Telecommunications bill would create agency to regulate media content in Honduras

A bill proposed in Honduras would create an organization to regulate media content, according to La Prensa.

The Committee for Free Expression (C-Libre in Spanish) prepared the bill and sent it to President Porfirio Lobo for his approval, according to the president's website.

Among other things, the bill would establish a media regulatory commission called the National Council of Communication Ethics that would have the power to determine if content published by the media is suitable for the public and could levy sanctions against media organizations that violate ethics and industry norms, according to article 63 of the bill. The proposed agency would have to release a manual explaining what kinds of programming are unethical. The commission would receive state funding and consist of representatives selected by the executive branch, civil society, academia, and the National Association of Parents, according to Villavision TV.

The bill also aims to hold media organizations responsible for reader comments posted on their websites and prohibit media consolidation and monopolization.

Several groups expressed their unease with the bill, arguing that the proposed agency would limit free expression. Deputy Wenceslao Lara said that any attempt to censor the press would leave the public "blind and deaf" to the country's problems, according to La Prensa. Lawyer Rafael Padilla, of the Anti-corruption Lawyers' Bar, also spoke out against the measure, saying, "Freedom of expression, as it functions now in Honduras, is the only guarantee people have to accuse, justice, [and] the spreading of ideas and opinions."

In response, C-Libre released a statement explaining that the bill intends to promote access to radio and television frequencies and create new media organizations with a social role based on ethical principles. "We have written and submitted a new Telecommunications Law to the public that we knew would cause debate and disagreements among some sectors but also [garner] support and solidarity from others, and that, naturally, we would face criticism," the organization said.

On its website, C-Libre published interviews with experts arguing that it is necessary to regulate media organizations that publish violent images because they harm society.

The President of Honduras set Friday, Feb. 15, to meet with representatives from the media and 25 civil society organizations to discuss reforms proposed for the Telecommunications Law and revision to the Freedom of Expression and Opinion Law, according to the newspaper La Tribuna. Among those invited were groups that oppose to law, including the Journalists' Unions of Honduras, the Inter American Press Association, the Honduran Press Association, the National Media Association, the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras, the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights and the Center for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victimes.

The National Congress could approve the media bill in the coming months, according to the news agency Notimex.

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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