Violence against journalists, official campaigns, administrative and judicial harassment, and the use of official advertising against independent journalists and media are some of the threats facing freedom of the press in the Americas.
Miami (November 9, 2010) – the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today wound up in Merida, in the Mexican state of Yucatan, its 66th General Assembly, in which it looked into the state of freedom of the press in the Western Hemisphere and declared 2011 as “Freedom of Expression Year”.
The following are the full CONCLUSIONS of the IAPA General Assembly held November 5 – 9:
Threats, intimidation and deadly attacks by organized crime that have claimed the lives of 14 journalists this semester have dominated the agenda at the 66th General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association, in Merida, Mexico. More than 575 IAPA members from throughout the hemisphere also engaged in intense debate focused on Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Argentina, where governments are employing a range of anti-democratic measures to repress the independent media and place the flow of news and information in the hands of state-controlled entities.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon delivered the keynote address at Monday’s session, forcefully declaring his administration’s unwavering commitment to defeating the drug cartels. Seven of the journalists killed this semester died in cartel-related violence in Mexico, while five others were assassinated in Honduras, where cartels have sought safe haven while trans-shipping drugs from South America to the United States. Two other journalists were killed in Brazil.
Calderon’s speech reiterated positive steps his administration has taken in response to IAPA’s long-standing efforts to convince the Mexican government to federalize attacks against journalists. These include the establishment of a special prosecutor for attacks against the media, but IAPA’s final country report on Mexico notes that a climate of impunity continues to exist in Mexico, and to date, the government has shown it lacks the political will to investigate and prosecute those who attack reporters. The IAPA has called on Calderon to take the necessary steps to end this climate of impunity and to work to end official repression of the media that is widespread in many Mexican states and municipalities.
Region wide, there has been some progress this year. In Colombia the General Prosecutor’s Office has promised the IAPA to reopen the investigation of 27 unsolved crimes against journalists. Meanwhile, in Peru, the Supreme Court has created a special jurisdiction to handle crimes against journalists, just it has for drug traffickers and terrorists.
Some advancement, however, does not make up for continued abuses. Across the Americas there are renewed efforts to impose legal provisions aimed at “regulating” the operations of news media. While often couched in high-sounding terms, these are blatant attempts to control and limit the free flow of information.
In Argentina, an official campaign against the press has included insults and attempts to penalize editors and journalists, as well as administrative and judicial harassment against independent media. Regulations are designed to implement state control of newsprint and broadcast licenses and audio-visual content and to cancel arbitrarily licenses for the provision of Internet services.
In Bolivia, a law intended to target racism and discrimination contains language that, in effect, limits freedom of the press. Other Latin American countries, such as Brazil, Ecuador, and Uruguay are also considering laws to regulate the media through so-called social control, which actually provides the governments the means to strangle the media.
In the United States, the Obama administration has prosecuted more cases of leaked information than any administration in contemporary times. Meanwhile, the federal shield law that had passed in the House of Representatives remains paralyzed in the Senate and is likely to die.
Cuba, despite the government’s well-publicized release of 16 political prisoners who were forced into exile, remains a country in the total grip of a dictatorship that has now held power for more than half century. At least eight more independent journalists remain imprisoned along with other political prisoners whose only crime is opposition to the Castro regime.
Elsewhere, other prevalent abuses include judicial harassment and the use of government advertising as a tool to reward and punish media, a common practice in countries as otherwise diverse as Argentina, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Venezuela, among others. In many countries the trend continues for the government to purchase media outlets or create new ones for its own political benefit.
Along with official intolerance, the common enemy against the state, the press, and society in general is organized crime, emboldened by the multi-billion dollar illicit drug economy and weak judicial institutions. Both President Calderon and Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, who also addressed the IAPA assembly, agreed that a free press is essential to democratic society and that the real enemy of freedom of expression is organized crime.
As a result of these issues, the Inter American Press Association, in its quest to redouble its efforts to maintain democratic principles and the right of the people to know, has declared 2011 the Year of Freedom of Expression”.