Mexico Decriminalizes Libel, Joining Just One Other Latin American Nation

Article excerpt

Free press groups hailed Mexican President Felipe Calderon for signing a law decriminalizing libel, slander, and defamation.

The law repeals some 15 articles of the federal Penal Code which made slander, libel, and defamation criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment.

Criminal libel laws are on the books of nearly all Latin American nations, though their enforcement varies. Mexico joins El Salvador, which reformed its Penal Code in 2004, as the only two Latin nations to wipe criminal libel off the books. The Mexican Senate passed last month, and the Chamber of Deputies approved the measure in April 2006. The law becomes effective when it is published in the government's Official Gazette.

Calderon signed the bill in a ceremony at his Los Pinos official residence attended by media executives and representatives of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), which had lobbied since 2004 for decriminalization.

Under new articles 1916 and 1916a, defamation, libel and slander are now civil offenses subject to money damages and corrections of inaccurate statements, the New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) noted.

Calderon called the signing "a historic step in this battle to consolidate and strengthen the work of the news media," according to an account in the Mexico City daily El Universal.

"Thanks to this reform journalists will be able to do their work without fear of being jailed on formal complaints by those who consider themselves offended by their reporting," he said. "Decriminalization of such matters was a demand of all journalists, and a requirement to consolidate our democracy. …