CPJ urges Argentine municipal government to reopen newspaper plant

New York, August 7, 2007

Mayor Mónica De La Quintana
Bv. Urquiza 517
San Lorenzo, Santa Fe

Via facsimile: 54-3476-422650

Dear Mayor De la Quintana,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to express deep concern about the closure of the San Lorenzo-based daily El Observador’s printing plant ordered by your government in late July, which prompted the paper to stop publishing. CPJ believes the decision violates freedom of expression as enshrined in the Argentine constitution and in the provincial constitution of Santa Fe.

At 3 a.m. on July 25, San Lorenzo officials and police shut down and sealed off a building used as a printing facility by El Observador. You alleged that the decision stemmed from a request by the San Lorenzo city council, which had called for an investigation to determine if the printing facilities were authorized for commercial use, the Argentine press said.  

The daily’s owner and editor Andrés Sharretta told CPJ that the printing facilities have been operating for more than five years. After the paper acquired new equipment in late 2006, Sharretta said he requested a new permit from the local government. While the request is being processed, the printing facility is operating with a provisional permit provided by the local secretary of Public Works.

Sharretta said he was never notified by the government about the closure. There were no preliminary inspections or administrative procedures, said the paper’s lawyer Alfredo Olivera. On July 26, El Observador requested an injunction, which is still pending before the local appeals court.

While you called the decision an administrative act, Sharretta and Argentine free press advocates argue that the closure is an attempt to shut down a media outlet that is an outspoken critic of the local government. 
El Observador is the only paper in San Lorenzo, a city of 45,000 in the central province of Santa Fe. The paper started as a weekly in 1999, and has been published from Mondays to Saturdays since 2002. Sharretta, who was a candidate for mayor in 2001, described the paper’s editorial line as in opposition to the local government. The paper has reported aggressively on alleged corruption.

The closure of El Observador violates the right to free expression as guaranteed in the Argentine constitution. Article 14 of the constitution establishes that “all citizens have the right to express their ideas through the media without prior censorship.” It also contradicts article 11 of the provincial constitution of Santa Fe, which states: “… the press should not be subjected to decrees or censorship or to measures that could indirectly restrict its freedom… It is not possible to shut down printing plants or affect their facilities while a [judicial] process is under way.”

Your decision also violates the spirit of Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, ratified by Argentina, which stipulates that “the right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint…”

This action by your government deprives citizens in San Lorenzo of their constitutional right to seek and receive information. Public officials in San Lorenzo must show tolerance to points of view that differ from those of your administration. We urge you to immediately reverse the decision and allow El Observador to resume publishing. 

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.

Joel Simon
Executive Director