Acceptance Speech by Milton Coleman, President IAPA

Acceptance Speech by Milton Coleman, President Inter American Press Association Swissotel, Lima, Peru Oct. 18, 2011 Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends and Colleagues I first would like to offer my appreciation, my gratitude and my unswerving support for my friend, my colleague and my predecessor—Gonzalo Marroquin. His has been a powerfully strong voice on behalf and defense of press freedom in the Americas, especially so in the year he dedicated to it during his presidency. Gonzalo: the Inter American Press Association thanks you profusely for your leadership and your service, as do the thousands journalists inspired and sheltered by it. Bien hecho, my friend, well done. And then let me say right now that it is an incalculable honor to accept the presidency of the IAPA—an organization with a grand, glorious and courageous history in the fight for human rights as manifest through the ideals of freedom of expression, a free press and the people’s right to know. I am humbled by your faith in me, and I promise to assume this role, and to serve with all my heart, with all my mind and with all my soul. I am, I believe, the first African American from the United States to occupy this post. I share African roots with many of the Afro-Latino people of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Jamaica and, yes, Peru. As a young man, I fought for human rights in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, was arrested and spent time in jail. As a young journalist, I challenged authority in the name of the peoples right to know. I was arrested and spent time in jail. As an experienced reporter, my life was threatened by those who disliked what I reported. So now, as an elder statesman in the rights struggle we all fight now, I feel very much at home. I’m no stranger to this cause. It was another elder statesman, the baseball pitcher Satchel Page, an ageless wonder who is sometimes given credit—perhaps incorrectly—for coining the phrase “Age ain’t nothin’ but a number.” Yet there are some numbers that really do matter. The Inter American Press Association is 69 years old. That makes it: Three years older than the United Nations. Four years older than me. Six years older than the World Association of Newspapers. Eight years older than the International Press Institute. Thirty years older than the Committee to Protect Journalists; and Thirty-five years older than—nearly twice as old as—Reporters Without Borders. They’re kids. Age gives standing and bespeaks a demonstrable track record that is so often broadcast in the literature and the mantra of IAPA. It is vividly manifest in the real-life heroic stories of many of our members, including Danilo Arbilla and Bob Cox that were highlighted at this meeting. Similar actions in these difficult days can be equally heroic. So in all reality, age ain’t nothin’ but a number. And as such, it doesn’t have to be—either by choice or by chance—a reason to retire. Scott Schurz can tell you more about that. This is the challenge that IAPA faces today. It is a challenge by chance that we should avoid by choice. We cannot let this venerable institution be pushed into a rocking chair on the front porch, gazing out at a dynamic landscape churning in transformation. Look out there and what do we see? Newspapers are no longer the front-runner for news and information. Now—at least certainly in my country—they have slipped into third place, behind television and digital, and in Latin America, behind television and radio in some countries. The printed page is being replaced by the web page, the home page, and even the Twitter page. The new technology is getting more news and information to more people more efficiently—and often in real time. The barriers to entry into the news business are lower: if you have an email address, you can be a publisher. If you have a smart phone, you can be a reporter and a photographer. Take it with you to a square in the Middle East, and you can cover a revolution. The struggle for free speech, a free press, governmental transparency and accountability and the protection of its foot solders has gone global, as we spotlighted in our session yesterday with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The world condemned the recent barbaric slayings of two journalists in Mexico, as more and more organizations added their voices to the chorus that IAPA has sung for years. Leaders of El Universo in Ecuador told us of their plans to journey to New York, and beyond to Europe, where they expect to find sound support for their struggle against tyrannical repression of the journalist’s right to speak and the corporate citizen’s right to own—two principals that have been squelched yet again today by the actions against Globovision in Venezuela. Swirling around all of this is turmoil in the economic world. Just today also we learned that Spain—where we were scheduled to meet just six months from now—has deeper financial problems. And in the philanthropic world that supported some of our strongest IAPA programs, more and more organizations are seeking a share of less and less money. This is the climate in which IAPA must heed a clarion call, a call to claim its historic and rightful place as a premier organization fighting for the freedoms of expression, the press and information in the Western hemisphere in the 21st century, with a long and distinguished record as a leader and a warrior in these battles. Let me repeat those last words for they are very important to our mission. They may not have been perfectly chosen, but they certainly were carefully chosen. A call to claim its historic and rightful place as a premier organization fighting for the freedoms of expression, the press and information in the Western hemisphere in the 21st century, with a long and distinguished record as a leader and a warrior in these battles. I did not say we were the oldest. I did not say we were the best. I did not say we were THE premier organization. I did say we had a RIGHTFUL place—something we have earned. I did say we have a LONG AND DISTINGUISED RECORD to back up that claim. I did say we have been A LEADER AND A WARRIOR, because our record shows it. I did say we are IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE because that is where we’ve always been. I did say the 21st CENTURY, because the 20th is gone. There is a proverb among the Akan people in Ghana in West Africa. It is rooted in traditional values, in which the cook in the house takes pride in the porridge that is the staple of the family diet as if it were a trademark or a byline that bestows bragging rights on all in the household. “If you have not been to your neighbor’s house,” it admonishes, “you do not say that your mother’s soup is the best.” The point here is that we in the IAPA cannot become victims or captives of our own rhetoric. Put another way: Just because we say it is so, does not make it so. And even if it is so, what if the response is, “So what?” Our rightful place in the 21st century is in many respects the same as it was in the last century. The IAPA distinguished itself because it did things no one else could or would do. Much of what we did then, others do now. Much of what others do now, we do not do—and perhaps should not. So many criticize the lack of press freedoms in press releases and press conferences, as we did today. So what? But how many can, for instance, use their stature to rally organizations around the world to flood the court in San Jose to reverse the actions in Ecuador, as many believe only it can? We have a web site that offers a chronicle of our events and our views on press freedom issues. So what? Could we better get out our message, show-off what we do, trumpet our successes with a more vibrant involvement in the social media of the rising generation, and better speak to one another in that way, too? The word “press” is in our name in all three languages. So what? How relevant are our membership opportunities, our values and our programs to the emerging digital media, who more and more, it seems, we are drawn to support? Should our doors and our efforts not be more informed by their presence in our ranks? Six months ago, we convened a meeting at the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla that brought together a broad cross section of press freedom advocates and activists. No one but IAPA could have done that, I was told. What next? None of this is to say that IAPA should close its doors and start all over again. To do so would be to throw out the baby with the bath water, as they say. We have core values and a record of success. It is not a case of being a captive of our own rhetoric, but rather an admonition to say that we are what we are and proud of it, period. So what? Time is running out on the funding of our two flagship programs—Impunity and Chapultepec. This offers us a timely opportunity to look at all we do now and ask what must we try to keep as has been, what can we refine, what do we need to simply stop doing, what is the next thing we must begin to do? This, too, must be a choice not left to chance. We must recognize and accept that the salad days are over. We are unlikely to recreate the huge, multi-year, six- and seven-figure foundation grants of yesteryear. The costs of membership and coming to our meetings must go down. The business model of our organization may well need a major overhaul, not just fine-tuning here and wishful thinking there. To claim our rightful place and beyond, these are some of the things we must do. Our work is led by our committee chairs and vice chairs, and I have appointed to these positions a team of smart, talented and dedicated IAPA members—some new, some old—to lead us forward. Libertad de Prensa e Información Presidente—Gustavo Mohme, La República, Lima Vicepresidentes—Roberto Rock, El Universal, Mexico, D.F.; David Natera Febres, Correo del Caroní, Puerto Ordaz Impunidad Presidente—Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, El Universal, Mexico, D.F. Asuntos Internacionales Presidente—Jorge Canahuati, La Prensa, San Pedro Sula Chapultepec Presidente—Miguel H. Otero, El Nacionál, Caracas Internet Presidente—Ernesto Kraiselburd, El Día, La Plata Premios Presidente—Francisco Miró Quesada, El Comercio, Lima Finanzas y Auditoria Presidente—Hugo Holmann, La Prensa, Managua Campaña de Recaudación de Fondos Presidentes—Alejandro Aguirre, Diário Las Américas, Miami; Fabricio Altamirano, El Diário de Hoy, San Salvador; Edward Seaton, The Mercury, Manhattan, KS; Legal Presidente—Armando Gonzalez, La Nación, San José Nuevos Socios Norte América Presidente—Bruce Brugmann, The Guardian, San Francisco, Pierre Manigault, Evening Post Publishing Co., Charleston Nuevos Socios América Latina y el Caribe Presidentes—Paulo de Tarso Nogueira O Estado de Sao Paulo; Armando Castilla, Vanguardia, Saltillo; Christopher Barnes, The Gleaner, Kingston Sedes Futuras Presidente—Cristina Aby-Azar, Wall Street Journal Americas Programa Presidenta—Jaime Mantilla, Hoy, Quito Nominaciones Presidente—Gonzalo Marroquin, Siglo XXI, Ciudad Guatemala Desarollo Estratégico Presidenta—María Elvira Dominguez, El Pais, Cali Comunicaciónes Presidente-- Fernán Saguier, La Nación, Buenos Aires They will work with that lean, mean press-freedom machine directed by Julio Muñoz and Ricardo Trotti. We are fortunate to have them all. And our office, which answers to the executive committee, our directors and you through Executive Committee Chairman Juan Luis Correa, will operate under some of the same principles that we espouse in our cause—among the, transparency and the rule of law, in this case, our by-laws. IAPA will be at its strongest, from the bottom up and all around. Tonight we conclude this general assembly in Lima, grateful to our hosts. Three score and nine years ago, another meeting concluded that was the founding of the Inter American Press Association. Enshrined in the objectives of that organization, are the principles to which we must continue to remain true: To promote and maintain the dignity, rights and responsibilities of the profession of journalism; To encourage uniform standards of professional and business conduct; To exchange ideas and information which contribute to the cultural, material and technical development of the press of America and to its continuing welfare; To promote and more active and friendly interchange among its members; To secure freedom from unjust and unlawful exactions; To gain common protection for intellectual property and copyrights; To protect its members from irresponsible acts and legislations; To foster a wider knowledge and greater exchange among the peoples of America in support of the basic principles of a free society and individual liberty; And to work collectively for the solution of common problems and for the preservation of the peace and tranquility of the New World. Those words and that wisdom have ripened with age. We need no more to guide us as we march into the future. Thank you, and good night.