Miami (January 23, 2013)—With the distinguished participation of academics and students the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) held a university forum in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, that featured denunciations of dangers stalking freedom of expression in Latin America and the need to safeguard that freedom through constitutional mechanisms in each country.
The forum, held yesterday at the Universidad de los Andes university, was formally opened by Chancellor Pablo Navas and the vice chairman of the IAPA’s Chapultepec Committee, Roberto Pombo, editor of the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. The activity is part of the IAPA’s Chapultepec Ambassadors program to promote open discussions on press freedom in academic centers in the Americas.
During his presentation IAPA President Jaime Mantilla said that freedom of expression “is the basic right to be able to dream, express and share the ideas, thoughts and concerns of each citizen and at the same time seek the appropriate form or system to ensure the use of that fundamental right for democracy to exist in our societies.”
Mantilla, editor of the Quito, Ecuador, newspaper Hoy, added, “Only where this – freedom of expression – exists can there be appropriate supervision and protection for the rest of the fundamental rights.”
For his part, Asdrúbal Aguiar, chairman of the IAPA’s Legal Committee and a member of the Chapultepec Ambassadors program, explained the legal and international aspects of the Declaration of Chapultepec, a 10-principle document of the fundamentals of freedom of expression and of the press promulgated by the IAPA in 1994.
Aguiar, with the Venezuelan newspaper El Impulso, said that the Declaration’s principles will serve “as moral exhortations that should illuminate internal and international constitutional forms that will be demanded by the democracy of the 21st century and the final manifestation of governments.”
The state of freedom of expression in Colombia was reviewed in the light of the Declaration of Chapultepec by Omar Rincón Rodríguez, director of the Journalism Studies Center in the Arts and Humanities School of the Universidad de los Andes university, and Esteban Restrepo Saldarriaga, adjunct professor in that university’s Law School.
In that panel discussion, moderated by Pombo, other speakers were Ricardo Ávila, editor of the newspaper Portafolio and managing editor of El Tiempo, and Nora Sanín, executive director of the Colombian Association of Newspaper and News Media Editors and Publishers (ANDIARIOS). The Colombian speakers all agreed that while the defense of press freedom has improved in their country there exists a high level of impunity in cases of crimes and other acts of violence against journalists, and there prevails a culture of secrecy.
In another panel discussion in referring to the threats against press freedom in Latin America IAPA President Mantilla mentioned the suppression of independent media, the filing of lawsuits, the discrediting campaigns and public ridicule of journalists and news media, direct or indirect pressure, prior censorship, withdrawal of official advertising, and obstacles to accessing official information, as being some of the impediments to the free exercise of journalism in some countries in the region.
On this same topic the chairman of the IAPA Finance, Audit and Fundraising Committee and editor of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, Miguel Henrique Otero, focused on the Venezuelan case. But at the same time he declared that not only his country but others in Latin America are facing two dilemmas – “one, the threat to the lives of journalists and the other a communication hegemony” created by the government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and replicated in the region “in a framework of legality very difficult to combat.” He added that previously “the banana republic dictatorships impeded free expression by force, now the mechanism of control is under the Constitution.”
For his part, Julio E. Muñoz, the IAPA executive director and moderator of the discussion, declared that “the intolerance of some authoritarian governments is one of the main problems that the independent press is facing today in the Americas.” He also referred to the violence as “another serious problem” that in some countries is represented by murders, attacks and threats.
As part of the IAPA activities in Colombia on Monday (January 21), in cooperation with the Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo, a ceremony was held with the presence of Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos in which dozens of political leaders from various regions of the nation and of differing political trends added their signatures to the Declaration of Chapultepec.
The IAPA international delegation in addition to Mantilla, Aguiar, Otero and Muñoz was also made up of Jorge Canahuati, chairman of the Chapultepec Committee and president of the Honduras media group OPSA, and Development Director Viviana Bianchi.
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.