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OAS withdraws proposal that would endorse limits on free press

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WASHINGTON, D.C.--In late May, drafters of a "freedom of expression" proposal before the Organization of American States in June withdrew…

WASHINGTON, D.C.–In late May, drafters of a “freedom of expression” proposal before the Organization of American States in June withdrew the measure in the face of criticism that it violated U.S. law and would limit press freedom in Latin America.

The proposal was initially drafted by the United States delegation to OAS, but was amended by representatives of other countries as well.

Article 4 of the proposal stated that “the exercise of freedom of expression entails special duties and responsibilities” and “may be subject to certain restrictions previously and expressly established under domestic law and international obligations.” Critics say the draft also endorsed laws that let governments set standards for fairness and truth in reporting.

The draft resolution, which was to be submitted at the OAS General Assembly June 6-8 in Guatemala, will be sent to a working group for further revisions so it can be considered by the General Assembly sessions in Canada in 2000. Victor Marrero, the U.S. ambassador to the OAS, said the “draft may contain some ambiguities which should be clarified.”

The draft was written and introduced by the American mission to the OAS last year and was modified by some of the governments most hostile to press freedom, including Mexico and Peru. Press freedom groups were not consulted.

The World Press Freedom Committee argued that “provisions of the this Declaration as presently drafted are unnecessary, dangerous to a free press [and] in conflict with the United States Constitution.” The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is an affiliate of the WPFC.

In late May, the U.S. government was urged by several organization, including the Inter American Press Association and the WPFC, to reject the proposal. According to the WPFC, “the draft Declaration would seem to fly in the face of both State Department precedents and the long-held views of leading press freedom organizations. . . . We also feel it is not for government or organizations of governments to take it upon themselves to require that news media comply with ‘standards that define ethical conduct and professional responsibilities.'” (Draft Resolution Inter-American Declaration on Freedom of Expression)