10 February 2006
IAPA: Conclusions from Tegucigalpa
Tegucigalpa, Honduras (February 10, 2006) Improving the quality of news on acts of violence, as well as how to minimize risks for journalists while reporting are some of the conclusions reached at a conference organized by the Inter American Press Association titled Journalism, Violence, and Gangs in Central America that ended today in this city.
Tegucigalpa, Honduras (February 10, 2006) Improving the quality of news on acts of violence, as well as how to minimize risks for journalists while reporting are some of the conclusions reached at a conference organized by the Inter American Press Association titled Journalism, Violence, and Gangs in Central America that ended today in this city. More than 300 participants, including journalists, editors, and NGO representatives, discussed during two days the role of the media, the safety of journalists, and the governments duty in terms of public safety and safeguarding freedom of the press and information. Honduran President Manuel Zelaya inaugurated the conference along with IAPA President Diana Daniels, vice president of The Washington Post Company. Zelaya signed the Declaraction of Chapultepec at the end of the inauguration ceremony. Also participating where the ministers of Government and Security of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, Carlos Vielmann, René Figueroa and Alvaro Romero, respectively, in a panel focusing on government policies to confront the gang problem, which also included the issues of organized crime and immigration. On IAPAs objective and mission at this conference, Daniels stated, We want to better understand this problem. Listen and learn. Dialogue, debate, and experiences will give us tools to be able to provide better quality journalism. Daniels added that the forum will allow the IAPA to continue seeking ways to provide greater safety to journalists when they are in risky situations. Many journalists, including in this country, have been murdered or have died while reporting news. IAPA First Vice President Rafael Molina read the conclusions and expressed that these will be a big help in the Hemisphere Conference on Journalism Values that we are organizing in November in Costa Rica, whose objective will be to reflect on the role of the media in modern society. The discussion panels were comprised of directors of Central American newspapers, police officers, and journalists from Honduras, United States and Colombia, as well as experts and scholars from various Latin American countries. The IAPA delegation, besides Daniels and Molina, included the chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gonzalo Marroquín; chairman of the International Affairs Committee, Jorge Canahuati; regional vice chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information for El Salvador and Honduras, Edgardo Dumas and José Roberto Dutriz, respectively: Executive Director, Julio E. Muñoz; and director of Press Freedom, Ricardo Trotti. This conference was made possible thanks to the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and sponsorship from La Prensa in San Pedro Sula, and El Heraldo and La Tribuna in Tegucigalpa. Conclusions from Tegucigalpa (Conference of the Inter American Press Association: Journalism, Violence and Gangs in Central America. Tegucigalpa, Honduras, February 10, 2006) The conference ratified the important role the media plays in the understanding and search for solutions to the complex problem of gangs and juvenile violence in Central America. For the betterment of news, they expressed that there needs to be a promotion of dialogue on journalism between authorities and society, with individuals from institutions and organizations that are key to handling the gang problem. The media, because of its given responsibility in society, is called to inform and provide oversight so that authorities and society can adopt corrective measures against violence. This is the role and the main contribution of the press in order to overcome the problem of gangs in our society. Gangs and organized crime, helped by new technologies and forms of communication, have led to new challenges for governments in terms of public safety. National and inter-governmental policies should include freedom of the press and of expression as fundamental elements to preserve, and thus, prevent that violence against the media and journalists triggers a favorable climate for self-censorship. The different presentations made by the speakers agreed in the following points: Journalism requires an attitude of greater reflection on reporting and dealing with news on violence and gangs. However, they emphasized that for this to happen there needs to be legislation on access to public information that allows journalists to inform in a more in-depth manner and more thoroughly on all aspects and activities of government on this matter. They expressed that sensationalizing news, far from helping to find solutions, promotes violence. They pointed out that sensationalism attracts some groups of adolescents to gangs. They stressed that it is necessary for journalism to improve its quality and plurality in terms of sources in order for better coverage, and that journalists should not only focus on official sources. They pointed out the need for the journalism community and authorities to coordinate means of communication to prevent risks for journalists while covering dangerous situations. The media can find alternatives on how to better the news product in covering violence, such as examples given by newspapers such as La Prensa Gráfica in El Salvador that devised guidelines on this issue. The media needs to create safety plans to protect its staff and to provide constant training to journalists to minimize the risks in covering stories on violence and gangs. Likewise, journalists have the professional and ethical obligation to create personal strategies for their own protection. It is the responsibility of the media and journalists to encourage a greater social awareness on the importance of freedom of the press and of expression for better coverage of acts of violence, as well as to foster a greater understanding between authorities and civil society to find solutions in this matter.