Freedom of press in Peru continued to find expression through a wide range of news and opinion sources. However, the environment for the press and its journalistic work has become strained due to criticisms from various sources, including the Executive Branch, over numerous press reports of government corruption. In the legal sphere, hearings continue in the trial for the murder of journalist Alberto Rivera in Pucallpa on April 21, 2004. Rivera had been the president of the Ucayali area Journalists' Federation and the host of a radio program. The day before his murder, Rivera, a journalist with a controversial and provocative style, had reported that Luis Valdez Villacorta, the mayor of Colonel Portillo province, was linked to drug trafficking. Rivera also held Valdez responsible should anything befall him. While the police stated that it was a crime of passion, this theory was quickly disproven after one of the perpetrators revealed details. On June 3, the police arrested journalists Roy Gavino Saurino and Martín Flores Vázquez. At the time of their arrest, both worked as reporters and in public relations for the municipal government in Coronel Portillo province. Representatives of the Inter-American Press Association and the Peruvian Press Council met with the journalist's family members in Lima and Pucallpa, as well as police, court authorities, the Office of the Prosecutor, municipal authorities and local journalists. They subsequently met with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Hugo Sivina, and the Attorney General, Nelly Calderón, to express their concern that the trial be independent and all due process guarantees be observed. The February 14 murder of radio journalist Antonio de la Torre Echeandía, with Órbita, in the city of Yungay was cleared up in October by the Huaraz Criminal Investigations Division with the announcement that Moisés David Julca had been identified as the murderer. Following tireless public protests in Yungay, accompanied by intense domestic and international pressure, the Criminal Court reversed itself on its initial exclusion of Mayor Amaro León León as a suspect, ordering him arrested and charged as the mastermind behind the murder. Julca and his girlfriend, Enma León Martín, Mayor León's daughter, remain at large. The legal environment is cause for concern, inasmuch as the sky-high damages sought by suits against the newspapers, El Comercio, Correo and La República, threaten the very existence of the press should the suits be upheld. In this regard, Congressman Jorge Mufarech, with the incumbent party, has sued El Comercio for $50 million in damages for alleged libel over reports of tax evasion in the purchase of a car. The unrelenting challenges to the impartiality of the judges by the congressman have bogged down the trial. In addition, the same media outlet faces three lawsuits brought by Fernando Zevallos, a businessman involved in commercial aviation, for $105 million dollars in damages for alleged aggravated libel. The newspaper La República faces a suit brought by Textilco S.A.C. asking for $99 million dollars in damages over a media report linking the company to money laundering activities. Furthermore, Oscar Ruiz Figueroa has sued the editor of The República for $100 million dollars after he questioned a controversial multimillion dollar lawsuit against the Peruvian government over bonds that matured in the previous century. Likewise, the newspaper Correo faces a suit brought by Oscar Ruiz Figueroa asking for $50 million in damages, after the paper printed statements by an economist regarding a controversial lawsuit brought by Ruiz over the government bonds. In this context, the response of the Judicial Oversight Office (OCMA) of the Supreme Court to public communiqués issued by the Peruvian Press Council is particularly noteworthy. The OCMA initiated internal investigations to determine whether any court rulings infringed upon the right to freedom of speech. For example, the OCMA ordered an investigation of Judge Fredy Vengoa Zúñiga, who, in September 2003, had imposed a two-year prison sentence on radio journalist Luis Aguirre Pastor, director of La Voz Amazónica in Madre de Dios, and also barred him from working in journalism for one year, all based on one person having filed a suit accusing Aguirre Pastor of defamation and slander. Additionally, OCMA formally ordered the Eighth Special Criminal Court of Lambayeque to explain a ruling in which it prohibited journalist Rosa Chambergo, editor-in-chief of the weekly Expresión, from publishing any information about the complainant: the mayor of Chiclayo Province. After a lengthy trial, the Anti-Corruption Court handed down the first sentences against journalists, publishers and media outlets accused of accepting government pay-offs in return for supporting the Alberto Fujimori regime. Meanwhile, in Argentina, television executives Ernesto Schütz, José Francisco and José Enrique Crousillat, whose extradition had been requested by Peru, went into hiding rather than appear at their final extradition hearing and risk an unfavorable outcome. It also has come to light that U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Cal) sent a formal letter to the Peruvian government, criticizing the treatment of television talk-show host Laura Bozzo as a violation of freedom of expression. Mrs. Bozzo is presently under house arrest in her studio, from which her program regularly broadcasts to an international audience of millions. The drawn-out legal proceedings have provoked some criticism given that no sentence has yet been imposed. On the other hand, in the midst of the general instability reigning in the country, a wide-ranging debate is underway about how aggressively the press covers the many accusations of government corruption, and about pressure the government might be bringing to bear against journalists. This is in a population where 60% think Peruvian journalism is helping to consolidate democracy, while 37% believe the press seriously distorts the news, according to opinion polls taken in October. The furor was further stoked when the América Televisión program “Cuarto Poder” broadcast a video that purportedly implicated the President in the falsification of signatures needed to register his party with the national electoral court. The controversial broadcast brought a sharp retort from President Alejandro Toledo, who called the program host, journalist Carlos Espá, a “coward.” Julio Aliaga, the channel’s news director, who later acknowledged gaps and errors in the report, resigned suddenly, together with the program host and the program’s news director, Roxana Cueva. The journalists refused to accede to President Toledo’s demand for a public apology — a demand made in a private meeting that Aliaga himself had requested. The journalists also complained that the station directors had not stood behind them. On the other hand, there is much anticipation surrounding implementation of the Law of Transparency and Access to Information promulgated in August, 2002. While the law is not perfect, it does establish both administrative and criminal procedures for disciplining government employees who refuse to release public information not covered by non-disclosure laws. Even though the law is not being applied equally across the board, there has been important progress made in government dissemination of information at the federal level, even if the same cannot be said of regional and municipal governments. For their part, organizations working to see the law enforced are compiling complaints from citizens who claim to have encountered roadblocks when requesting public information. There as yet are no known cases of any public official having been sanctioned for failure to obey the law. On July 15, President Alejandro Toledo enacted the Radio-Television Law, which Congress passed on June 17 by 80 votes in favor, one opposed and nine abstentions. Articles 22 and 24 of the law, which regulate stock ownership and foreign investment, were voted on separately. The wording of the regulations envisages greater public participation, even though there is concern that gaps in the legal safeguards against foreign intervention in program content have yet to be corrected by the legislation. One consequence of the incipient decentralization is greater questioning of the press, which in turn engenders more public comments from authorities accused of corruption. This is the case of Tarapoto journalists Glenda Mello and Javier Tuanama, who find themselves degraded and accused of terrorism in mendacious publications circulating in that region.