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New libel standards would protect freedom of the press, says Argentine journalists' union

The Press Union of Rosario (SPR in Spanish) defended its proposal to add the standard of "actual malice" to the Argentine civil code on Sept. 4, reported the organization's website.

According to the SPR, the proposed bill would protect freedom of expression, the right to information and the relationship that exists between these rights and democracy. The union's proposal was heard by the Chamber of Deputies' Bicameral Commission for Reform, Updating and Unification of the Nation's Civil and Commercial Laws.

The United States Supreme Court established the standard of actual malice, a cornerstone of freedom of the press, in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. The newspaper published an article that misreported the number of times civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. had been arrested in Alabama and the error was interpreted as libel by the Montgomery Public Safety commissioner, L. B. Sullivan. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state cannot "award damages to a public official for defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves 'actual malice' -- that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.'"

While libel and slander were struck from the criminal code in Argentina at the request of the the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, they still stand in the civil code, reported the website Redacción Rosario. SPR Assistant Secretary Alicia Simeoni told the website that the persistence of libel in the civil code forces the Argentine press to censor itself and not pursue certain investigations.

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.

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