24 April 2009

IAPA conference calls on Mexico's government for transparency in its war on drugs

Mexico City (April 24, 2009)–Calling on the government of Mexico to carry out its battle with narco-traffickers openly and with respect for the press' duty to inform the public, the Inter American Press Association-organized conference “The Press, the Government and Organized Crime,” wound up here today.

 Mexico City (April 24, 2009)–Calling on the government of Mexico to carry out its battle with narco-traffickers openly and with respect for the press' duty to inform the public, the Inter American Press Association-organized conference “The Press, the Government and Organized Crime,” wound up here today. 

The event featured three keynote speakers ­– former Colombian President César Gaviria, Colombian Police Director General Oscar Naranjo and IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo and focused on sharing experiences in the battle against organized crime and violence by officials, newspaper editors and publishers from Mexico and Colombia. 

For the 50 editors and publishers from across Mexico this was also an opportunity for self-criticism and to search for ways to improve the quality of news reporting and editorial criteria in order to inform without propagating violence or spreading the propaganda of organized crime.

The chairman of the IAPA’s Impunity Committee, Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, president of the Mexico City newspaper El Universal, stressed the importance of the meeting’s conclusions, which included a call on Mexico’s federal government to come up with comprehensive policies for combating the violence unleashed against the press. Among these was the need to make crimes against journalists federal offenses, something that the IAPA has been urging in Mexico for more than a decade. 

Conclusions follow: 

Conclusions of the ConferenceTHE PRESS, THE GOVERNMENT AND ORGANIZED CRIMEThe experiences of Colombia and Mexico

Inter American Press Association

April 24, 2009

Mexico City, Mexico 

Whereas the Inter American Press Association brought together security officials from the governments of Mexico and Colombia, opinion makers, and news media editors and publishers to exchange experiences on effective methods that can be used by the government to combat the violence generated by organized crime, as well as how the press can provide adequate and reliable coverage to satisfy the public’s right to information; 

Whereas the lack of justice in punishment for violence against the press creates a vicious circle of impunity and self-censorship that severely restricts freedom of expression and of the press as enshrined in the Declaration of Chapultepec; 

Whereas The Declaration of Mexico of June 27, 2008, drawn up by Mexican editors and publishers, requests the Mexican Federal Congress to demonstrate greater political will by creating legal instruments and strengthening existing ones in order to fortify the battle against impunity; 

Whereas the Conclusions of Nuevo Laredo of January 27, 2006 underscore the need to create instruments of communication and solidarity for the purpose raising personal and professional safety;

Whereas the Declaration of Hermosillo of August 30, 2005 advocates that crimes against journalists be made federal offenses, that they be exempt of all statutes of limitations, and that the penalties for such crimes be made more severe; 

Whereas The Declaration of Principles of the Hemisphere Conference on The Judiciary, The Press and Impunity of July 20, 2007 encourages governments to employ international conceptual and regulatory tools to effectively punish those who act against freedom of expression and seek to obstruct justice; 

Whereas the governments of Colombia, the United States and Mexico, involved in the war on drug trafficking, signed a number of declarations that specify freedom of expression, such as resolutions by UNESCO, 120 of November 12, 1997; the Organization of American States of June 2, 1998; the United Nations Security Council of December 23, 2006, and the UNESCO Declaration of Medellín of May 4, 2007; 

Whereas those resolutions stress the necessity of adopting legal reforms to contend with impunity surrounding crimes against journalists and to create safety nets for the protection of the press; 

Those attending this Conference agree: 

+ To urge governments to conduct the battle against organized crime and drug trafficking respecting strict rules of transparency and open information so that journalistic activity may be carried out normally.   

+ To create understanding among all officials of the various branches of government the necessity of recognizing that freedom of expression and of the press are fundamental guarantees in democratic societies. 

+ To appeal to the Mexican authorities to adopt the protective measures, security and legal reforms to shield news coverage that have proved effective in the battle against organized crime in other countries, bearing in mind that the best way to reduce risks is to further strengthen democratic institutions.  

+ To demand that the government strengthen its defense of journalistic activity by punishing to the full extent of justice and the law those who attack journalists, both the perpetrators and the masterminds, and by bringing to a conclusion numerous pending cases that have remained unpunished; on the contrary more violence will be generated. 

+ To pressure the branches of the Mexican government to show greater willingness to produce an integrated policy on crimes against journalists in order to pass an effective and specific constitutional amendment that allows the federal government jurisdiction over crimes against journalists and transforms the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Offenses Against Journalists so that it is effectively empowered to deal with such crimes and investigate them until complete.  

+ To acknowledge as a merely negligible advance the recent reform under consideration of the Federal Penal Code which would modify Articles 430 and 431 defining journalistic activity and stiffening penalties from 1 to 5 years’ imprisonment plus fines. 

+ To reflect on how the media and press organizations can work together to find joint alternatives to reduce the levels of risk for reporters covering organized crime. 

+ To ask press associations of Mexico and the United States to produce common methods of cooperation to protect journalists and news media on both sides of the border in the same way their two governments shared responsibilities when faced with the threat of organized crime. 

+ To encourage frank and open discussion in the news media of the viability of alternatives intended to combat organized crime and drug trafficking thus showing the public a broad range of criteria and ensuring the right to information. 

+ To encourage journalists and news media to improve their professional practices and editorial policies with regard to organized crime in order to avoid the propaganda of violence; understanding at the same time that ongoing training and the quest for journalistic excellence are important factors to lowering the risks in covering the news and in areas of conflict.