16 July 2010

IAPA notes acute increase in violence during review of press freedom in the Americas

WASHINGTON, DC (July 16, 2010)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) said here today that violence against journalists is one of the greatest challenges that governments and inter-governmental agencies must take on if they want to ensure democracy in the Americas.

The organization calls for coordinated action by governments to end violence against the press 

WASHINGTON, DC (July 16, 2010)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) said here today that violence against journalists is one of the greatest challenges that governments and inter-governmental agencies must take on if they want to ensure democracy in the Americas. 

During a recess of IAPA’s Executive Committee meeting, the hemisphere organization’s leaders called on “every government and supra-governmental agency in the region to come up with effective, innovative and coordinated measures to combat the unpunished violence against the press.” 

“We ask that all multilateral groups -- the Organization of American States (OAS), Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) – include in their agendas the serious problem of violence and other subtle methods that limit press freedom; if they don’t, we will be allowing our democracies to weaken further and impacting directly the people’s right to receive information,” said IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre, editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language daily Diario Las Américas

“Our experience tells us that this is already a problem that one government alone cannot resolve,” he added. 

Aguirre was stating the IAPA’s grave concern over the wave of violence unleashed along the Mexico-United States border where nine journalists have been killed so far this year, another seven murders in Honduras and one in Colombia – all by organized crime and all this year. 

Besides these 17 murders, the IAPA has documented during the same period the abduction of 11 news men and women in Mexico -- eight whose whereabouts remain unknown, and one in Brazil, since freed. Two journalists – one each in Brazil and Guatemala – have suffered armed assaults and there have been five serious attacks on media offices in Mexico and one in Venezuela. 

Aguirre pointed out that several governments in the region have taken “positive efforts,” but that experience “shows that efforts must be doubled.” In Mexico, he stated, the greatest need is for a constitutional amendment making crimes against journalists federal offenses and strengthening penalties. At the same time he praised that country’s creation of a Special Prosecutor’s Office for Dealing With Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression.  

Aguirre also welcomed the progress made in Brazil, Colombia and Peru in the area of legal and judicial actions against impunity, noting that in the past six months the murderer of journalist Orel Sambrano was convicted in Venezuela and in Brazil four people were convicted for the murder of Luis Carlos Barbon Filho. 

IAPA 1st Vice President Gonzalo Marroquín recalled that the IAPA has taken its concern at the state of individual and collective freedoms in such countries as Cuba and Venezuela to international agencies, including the Organization of American States (OAS).

In this regard, Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Prensa Libre, cited the release of nine Cuban independent journalists who this week were exiled to Spain, thanks to an agreement between the governments of the two countries and the Roman Catholic Church, while expressing the IAPA view that international bodies and regional governments should pressure the Castro regime so that “freedom is practiced domestically and not beyond its borders”, that the persecution of journalists and bloggers ends, that greater access by the people to the Internet be allowed, as well as freedom of assembly. “All political prisoners must be released, among them the remaining 15 journalists who are still behind bars,” he declared.

Marroquín also reported that at a meeting held yesterday with officials of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) the IAPA voiced support of Venezuelan journalist Guillermo Zuloaga, president of the Globovisión TV network, who last Friday was at IACHR headquarters to formally register a complaint about the harassment and persecution he is subjected to by the government of President Hugo Chávez. 

Detailing judicial harassment, the IAPA informed that since July 31, 2009 there has been “an incomprehensible” court ruling in effect barring the São Paulo, Brazil, newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo from publishing information about a Federal Police investigation into the alleged participation of businessman Fernando Sarney in acts of corruption. It also denounced the sentencing in Venezuela of Francisco Pérez, a columnist with the El Carabobeño, to three years and nine months in prison for “offending a public official and libeling a person engaged in public service.” The ruling also disqualified Pérez as a journalist and politician – “a typical strategy” in Venezuela that Marroquín said makes the regime resistant as September elections approach. 

Milton Coleman, of The Washington Post and IAPA 2nd Vice President, discussed the more subtle, but just as direct, tactics threatening press freedom that the organization describes as “a systematic campaign of attacks and discredit generated by governments whose primary targets are journalists and the news media.” 

The IAPA officers voiced concern at recent paid political propaganda campaigns denounced by several national press freedom organizations, including Argentina, Ecuador and Guatemala. Presidents Cristina de Kirchner, Rafael Correa and Alvaro Colom, respectively, have launched ad campaigns accusing independent media and journalists who criticize them of seeking to destabilize the government or the democratic system. 

Coleman explained that many of these campaigns attempt to discredit the press to undermine the credibility of accusations, investigations into corruption, and criticism, all of which are part of the press’ role of providing oversight and a voice to people in a democratic society. He added that the tension between governments and the press is evidenced by the Law on Audiovisual Services in Argentina and the bill for a Communication Law in Ecuador, both of which contain content that favors tight governmental control of the media. 

At a press conference held at the National Press Club, IAPA officers informed about the major restrictions on press freedom that have occurred over the last three months since the IAPA held a meeting in Aruba in March this year. Legal and justice obstacles were specified. 

Most noteworthy of these is the enactment of an electoral law in Bolivia that establishes penalties for media that publishes interviews and opinions favoring candidates, a constitutional amendment in Brazil that once again makes it a requirement to have a degree to work as a journalist, legislative bills in Peru and Colombia that set stiff penalties for breaking rules that protect children, and a reform of the Civil Code in Chile that overturns limits on the amount of damages that courts may award against media in libel cases. 

The IAPA also pointed out that the placement of official advertising continues to be discriminatory in Argentina, Guatemala, Ecuador and Nicaragua. 

Yesterday an IAPA mission to the IACHR submitted results of its investigation into the June 22, 2004 murder of Francisco Ortiz Franco of Mexico, the 27th case the IAPA has presented to the inter-American organization since 1997. IAPA’s Executive Committee, president, Juan Luis Correa, La Estrella de Panamá, said that “freedom of the press does not belong to governments nor the media, but to all citizens, and that any aggression against press freedom is against society”.  

Following are the names of murdered journalists:

In Mexico: Marco Aurelio Martínez Tijerina, Hugo Alfredo Olivera Cartas, María Elvira Hernández Galeana, Juan Francisco Rodríguez Ríos, Evaristo Pacheco Solís, Valentín Valdés Espinosa. Another three cases -- Guillermo Alcaraz Trejo, Jorge Ochoa Martínez and José Luis Romero -- are still under investigation to determine the motives.

In Honduras: Luis Arturo Mondragón, Jorge Alberto Orellana, Víctor Manuel Juárez, José Bayardo Mairena, Nahúm Palacios, David Meza, Joseph A. Hernández Ochoa.

In Colombia: Clodomiro Castilla Ospino.
Details of the nine Cuban independent journalists who have been released: Ricardo González Alfonso (sentenced to 20 years, Manuel Márquez Sterling Journalists Society and Revista De Cuba magazine); Julio César Gálvez (15 years, freelance); Pablo Pacheco Ávila (20 years, Avila Independent Journalists Cooperative); José Luis García Paneque (24 years, Libertad news agency); Omar Ruiz Hernández (18 years, Decoro Working Group); Léster Luis González Pentón (20 years, freelance); Omar Rodríguez Saludes (27 years, Nueva Prensa Cubana agency); Normando Hernández González (25 years, Camagüey Independent Journalists Guild) and Mijaíl Barzaga Lugo (15 years, Cubana News Agency).
Details of the 15 Cuban independent journalists still in prison: Alfredo Pulido López (sentenced to 14 years, El Mayor); José Ubaldo Izquierdo (16 years, Decoro Working Group), Víctor Rolando Arroyo (26 years, Cuban Independent Journalists and Writers Union); Adolfo Fernández Sainz (15 years, Patria); Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez (20 years, Decoro Working Group); Pedro Argüelles Morán (20 years, Avila Independent Journalists Cooperative); Fabio Prieto Llorente (20 years, freelance); Iván Hernández Carrillo (25 years, Patria); Juan Carlos Herrera (20 years, Prensa Libre Oriental Agency); Miguel Galván Gutiérrez (26 years, Havana Press); Alfredo Felipe Fuentes (26 years, freelance); Alberto Gil Triay (7 years, Estrella Solitaria–Lone Star–News Center); Raymundo Perdigón Brito (4 years, Yayabo Press); Ramón Velázquez Toranso (3 years on parole, Libertad), and Alberto Santiago Du Bouchet (3 years,  Havana Press). 

The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. For more information please go to http://www.sipiapa.org