Summary of Country by Country reports

by Ricardo Trotti, Press Freedom Coordinator, at the IAPA Midyear Meeting Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic March 17, 2002 ARGENTINA The serious economic and political situation in Argentina has also given rise to attacks, beatings and threats against journalists, especially those involved in covering the outbursts of social unrest. A special commission of the national Chamber of Deputies has reported money laundering in the acquisition of several media outlets. ARUBA & DUTCH CARIBBEAN The government passed legislation to ease access by the press to public records. BOLIVIA Amendments to the Electoral Code include time limits for the media to publish political advertising, and a schedule of rates they can charge, which may not exceed the average commercial rates for the first half of the year prior to the election. The eradication of coca crops brought with it arbitrary treatment of journalists and allowed the government to close a number of radio stations in the region that had been operating without a license and opposed eradicating the crops. BRAZIL A "damages industry" continues to thrive on the basis of court decisions assessing stiff fines on media outlets and journalists, effectively censoring information on government officials or administration corruption. In February the Chamber of Deputies approved the opening of media companies with up to 30 percent foreign capital. The university degree requirement for journalists to be included in the professional registry of the Labor Ministry was suspended in a São Paulo federal court decision effective nationwide. CANADA It is feared that new anti-terrorism legislation could be used to put restrictions on freedom of expression and access to public information. Under a recent amendment to the Criminal Code, courts may order publication bans under certain circumstances. CARIBE A radio current affairs show host was ordered to leave Antigua, a move that sparked local protest. In Grenada, an editor and a radio reporter were sued for libel in two separate cases. CHILE The government has made no headway on amending the Press Act of 2001, which provides for censorship on the reporting of news. A Council of State official filed charges against a newspaper for appealing to an international organization such as the IAPA after criticizing her performance in an editorial, for which she had also sued the paper. COLOMBIA Two journalists were killed in the line of duty, and 17 received death threats from guerrillas, drug traffickers and paramilitary forces. A number of journalists have the left the country. At the request of presidential candidate Horacio Serpa, the government has asked the OAS to send a commission to monitor reporting on the elections. Serpa had complained that the media in general do not report fairly and impartially. COSTA RICA On the pretext of "political equality," the Supreme Court of Elections required a television station to include more than a dozen politicians in a presidential debate, after the station had announced a debate among the four majority party candidates with the highest standing in the polls. The Legislative Assembly voted to eliminate the crime of insulting public officials, which threatened with prison time anyone besmirching a government official's reputation or good name. But the steady stream of court decisions against journalists and media outlets, especially in relation to the right of reply, has degenerated into a culture of self-censorship. CUBA Government violence against independent journalists is escalating, and attacks, threats and denials of permission to leave the country are on the rise. A number of journalists have been arrested in the wake of the events at the Mexican Embassy in Havana. More obstacles are being put in the way of independent journalists sending dispatches abroad. E-mail and Internet access is not a possibility, since even average citizens must apply for special permits from the National Office of Technological Security. ECUADOR The Children's and Teenagers' Code has passed the first stage of the congressional approval process. The Code interferes with the editorial policy of private media outlets by requiring them to provide space free of charge for information from the public sector. The Ecuadorian government has declared a state of emergency in response to the outbreak of civil war in Colombia, enabling it to close radio stations near the border. EL SALVADOR National and municipal officials are systematically refusing to speak to journalists or provide them with information of public interest. Leaders of the main opposition party FMLN have launched a campaign of attacks on journalists and media outlets, after major newspapers reported on a party march in support of terrorist Osama bin Laden. ESTADOS UNIDOS Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl was murdered by his abductors in Pakistan, sending a shock wave around the world. Bush administration officials scrapped a plan to create a new office that the media feared might be used to disseminate disinformation in the war on terrorism. Meanwhile, a directive from the Attorney General's office was seen as a potential threat to the free flow of information. GUATEMALA A mandatory licensing law was enacted which violates article 35 of the Guatemalan constitution. Article 35 guarantees the practice of journalism "without prior permit or licensing requirements." A draft amendment to the Criminal Code introduces penalties for periodicals, books and electronic media which publish "obscene content." HAITI One journalist has been murdered, and many others attacked and threatened. The main source of the harassment is the governing Lavalás Family Movement party. Faced with government and police apathy in response to complaints filed by journalists, the National Association of Journalists has begun filing criminal charges against the assailants. HONDURAS A congressman has asked Congress to regulate and control journalists and the media in retaliation for criticism of the government's performance and for publishing reports of the United States consulate's denial of visas to major business figures. MEXICO A journalist was murdered in a town on the border with the United States. The presence and influence of drug trafficking groups make journalism is a high-risk occupation near the border. No progress has been made in the court proceedings relating to more than 10 murdered journalists, despite the fact that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds the Mexican government accountable to the international community for some these crimes, which have been investigated by the IAPA. NICARAGUA A mandatory licensing law enacted in April 2001 has not yet entered into effect, because the two unions required by law to elect an executive committee have yet to reach agreement. The new administration has said it will apply a fair, technical policy for the placement of government advertising, thus distancing it from the previous administration of Arnoldo Alemán, which used public funds to reward and punish the media. PANAMA Despite the government's promises, laws limiting the exercise of freedom of the press are still on the books. Harassment of journalists continues, and arbitrary criminal complaints are filed against them for alleged wrongful accusations of criminal acts. In a climate of judicial repression, these complaints are used to make it difficult for journalists to do their work. PARAGUAY Freedom of the press has been dealt serious blows by court decisions that impose fines on media outlets and favor government officials and authorities over journalistic revelations of corruption. Serious harassment, threats and attacks on journalists and the media, especially outside the capital and near the border with Brazil and Argentina where bands of smugglers operate. PERU A heated public debate arose at the prospect of the government rescinding the licenses of several television stations, whose owners were fugitives from justice or defendants after taking bribes from Vladimiro Montesinos during the previous administration. Issues addressed by bills before Congress include access to public records and a conscience clause for journalists. PUERTO RICO Judges, legislators and government officials continue to issue laws, regulations and orders barring journalists from accessing information produced by the public sector or personally concerning government officials. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC A press law still before Congress guarantees free access to public records and establishes that primary legal liability for publication does not rest with the media outlet. Impunity still surrounds the 1994 disappearance of Narciso González. URUGUAY Journalists ordered to reveal their sources have been arrested and required to appear in court in the wake of revelations of government corruption. The government continues to place official advertising without reference to technical criteria. VENEZUELA President Hugo Chávez is the prime mover of a systematic campaign of attacks on journalists and the media, using his long speeches on national networks to implicate government and private broadcast media and incite the members of the Bolivarian Circles to attack journalists. In addition to the "truth in reporting" clause in the Venezuelan constitution and court decisions that favor president Chávez over freedom of the press, pro-government lawmakers are sponsoring a Content Law that seeks to create a mechanism for media control and censorship on the pretext of protecting child-friendly viewing time.