March 26, 2010
Group tells Netherlands not to restrict the media

An international organization has called on the government of the Netherlands Antilles to halt plans to enact a media law.{{more}}

The mid-year meeting of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) on Monday issued a resolution calling on the government of Prime Minister Emily De Jongh-Elhage to “prevent the enactment of any regulations that could restrict, directly or indirectly, the operation and content of the media and in general the people’s freedom of expression and information.”

Prime Minister De Jongh-Elhage, in an address on Saturday, March 20, to the IAPA meeting held in Aruba, announced that a media law for the Netherlands Antilles is “in its final stages and will be approved by parliament in the very near future.”

De Jongh-Elhage, who is prime minister of Curacao, St. Maarten, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, said that the law was being introduced so that a balance could be achieved between freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

“Please do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating censorship,” she said, stating that a free press is a natural consequence of freedom of expression. She said, however, that the people have a right to demand “an ethical, professional and objective press.”

The prime minister said when suspects are tried and sentenced by the media before they go to court and when graphic pictures of victims of vehicular accidents are published, these individuals’ rights to privacy are violated.

“The right to insult does not exist,” De Jongh-Elhage said, adding that there are no absolute freedoms as there are always limitations to be observed.

De Jongh-Elhage said she did not think existing defamation laws provide sufficient regulation, as the media in her country “do whatever they want…. There is a lot of negativity and that has to prevail for them to sell…. Basically, we are talking about a free for all.”

“A government must protect its citizens’ rights to privacy,” she stated.

According to De Jongh-Elhage, in Curacao alone, which has a population of 160,000, there are 32 radio stations, 4 TV stations and 11 daily newspapers.

1st Vice President of the IAPA, Gonzalo Marroquin of Guatemala, in response to De Jongh-Elhage’s presentation, advised the prime minister to “tread carefully”, as in her attempt to defend the right to privacy of individuals, she might be “impacting on the right of the public to receive information.”

The IAPA, in the resolution issued two days after De Jongh-Elhage’s speech, said that it “has repeatedly come out against specific legislation on the press, as it tends to restrict, directly or indirectly, freedom of information and has held that the contingent responsibilities of the media should be regulated under ordinary legislation.”

Prime Minister De Jongh-Elhage, while being head of government of the Netherlands Antilles, is not head of government of Aruba, which attained internal self government on January 1, 1986. The Prime Minister of Aruba is Michiel Eman who also addressed the gathering of over 200 newspaper publishers.

The IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending freedom of expression and of the press throughout the Americas, with a membership of over 1,300 newspapers and magazines from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.