Speech by Enrique Santos Calderón, President of the Inter American Press Association

More than 15 years ago, in 1992, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Columbus´ first voyage, the Inter American Press Association held its first meeting outside the American continent. Maybe for this reason, I feel especially committed and excited upon becoming president of the IAPA here in Madrid, at the second assembly in this country in its 66 years. It is not just because of this unique fact and the excellent program and participation in this meeting, which King Juan Carlos graced with his presence, but also because I am fully aware of the responsibility of presiding over the oldest press freedom organization in the Western Hemisphere, at this moment and with the concrete tasks that this position involves in the defense of press freedom in our region. Also, because it makes me reflect on what it has meant to me as a Colombian journalist to have joined IAPA 21 years ago. During these years, I have been able to confirm the seriousness of its commitment to a cause that is the basic principle of democracy. I will never forget my first presentation at an assembly reporting on press freedom in Colombia shortly after the killing in Bogotá of the editor of El Espectador, Guillermo Cano. At that time, we Colombian journalists suffered the implacable harassment of drug traffickers who killed dozens of our colleagues each year. I remember the indignation and solidarity that greeted me at that assembly even better than the rage and fear with which I denounced those crimes. The murder of Cano in December of 1986 demonstrated how far a mafia striving to silence the media is capable of going. Colombia at that time was by far the most dangerous country in the world to practice our profession. It was the most terrifying and dramatic case known of the press under fire. But it was also the example of how a profession that refuses to surrender reacts: by going on the offensive. Cano´s death marked a breaking point and the first collective response of the media against the criminal arrogance of those who try to impose the worst type if dictatorship, that of fear, silence and corruption. Two days after the murder, in an unprecedented journalistic response, Colombia went 24 hours without press, radio or television. It was a voluntary silence, highly charged with meaning, so Colombian society would understand what it meant when its most honest spokesmen are eliminated. And shortly afterward, in another unprecedented event, all the newspapers and broadcast news programs united to publish a serious of joint and simultaneous reports on the Medellín and Cali drug cartels. We gave the names of the leaders, their lieutenants and their connections to the United States. We disclosed the modus operandi of their businesses and the victims of their crimes. The Colombian press understood the seriousness of the challenge and joined forces to confront it. And although this instructive experience showed the mafia leaders that they could not silence us, it alone was not enough to stop the drug traffic, which today still causes devastation everywhere. The report presented to the IAPA at that time said: “Drug traffic is not just Colombian but worldwide. And while today we are the victims, tomorrow surely it will be the free press in other countries. This is a multinational crime that has no borders. As long as they do not have the support of all the media outlets of the continent, in some way press freedom will be preserved in the face of this scourge of our time.” As I recall these words, I cannot help but think today of Mexico which so badly needs solidarity while confronting this same scourge. And for that reason I want to stress tonight that throughout the nightmare of drug trafficking that we experienced, in the 15 years I was spokesman for Colombia in the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, I saw, year after year the existence of this solidarity, the seriousness and commitment of the IAPA in this task and the importance of its moral and material support. The facts speak for themselves. The $1.7 million that the IAPA and the Newspaper Association of America raised at the time so El Espectador could rebuild the presses that had been blown up was an eloquent example in the economic area of what our organization can do to defend our besieged colleagues. It is expressed in very diverse fields: in all the campaigns against censorship and impunity, in the Chapultepec Project, in the establishment of the Rapid Response Units, in the many seminars and conferences, in the training of hundreds of journalists—almost a thousand now—on how to reduce their risk. I would take all night to list all IAPA’s achievements in its long struggle for press freedom. But I cannot fail to mention some of the most important in recent years. For example, I reaffirmed the value of the human rights system as it concerns press freedom by introducing many cases before the Inter-American Commission and being instrumental in the naming of the special rapporteur. Ours was the first organization to hold dozens of hemispheric summits with legislators and judges to deal jointly with the topic of freedom of expression. It led—with assemblies, meetings and special missions—the current trend to approve freedom of information laws and decriminalize the offenses of injuria and calumnia. All this, in the end, has established the attitude and conduct of the IAPA. It does not correspond at all to the image spread by some of an elitist club of newspaper owners who are indifferent to the tragedy of the continent’s journalists. It is enough to know the IAPA up close, and join, and become attached to its goals. I spent 15 years as regional vice president of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information. Then, from 2001 to 2003, I directed the Journalists at Risk project, and from 2004 to 2005 I was president of the Impunity Committee, which I believe, without a doubt, supports one of the most important tasks of the IAPA. When crimes against journalists are not punished it is not possible to guarantee true press freedom. Impunity is the other face of the violence against our profession; it feeds and perpetuates it. We have progressed with slow steps in the campaign to eradicate it, but each step is more confident. We have achieved significant and concrete results, such as those described in this assembly. I will see that we redouble our efforts in this direction. We are not willing to allow any journalist’s death to be in vain. Every one of them, of the 344 colleagues who have been killed in the last 20 years in our hemisphere, has contributed to building strategies to minimize impunity, and a way to ensure that achievement in one country is transferred to others. ****** Today I take on this job, which honors and excites me, with the irrevocable goal of deepening IAPA´s task to strengthen a free, independent and worthy press on our continent. It is a time full of old dangers—the violent ones of always—and new challenges—the peaceful but very strong ones of the digital revolution—not to speak of the economic and corporate ones. Things have changed. Colombia, for example, is no longer the most dangerous country for our profession. But drug traffickers continue to kill with the same brutality and cruelty, as demonstrated in the case of Mexico, to which IAPA will dedicate special care and attention during my presidency. And, of course, there are the eternal enemies that, inside or outside the government, do not tolerate a press that criticizes, reports or oversees. Today we have to deal with new forms of intolerance. They are more subtle and less clumsy than the military dictatorships of old that we combated so much. But they are no less worrisome because they express the inability of democratically elected rulers to accept that pluralism of opinion and the right to criticism are the essential pillars of the democracy that brought them to power. We can see this all over the continent to a greater or lesser degree. In the Kirchners’ Argentina, in Correa’s Ecuador, in Morales’ Bolivia, in Ortega’s Nicaragua, in Zelaya’s Honduras, in Chávez’s Venezuela, of course. Not to mention Cuba. Even in Colombia, we cannot say that the president harasses the press, but journalists’ questions very often drive him crazy. All this surely confirms the dialectical tension between the press and power, a tension that is eternal, natural and, in my view, healthy. The press should strengthen democracy, not weaken it; it must be able to resist and even stimulate its contrary position; and never succumb to the temptation to give up this position because it is uncomfortable. It always will be. To be a way to confront power should always be part of our vocation. To supervise the public and private powers in the name of the public interest is inherent in our duty to be independent and credible spokesmen for the community. This duty has been challenged from many sides. Our challenge comes from the past, is in the present, and goes to the future. Simultaneously, we have to face this challenge to ensure that the IAPA’s principles are still credible and applicable during these hard times for print journalism. It is enough to see the difficulties of many important newspapers in the world, especially in the United States, where the economic crisis of the newspapers is a bigger and bigger problem. * * * * That is why I want to speak about our challenges in the years to come. The IAPA has taken a serious and respectable path for over 60 years, but today it must think of young people more than ever. These young people do not read the newspapers, but they use all the multimedia resources at hand. How do they see or understand an organization like ours? How do we assimilate the more and more intense and chaotic revolution of information on the Internet? How do we tackle the challenges of the digital age and cope with those who loudly predict our demise, who proclaim every day not only that newspapers have died but also news and professional journalism? Without joining those who preach the death of paper, we have to admit that our industry and our profession are going through a delicate transition period, whose guiding principle is digital. The challenge of our organization is to find imaginative responses to the challenges that our member newspapers face, which obviously implies understanding such phenomena as YouTube, MySpace, Google, OhMyNews, Wikipedia, and so on. It is commonplace to say that we have to redefine ourselves, to stop considering ourselves as just newspapers. We have to generate content no matter from where we report – Internet, cellphones…whatever. But it is also important to find business models to support serious journalism in a digital world. Otherwise, as it happens now, the move toward the Web may lead to a gradual deterioration in the quality of our profession. We know how to practice it, and we must defend it in order to prosper in the digital environment, to continue to be relevant for our readers and to keep the essential values of journalism as a beacon for a free and well-informed society. Now that ethical debates on the media are in fashion, we have updated and supported these values in the Letter of Aspirations, which was approved after a four-year discussion and which commits us to the highest level of transparency and professional honesty, so that we never lose the confidence and the support of the public, which is really our most important judge. I do believe that the IAPA, all of us, have to make a greater effort so young people –our computer-savvy children and grandchildren who brag about not using paper– understand the value of this freedom, for which we have fought for 60 years. This is not just related to “the press”, but to freedom of information and expression in the most universal sense. To make the new generations aware of the meaning of this freedom in today’s world must be an important element of the IAPA’s future strategy. They must realize that there is a need to defend and to update this freedom, and that they must never take it for granted. * * * * Now let me thank our hosts, the newspaper El País, Ignacio Polanco, Angel Luis de la Calle, Alex Grijelmo from EFE and the other members of the host committee for this impeccably organized assembly and for this excellent program. I am also grateful to the Knight and McCormick foundations, since their decisive and generous support has helped us conduct many of our projects. ***** Finally, I would like to announce some internal changes. To appoint the Presidents of the Committees has been one of my first duties. I would like to thank them for their support and for assuming their responsibilities. Firstly, I have appointed Bob Rivard, of the San Antonio Express, San Antonio, as chairman of our important Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information. Following the guidelines of my predecessor, Earl Maucker, to streamline our organization, I have merged the New Members Orientation Committee and the New Members Committee, with Bruce Brugmann and Anders Gyllenhaal (The Miami Herald’s editor) as co-chairman. This committee must strengthen membership in the United States, where the current crisis has caused some newspapers to fold. I have decided to appoint Sidnei Basile (Grupo Abril from Brasil) and Gilberto Arias (Panama America, Panama) as chairs of the Latin-American and Caribbean branch of this committee. As usual, now I will announce the chairmen of the remaining Committees: Chapultepec: Bartolomé Mitre, La Nación, Argentina. Impunity: Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, El Universal, Mexico. International Affairs: Jorge Canahuati, La Prensa, Honduras. Awards: Fabricio Altamirano, El Diario de Hoy, El Salvador. Finance and Audit: Felipe Edwards, El Mercurio, Chile. Foundations: Edward Seaton, Seaton Newspapers, Kansas (United States). Legal: Armando González, La Nación, Costa Rica. Future Sites: José Santiago Healy, Diario de San Diego, California (United States). As usual, the first vice president, Alejandro Aguirre of Diario la Américas will preside over the Program Committee and our former president Earl Maucker will be the chair of the Nominations Committee. Finally, I have appointed Luis Alberto Ferré, from El Nuevo Día, San Juan (Puerto Rico) as president of the Internet Committee, to strengthen a committee that represents the future of journalism. Thanks to these changes and to the valuable support of Julio Muñoz, Ricardo Trotti, the entire IAPA staff, of Gina, of my son Alejandro and of all of you, I am sure that I will be able to advance our intense and productive agenda for the next year. But the great strength of the IAPA rests on you, the members, and on the principles expressed by the leaders of this organization in the past. They understood that real commitment to the IAPA’s principles is the best way to support the democratic progress in America. You are the ones who will make freedom of the press prevail. I invite you to be a part of this task. Thank you very much.