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62nd General Assembly Mexico City, Mexico September 29 – October 3, 2006 Freedom of the press suffered several serious setbacks during the past six months. Nine journalists were killed, while death threats and attacks of all types escalated against dozens of others and against media outlets throughout the hemisphere. Three journalists died in Venezuela, three in Colombia, two in Mexico and one in Guatemala. One reporter disappeared in Mexico during the period and others remained missing from earlier periods. The list of journalists reported dead or missing during the past 12 months grew to 15. Gonzalo Marroquín, chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, warned that these deaths demonstrate that “the efforts of various nations in the hemisphere have borne little fruit in the fight against impunity for crimes against journalists.” Marroquín said that such grave circumstances cry out for a coming together of all the pertinent elements of society “to defend press freedom in our countries.” Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela emerged as the countries with the most hostile environments for journalists. In Cuba, for instance, the number of journalists sentenced to up to 27 years in prison rose to 26. In Mexico, independent journalists are becoming an endangered species, especially in the areas along the border with the United States. (Since 1982, there have been 53 Mexican reporters and columnists killed.) Journalists have been gagged and threatened, and drug traffickers have corrupted local, state and federal officials, as well as teachers, priests, taxi drivers, hotel workers and even some journalists. In March, the government established a special prosecutor’s office to investigate crimes against journalists. Already, it has received some 80 complaints. Since 2000 alone, 27 journalists have been killed in Mexico and three more remain missing. Moreover, freedom of the press is restricted in various regions where local government officials maintain authoritative measures against independent journalists—applying political pressure and harassing them, sometimes legally and sometimes physically. Journalism and freedom of expression are also increasingly endangered in Venezuela’s ever more restrictive legal and civic environment. The government is systematically undermining the ability to express oneself freely, and to receive and disseminate information by whatever means. In other countries where the harshest penalties, including death, are less common than in the four most dangerous ones (Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela), there nevertheless has been an alarming increase during the past six months in the harassment of journalists and news media—physical and verbal—as well as subtle but effective intimidation. A spreading trend across the hemisphere involves top government officials singling out dissenting journalists and media outlets for criticism as public nuisances. This was common among the military dictatorships of decades past, and much more understandable at a time when a clear goal was curtailment of all liberties, political and otherwise. It is difficult to understand why governments chosen in free and fair elections would revert to such tactics that so severely restrict the freedom to develop an informed citizenry. What Argentine journalist Joaquín Morales Solá wrote in the daily La Nación of Buenos Aires regarding the situation in his country is echoed elsewhere. There may not be any decrees or resolutions explicitly barring freedom of the press, he said, yet there is less and less freedom of expression and “rarely has there been such an asphyxiating climate since the restoration of democracy, almost 23 years ago.” In countries with legitimately elected governments, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Uruguay and Venezuela, officials at the highest levels publicly focus on specific journalists or media outlets whose reports or opinions they dislike. They seem to forget that such branding of a journalist or media outlet as an “enemy” or “unelected opponent” has the potential to undermine the credibility of those so criticized and to encourage various levels of government to take action against these targets. That already is happening in these countries. In Argentina, almost since assuming office three years ago, President Néstor Kirchner has used this tactic wherever he can—calling out opponents by names—professional, personal and otherwise—and turning one group of citizens against another. The consequences include increased threats against the journalists and the media, and the emergence of ardent presidential supporters who assume license to punish, sometimes violently. Indeed, Morales Solá wrote, “Violent words precede violent acts.” This is repeated in various degrees in Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Uruguay and Venezuela, where heads of state have publicly confronted their media critics in authoritative ways that suggest an inability to adjust to a functioning free press. In Bolivia, for example, President Evo Morales is creating his own media network, allegedly financed in part by the government in Venezuela. The “war against terrorism” continues to claim parts of the free press among its victims. The U.S. government has detained a number of reporters in Iraq for long periods of time without charging them, and has criticized media outlets for revealing information that it considers too “sensitive” for public knowledge. In more domestic U.S. matters, court actions have been brought against some journalists who have declined to disclose information that could lead to the identity of their sources. Six journalists were fined or locked up during the past year, some for up to 18 months. Intimidation of journalists by governments and criminal organizations has spread like wildfire. In Colombia alone during the past six months, 45 journalists have been threatened. In Brazil, 20 employees of media outlets, including some journalists, were threatened with death, held hostage or beaten. In various parts of that country, two newspapers were raided by police, one of which was burned and the other closed down. The courts censored one newspaper, seized a magazine, prohibited publication of a conversation between two politicians and forced two newspapers to publish lengthy texts as part of “right of reply” statutes. Two journalists were shot. In addition, five Guatemalan journalists, four Paraguayans, three Peruvians and two Argentines received death threats. A reporter in Guatemala was shot, while shots were fired into the offices of two newspapers in Ecuador and one in Paraguay. Courts in Costa Rica, Venezuela and Uruguay issued rulings that curtailed press freedom. In Mexico, for the first time, violence moved into the newsroom. Four of them were the targets of shots or explosives. The arbitrary distribution of government advertising remained a serious problem, especially in Argentina, where the government continued to use such public resources to reward its friends and punish its critics. In Chile, concern with the issue prompted the Congress to launch an investigation into how state advertising is distributed.

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