These past six months have been quite hectic in terms of freedom of the press in the Americas.
In Venezuela we continue to condemn the progressive elimination of independent media. Some data support this theory – the shutdown of RCTV is now in its third year, as are those of 34 radio stations last year and five TV stations at the beginning of 2010, and the ongoing harassment of the Globovisión television network and its executives.
In April this year we asked seven Latin American presidents who are signatories to the Declaration of Chapultepec to intercede before the Venezuelan government to respect freedom of the press and of expression in that country and regarding the incident involving journalist Guillermo Zuloaga, president of Globovisión, charged with disseminating false information and vilifying President Hugo Chávez after making statements during our Midyear Meeting in Aruba.
In a new action, while put to Globovisión by a different process without doubt amounting to limiting and intimidating its editorial policies and news coverage, on June 11 the government issued a warrant for the arrest of Zuloaga and his son, Guillermo Zuloaga Siso. Coincidentally, the arrest order was drawn up shortly after President Chávez publicly criticized the privately-owned company and in particular described Zuloaga as “bourgeois,” attributing to him the ability to “rob or kill.”
In Cuba independent journalists continue to be subjected to constant harassment and the government has yet to act on the more than 20 of them in prison despite international pressure following the hunger strike by Guillermo Fariñas. Both regarding that country and Venezuela we have been calling for greater efforts by the OAS and other multilateral entities to put pressure on those governments to allow inspections into the state of human rights and freedom of expression.
Of concern is the way the governments are moving ahead using legal methods with the excuse of creating more plural and diverse societies, while in fact they always end up attacking private property and independent media, and moreover there are many governments in Latin America that are setting up new news media outlets not to have them to be for the public but rather to serve governmental objectives.
Meanwhile in Argentina there continues to be a systematic campaign to discredit independent news media and journalists and there is a new press law that has given rise to conflicts and is now held up in the courts; in Ecuador shortly to be enacted is a Communication Law which violates basic principles of press freedom and free speech.
The lack of independence of the branches of government is also used to intimidate the press. Apart from the palpable example of Venezuela with the judiciary obeying Chávez’ “orders” we can see a number of cases of judicial censorship such as in Venezuela and Peru, judicial harassment of the children of the owner of a newspaper in Argentina, and the censorship that for almost a year the newspaper O Estado in Brazil has been subjected to for its exposures concerning the son of a former president.
One of the matters that continues to concern us is the violence being unleashed against journalists in the Americas, giving rise to self-censorship in detriment to the public’s right to information.
From January this year to date 11 members of the press have been murdered (six in Honduras, four in Mexico and one in Colombia), while the whereabouts of six others who have disappeared in Mexico remain unknown.
In those countries where there is violence we continue to call upon governments to show greater political will to amend laws and take protective action to combat the violence and impunity surrounding crimes against the press. In this regard major progress is being made with the enactment and amendment of laws such as in Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, which gives rise to the hope that a better culture is being created to combat impunity and violence.
If one had to categorize the level of concern that we have for freedom of the press in the Americas, one could speak of three major factors:
Firstly, there are countries such as Venezuela and Cuba where there is direct action on the part of the government to limit press freedom.
Secondly, there are those countries whose governments are ineffective in combating impunity and violence against the press, such as Mexico and Honduras.
And thirdly, there are those governments that are continuing to create a legal structure to curtail freedom of the press, such as those of Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador.