29 July 2008

IAPA President Earl Maucker hails decrease in violence


SANTA MARTA, Colombia (July 29, 2008)—Colombian President Alvaro Uribe today classified  “the problem of terrorism” as the main source of violence against the press in his country and acclaimed press freedom as the essential pillar of democratic government. He was speaking at a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the local newspaper Hoy Diario del Magdalena.


“Colombia’s administrations have traditionally held broad views on the freedoms and there are no arguments surrounding press freedom,” Uribe declared. He acknowledged that not all violence against journalists, labor union leaders and teachers has been eliminated, adding “but we are making progress.” He said as an example “we had years when 15 journalists were murdered,” while in the last 12 months there were just two incidents and neither was linked to the victims’ work as journalists.


“We finally have a more stress-free, less threatened regional press,” he said. “We have a duty to safeguard freedom of the press and the lives of journalists. Our goal is to reach zero threats and murders of journalists, labor union leaders and teachers.”


He credited the increased peace seen throughout the country, especially in the Sierra Nevada region, to his governing policy. “We set out to create trust between the democratic institutions and the communities,” he explained. “Trust is what we proposed and we uphold it with three mainstays – safeguarding democracy, socially responsible investment, and social unity. Without safeguards and without investment there can be no social unity.”


The editor of the Hoy Diario del Magdelena, Ulilo Acevedo, addressed the audience of special guests, newspaper readers and federal officials, among them government ministers and representatives of the judiciary, state and city officials from Magdelena and Santa Marta, by stressing the importance of the regional press “in a sustainable democracy.” He added that “despite being an unprotected press and a dangerous profession we continue waging war on behalf of our society and our community.”


IAPA President Earl Maucker praised President Uribe, declaring that “we cannot fail to congratulate him for bringing peace and fortifying South America’s oldest democracy.” He added, “Recent events concerning Ingrid Betancourt and the release of the kidnap victims speak to the strength of that leadership and Colombians’ love of peace.”


Nonetheless, Maucker stressed the IAPA’s concern at the use of the Telesur TV logo by Colombian soldiers during the operation to rescue Betancourt and 14 others being held by FARC guerrillas on July 2. “Our concern, Mr. President, is that the deceptive use of the Telesur logo is a dangerous action that brings discredit and a lack of confidence in the press.”


On another matter Maucker, editor and senior vice president of the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, newspaper Sun-Sentinel, said that while the number of murders of journalists in Colombia has decreased considerably, in recent months there have been 35 incidents of violence against the press and five reporters have been forced to flee the country in fear for their lives. Maucker added that “the climate of impunity persists” and he recalled the 2000 murder in the area of journalist Gustavo Ruiz Cantillo and other similar crimes that still go unpunished.


President Uribe, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the host newspaper founded in 1993 and speaking to editors and publishers from the Association of Colombian Newspapers (ANDIARIOS), praised Acevedo and his newspaper’s leadership in the defense of democratic values despite their grave confrontations with violence in the past.