Argentine journalists worry proposed bill could land them in jail for revealing information about potential tax evasion

Journalistic associations and professionals in Argentina warn that a bill pending in the legislature threatens freedom of expression in the country. If the initiative is passed, reporters who disclose names and information of people who could be involved in crimes of money laundering and tax evasion could be arrested.

The article that has been the target of harsh criticism concerns part of the bill proposed on May 31 of this year that establishes guidelines for granting amnesty to those who settle tax debts.

The article in question prohibits third parties from disclosing information related to tax returns made voluntary by taxpayers. The punishments for those who violate the rule include prison (one month to two years) and a fine equal to the value of goods declared by the taxpayer whose information has been disclosed.

During a meeting with media professionals to celebrate the Day of the Journalist on June 8, Argentina President Mauricio Macri said that the rule was proposed to “respect people’s privacy,” but he said there was a possibility that the rule could be revised, Clarín reported.

Also at the meeting, Chief of Staff Marcos Peña said that the rule “is not against journalists, and has to do with [keeping] tax secrecy,” according to La Nación.

Journalistic associations in Argentina declared their opposition to the bill and said that such a measure curtails freedom of expression and the right to information.

According to the Association of Argentine Journalistic Entities (Adepa for its initials in Spanish), such an imposition reflects a matrix of state thought that privileges secrecy and criminalizes activities related to investigative journalism.

“Rules like those proposed are harmful to freedom of expression in general and freedom of the press in particular, and they criminalize journalistic work,” the association said in a press release.

For the Forum of Argentina Journalism (Fopea), the article “affects journalistic work and fosters self-censorship,” depriving the journalist from disseminating information of public interest.

By extending the obligation of tax secrecy not only to government officials but also any individual generically referred to as a “third party,” this rule restricts the right to information, according to the Argentine Federation of Press Workers (Fatpren).

“We will not allow for…them to try to intimidate us into not informing society of any information that we can obtain about people who evaded taxes and absconded with money with damaging consequences for our country, despite the fact that a government gleefully decides to condone these crimes committed by the most powerful sectors of the economy.”

Argentina is ranked eighth in countries with the highest volume of capital abroad, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. It is estimated that Argentines have between $374 million and $400 million overseas. Only half of this amount is properly declared, according to the publication Perfil.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.