29 December 2011

IAPA reviews state of press freedom in 2011

Miami (December 29, 2011)—In its 2011 review of the state of press freedom the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) concluded that this was one of the most “challenging and tragic” years for the countries of the Americas and reaffirmed its commitment to confront the next challenges.

Miami (December 29, 2011)—In its 2011 review of the state of press freedom the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) concluded that this was one of the most “challenging and tragic” years for the countries of the Americas and reaffirmed its commitment to confront the next challenges.

It was one of the most challenging and tragic years regarding press freedom, in which the people had to grapple with violence in order to be able to express themselves freely and had laws that nullified the effect of constitutional guarantees of the people’s right to be freely informed.

Regarding violence being unleashed against journalists, in general carried out by drug traffickers and in many cases in collusion with corrupt officials this has been one of the decade’s worst years. The killing of 24 reporters demonstrates the dangerous advance of organized crime throughout the region. Seven journalists were killed in Mexico, five in Honduras, four in Brazil, three in Peru and one in each of the following countries: Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala and Paraguay.

Together with the impunity surrounding crimes committed in other years and the lack of action on the part of the authorities to deter those who resort to violence a vicious circle has been created that has given rise to high levels of self-censorship. Also noted are the few advances made regarding freedom of the press and of assembly in Cuba, a country where there was a worsening of censorship and violence against dissidents, independent journalists and bloggers.

Beyond the violence this year there were dangerous government moves against the work of the press, many of them disguised as legal norms and actions, that were very confusing for public opinion. In Ecuador, for example, the Legislative Assembly, on the initiative of the Executive Branch, continued a debate in favor of enactment of a Communication Law that would enable strict controls and official gags to be placed on the news media so they would be unable to play their role as watchdogs over the government.

The Argentine government surprised the international community when Congress, in which there is a government majority, managed to pass a law that declared newsprint to be of “public interest,” which implies that the production and sale of this commodity for newspapers will be regulated by the government and thus will be able to be used as a means of applying pressure.

On the legal front, while there were advances in some countries, such as El Salvador and Mexico, where defamation was made no longer a criminal offense, and in Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff enacted an awaited law on public access to information, we are concerned that once again there has been an attempt to reinstate obligatory membership by journalists in a guild – in Brazil, Ecuador and Panama – a practice that was being reversed in Latin America since the Inter-American Human Rights Court recommended its elimination in a 1985 advisory opinion.

With regard to the effective inter-American system of protection of human rights, prominent among which is the defense of free speech and press freedom through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, IAPA is concerned that there have been presidents and governments that have suggested the dissolution of the Office of Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression or its weakening, restricting publication of its annual report and cutting its operational budget. Due to that, one of the challenges of the IAPA in the near future is to keep any eye out to see that this system is protected and valued not only by governments but also by all the people in the Americas.

This year we have also noted with concern how several governments, among them Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, have continued using official advertising as a tool to reward or punish media, and they have in addition intensified their political propaganda strategies, whether through the use of public information networks or by buying up and creating news media outlets, which rarely play their role as public media but rather act as government informational channels.

The justice system has been utilized to gag media and journalists. The most significant instance occurred in Ecuador, where President Rafael Correa filed a libel suit against executives of the newspaper El Universo and one if its columnists. In a disproportionate ruling the defendants were ordered to pay the president $40 million in damages and to serve three years in prison.

For many of these problems in the IAPA we have needed to send various working and investigative missions and to hold legal forums, educational conferences and training seminars on security in more than a dozen countries, among them Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.

As in 2011 this coming year, in line with the commitment that derives from the IAPA’s founding charter of more than 60 years ago and ratified by the Declaration of Chapultepec, our goal shall be to defend freedom of the press with concrete objectives and activities for the strengthening of democracy.

Among these activities a major one is an inter-university conference to be held in Washington, DC, on inter-American case law, in which we will be working with American University and Stanford University and a dozen others from Latin America, together with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In addition to numerous educational events and missions during 2012 the IAPA will hold in Cádiz, Spain, in April and in São Paulo, Brazil, in October its twice-yearly meetings to review the state of press freedom in the Americas.

On a final note, the IAPA stressed the support of all the people and institutions that made its work possible in 2011, among them its members belonging to more than 1,300 publications and various foundations, such as the John S. and James L. Knight, Scripps Howard, McCormick and McClatchy foundations.

 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.