MADRID, Spain (October 7, 2008)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today adopted reports on freedom of the press and resolutions after four days of sessions here enhanced by the presence of Spain’s King Juan Carlos I and Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, among other prominent figures. The Western Hemisphere free press organization in winding up its review issued the following conclusions:
of the 64th
October 3 - 7, 2008
Four distinct trends are apparent at this time. The first is a worrisome increase in physical violence against journalists and attacks on the media, the most serious outcome of which is the killing of eight journalists in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela. The second is in the exacerbation of relations between governments and the press, characterized by systematic verbal attacks by high level officials intended to discredit the work of journalists. The third is the inappropriate government use of public funds to pressure and discriminate against the media by granting or withholding advertising. And finally, there is the approval of freedom of information laws in several countries although numerous exceptions could compromise their efficacy.
While this last trend is a favorable one, it is necessary to note that these bills have numerous exceptions that could diminish their effectiveness.
In Argentina, the executive branch continued to attack the media and journalists, especially during the months of conflict between the government and the agricultural sector. A broadcasting law, a freedom of information law and a law setting technical regulations for the placement of government advertising are pending. The government uses these three topics to pressure and discriminate against the media and journalists.
In Aruba there were some cases of discrimination in the placement of government advertising.
In Brazil, several court decisions have led to conditions of prior restraint, and the government has submitted a bill on telephone surveillance that threatens to restrict the free practice of journalism. Other bills were presented on freedom of information and an amendment to the press law.
In Bolivia, the executive branch, and especially President Evo Morales, has followed a policy of attacking the media. Those who criticize his administration are discredited as separatists or “friends of the empire.” Because of the social and political crisis there have been many attacks on journalists and media by both opposition and pro-government groups. Also there is concern that the new Constitution has obvious threats to press freedom and the practice of journalism.
In Colombia there was a reduction in violence against journalists. However, a freedom of information bill does not conform to international standards.
In Cuba after the devastation caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike, the government redoubled its efforts to limit and censor the news. Twenty-six journalists are still imprisoned under deplorable conditions, including some whose health has deteriorated seriously.
In the United States the final passage of the “Free Flow of Information Act,” also known as the shield law, has not been made yet. The bill overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House of Representatives last October.
In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa intensified his aggressive attitude toward the media, describing them in strong terms as his main “opponent.” Since he took office, some media companies have been seized without complying with the law, which requires the government either to return them, if the owners can prove legal ownership, or put them up for public bidding. The media outlets seized by the government are used to contradict the independent media and to disseminate excessive government propaganda.
In Nicaragua the worst attacks on journalists and the media have been encouraged by the executive branch. President Daniel Ortega has used direct and indirect methods as a form of pressure. The government has brought court cases against journalists and independent media outlets and uses government advertising as a way to discriminate.
In Mexico, the spiral of violence caused by organized crime and especially drug traffickers has had very serious consequences for the practice of journalism. Killings and other attacks on journalists continue, and most of these cases have not been solved. Attacks on the independent press by authorities with verbal statements and arbitrary placement of advertisements are more and more frequent.
The same situation exists in the interior of Peru, where there were many open threats to journalists by high level officials. There has been backward movement on freedom of information. While there is legislation, the government is far from complying with it.
In Uruguay government pressures to distort the focus of news coverage, including discriminatory use of official advertising, has increased. There was a new increase in both civil and criminal court cases against journalists. A freedom of information bill appears to create more expectations than effective mechanisms.
In Venezuela, with the implementation by decree of 26 laws that contradict the result of the December 2 referendum, President Hugo Chávez has the authority to expropriate any private enterprise, including media outlets. The government is continuing its strategy of threatening to close media outlets, blame the independent ones of being involved in conspiracies and expelling from the country organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW) that report violations of human rights, and especially the right to press freedom.
On the bright side, Guatemala and Chile approved freedom of information laws. In Spain, during this productive meeting, it was stressed that authorities must immediately put into effect a freedom of information law that recognizes and regulates citizens’ right to have access to administrative files and records in public agencies—quickly, effectively and without charge--as is established in Article 105 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978.