Discourse - Robert.J. Cox

Report by IAPA President Robert J. Cox, The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina to IAPA 58th General Assembly Lima, Peru, October 28, 2002 This has been a year of challenge. My presidency began in the shadow of the al-Qaida attack on the United States, and I gave my first speech as president in Washington to the 57th General Assembly. That meeting was a challenge to our membership because Washington was awash in fear. The Pentagon had been severely damaged by one of the four commercial airliners that had been hijacked and transformed into missiles of death and destruction aimed at the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and at the Congress or the White House in Washington. Envelopes containing deadly anthrax, or white powder that appeared to be anthrax, began appearing in the mail. Washington was under siege, by real and imaginary terrorists. Fear was palpable. Yet our members were not afraid or dismayed. They came, despite the difficulty of travel in those anxious times, from throughout the Americas to show their solidarity with the United States in one of its gravest hours. It was one of IAPA´s finest moments. And I expected no less from members of our American family who have themselves defied danger to carry out their vocation as journalists. That testing time set the standard for the rest of the year as our association faced a series of challenges in the hemisphere. The major challenges were, and are, in Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela where, in varying degrees, press freedom and the lives of journalists are in constant danger. The sources are many: terrorists of the left and of the right, drug traffickers and corrupt authorities. Continuing a tradition established by my predecessors I led several missions to troubled countries. Two of those missions were carried out jointly with other international press organizations. We traveled to Bogotá, Colombia, after our highly successful mid-year meeting in the Dominican Republic, with colleagues from the World Association of Newspapers. We went twice to Venezuela. Most recently with a delegation of the International Press Institute led by IPI President Jorge Fascetto, who is also a former IAPA president. Our well-informed staff has sent 165 protests over the past year, indicating IAPA´s constant in defense of the basic freedoms of humankind. We have responded to challenges to press freedom and threats against journalists wherever they have arisen and we will continue our vigilance. I am sad to report that the bell has tolled in four countries for eight journalists who have been the victims of violence since our last meeting in March. Four of these journalists gave their lives in the struggle to preserve democracy in Colombia, where the alert is constantly set at red for danger. One of the journalists who was killed was Venezuelan photographer Jorge Tortoza, shot dead as he was covering a clash between supporters of President Hugo Chavez and citizens demonstrating against him. I appeal to President Chavez, from this important tribune in Lima, Peru, to cease his verbal aggression against journalists and avoid any further incitement that could cause the death of more people, journalists among them, and could also set in train a spiral of violence that might well erupt into civil war. The media provide the bridges of communication and understanding between the people and the government that sustain democracy. President Chavez, please. Don’t burn those bridges. In the light of our experience in Caracas, we were deeply concerned by the brutal attack on journalists by police outside Congress that occurred the day before our arrival in Lima. I commend the Minister of Interior, Gino Costa, for his rapid response and his condemnation of what I hope will prove to be an isolated incident. We came here to celebrate the restoration of genuine press freedom and enjoy the vigorous diversity of the media in Peru. We believe that it is important to investigate this incident and punish those responsible for a seemingly inexplicable aggression on the part of the PNP. Turning now to a very different challenge faced within IAPA this year, I wish to express gratitude to our membership for a wonderful response to a complicated set of circumstances that for a while threatened our usually sound financial situation. We feared that a great asset, the new IAPA building, named after the late Jules Dubois, the great Chicago Tribune correspondent and distinguished chairman of our Freedom of the Press Committee, would become a financial liability. This temporary but severe strain on IAPA´s financial resources put the loyalty and commitment of our members, and our superb staff, to the test. Their response has been magnificent. I take great pleasure in expressing thanks to those of you who helped us raise more than half a million dollars in a very short time to bring this emergency under control. The generosity and self-sacrifice of our members was heart warming. On behalf of IAPA I would like to thank, in particular, the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, to whom we owe so much, and also the Knight Foundation for their support in very trying time. Fund-raising must continue, but we have survived a near collision with a financial iceberg and we are sailing out of danger. There is so much that I could tell you about this magnificent organization that I have learned during my more than 30-year association with IAPA and, most intensely, during the past 12 months. But 30 years is nothing compared to the record of Claude Erbsen of The Associated Press, who is with us once again. He attended his first meeting as an IAPA scholarship holder in Bogotá, Colombia. The year was 1960. Can anyone here beat that? Undoubtedly, many more challenges lie ahead. IAPA will continue advancing the cause of freedom. Our most resounding success in this great endeavor over the past year has been the consolidation of phase one of the Chapultepec Project, which has as its main objective to guarantee the right of freedom of information, expression and opinion to all citizens. This year we also began work on the second stage of the Chapultepec Project, which aims to improve the relationship between the media and the judiciary in order to guarantee justice for all citizens. I want to use this opportunity to recognize two of the architects of the Ten Principles of Chapultepec, our “magna carta.” They are Jim McClatchy, the visionary, and Eduardo Ulibarri, a key figure in the drafting of the document. This past year has allowed me to appreciate in the fullest possible way the power and the prestige of the IAPA. The power flows from our truthful reporting. The prestige stems from the achievements of the 56 presidents who preceded me, the thousands of great journalists who created and cherished this incomparable institution. But IAPA also generates admiration and – there is no word quite as suitable in English – “simpatía.” We were moved by the warm and affectionate reception that we received during our Chapultepec presentations from ordinary citizens, particularly students, who revealed to us their thirst for information about our work. Their enthusiasm, expressed in overflow crowds in La Paz, Bolivia, and also in tense Caracas, will remain with me. So will our burgeoning new relationship with Supreme Court judges, which began with a memorable summit in Washington and has continued with equally fruitful meetings in Buenos Aires, and here in Lima. These encouragingly warm and sincere encounters hold out great hope for the betterment of society through truthful journalism and independent justice. Insistently during the waning days of my presidency, I have found myself recalling a phrase that is, perhaps, no longer fashionable. But the six words of this phase speak for what we are about: “The truth will set you free.” So be it. Now and forever.