Freedom of Expression

Press Release 47/01



The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed his concern over the law on compulsory licensing of journalists, approved by the Guatemalan Congress on Friday; November 30.  This law requires that every journalist hold a university degree in journalism and be a member of the professional association of journalists [colegio de periodistas], in order to practice the profession.  After the law was passed by Congress, it was sent to President Alfonso Portillo, who has 15 days to comment on it, approve it, or veto it.  


The Rapporteur pointed out that compulsory membership in the professional association of journalists and the requirement of a university degree to practice the profession of journalism violate Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Guatemala is a party.  The Inter-American Court of Human Rights stated as follows in its advisory opinion on compulsory licensing: 


The argument that licensing is a way to guarantee society objective and truthful information by means of codes of professional responsibility and ethics, is based on considerations of general welfare. But, in truth, as has been shown, general welfare requires the greatest possible amount of information, and it is the full exercise of the right of expression that benefits this (…)  A system that controls the right of expression in the name of a supposed guarantee of the correctness and truthfulness of the information that society receives can be the source of great abuse and, ultimately, violates the right to information that this same society has.  


            At the same time, the IACHR Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression stipulates in Principle 6 as follows:  


Every person has the right to communicate his/her views by any means and in any form.  Compulsory membership or the requirement of a university degree for the practice of journalism constitute an unlawful restriction of freedom of expression.  Journalistic activities must be governed by ethical conduct, which should in no case be imposed by the State. 


            The Rapporteur is of the opinion that this law represents a step backward in the exercise of freedom of expression in Guatemala.  The Rapporteur recommends to President Portillo that he annul this legislation by exercising his presidential veto, since it is contrary to international standards in the area of freedom of expression. 


Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression

December 5, 2001

Washington, D.C.