertising.
While we recognize that airwaves are a limited public resource that must be regulated, the goal of such regulation should be to ensure that the public has access to the widest variety of news, opinion, and information possible. Argentine society, which is going through a profound social, political, and economic crisis, needs more voices, not fewer, to discuss issues of public concern.
For these reasons, we urge the Argentine senate to develop legislation that regulates the airwaves while ensuring that community and other small radio stations that have served the public for many years are able to operate legally.