Peruvian Congress assesses bill that would prohibit private media from receiving state advertising

The Permanent Commission of the Peruvian Congress is evaluating a new bill that attempts to restrict state advertising only to national media and social networks. Private media would no longer receive state advertising.

Bill 2133, presented by congressman Mauricio Mulder of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), aims to control the spending of the Executive Branch in relation to state advertising in order to optimize the expenditure of resources. The purpose of the proposed law, according to its author, is for state spending to always be for the benefit of the country and not to serve particular political interests, El Comercio published.

"We are representatives of the people and we must defend the money of Peruvians. We have to demand that this Government ensure that the money of Peruvians (...) is for health, education and development elements, and not for this kind of thing," Mulder said, according to El Comercio, referring to the state advertising spending carried out under the current government of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who has low approval ratings.

The legislative project that should have been previously evaluated by experts of the parliamentary commission of the Ministry of Transport and Communications did not obtain any opinion from that commission because the bill was exempt from evaluation. The Council of Spokespersons of Congress approved that the project go directly to being evaluated by the Permanent Commission of the parliament, upon whose approval the bill’s passage would be imminent, according to an editorial in Peru21.

Various organizations that defend freedoms of the press and of expression, as well as representatives of the government, have spoken against the controversial bill from the APRA party.

The Peruvian Press Council (CPP, for its acronym in Spanish), through a Jan. 15 press release addressed to the president of the Congress, requested the bill be archived due to being inappropriate and unnecessary because there is already a law that regulates state advertising that respects international standards. Instead, the Council proposed regulating the existing law based on "an open and transparent debate."

The CPP also criticized that the bill has not been debated in the usual commission of the Ministry of Transport and Communications before being evaluated by the Permanent Commission of Congress.

In this regard, Mulder said that the bill was not seen by the transport and communications commission because it is quite busy "with other types of issues," AméricaTV reported. He pointed out that he would have preferred his bill be reviewed by the Budget and Economy commission, since that is the main objective of his proposal, which seeks greater control over state spending with regards to state advertising.

The current legislation that regulates state advertising, Law 28874, was enacted in 2006 by then-President Alan García, founder and leader of the political party to which Mulder belongs.

For the Press and Society Institute (Ipys) of Peru, the bill threatens citizens’ right to information and expression by proposing the use of state prohibitions that violate Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

Article 13 of the Convention states that the right to freedom of thought and expression cannot be restricted through the abuse of official controls over the media, which serve to disseminate information, circulate ideas and opinions. These rights, according to the article, can not be subject to prior censorship.

State entities, the IPYS press release stressed, should use the media that best serve their communication needs, considering the type of audience and diversity they need to reach. "Limiting this publicity to state media and social networks leads to the collapse and breach of that obligation,” which, according to Ipys, could create an “unsustainable” climate of misinformation.

In mid-November 2017, after the disputed bill was presented, several State institutions voiced their disagreement with it.

In this regard, the head of the Ombudsman's Office, Walter Gutiérrez, said that the bill was badly formulated and that it should be reformulated, El Comercio published.

Gutiérrez said that the proposed legislation implies serious restrictions for citizens’ right to information since in a great part of the country, mostly in rural and popular areas, they continue to use radio and local newspapers as their sole means of obtaining information.

"Prohibiting the use of private media is an error, and pretending that only social networks are used means ignoring what the INEI establishes, that close to 40 percent of the population does not access the Internet on a daily basis," Gutiérrez told El Comercio.

The president of the Judiciary, Duberlí Rodríguez, also did not agree with the rule prohibiting state advertising in private media because there should be no limitations in that regard, La República published.

"It seems to me that this does not reflect the tradition of Peru, nor of any country in the world. (...) If the Judiciary publishes press releases about what we are doing, there should not be any mechanism that limits that possibility," Rodríguez said, according to La República.

Likewise, when the questioned bill was presented at the end of 2017, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) also rejected the initiative.

Roberto Rock, president of IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, said that "with the apparent intention of regulating state spending, this absurd proposal damages the right to free competition." "The State must offer the media the conditions to develop its work under laws that give transparency to the criteria for advertising allocation," Rock said.

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.