20 October 2013
Chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information Claudio Paolillo, Búsqueda, Montevideo, Uruguay IAPA 69th General Assembly, Denver, Colorado Sunday, October 20, 2013 Without a doubt we are facing the worst six months of the past five years regarding press freedom. We find an increase in attacks on journalists that have cost the lives of 14 of our colleagues. We are also facing a lack of punishment that ravages with 17 cases of murder. These cases are becoming subject to statutes of limitations in Colombia and Mexico, boosting the vicious circle of violence. In Latin American countries we are also facing a plan to demolish democratic structures. Wrapped in a popular discourse that gives the appearance of noble causes, we find messianic leaders who want to remain in power. This attempt can be clearly seen in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and, with certain nuances, in Argentina. Mechanisms of financial coercion to silence the press are put in place which shows an increasingly weaker appearance in democracy. In Argentina the government is encouraging supermarkets to stage an advertising boycott to the independent media. In Venezuela, the bureaucracy makes access to foreign currency for the importation of basic supplies for newspaper production almost impossible. But one of the most hidden and malicious forms of control on the flow of information is the purchase of media through front men, relatives or even members of the president’s family. This is the case in countries such as Nicaragua and Panama where the process ends up further enlarging enormous propaganda machines. It is no longer the question for countries ruled by governments allied in ALBA, or an organization invented by the Cuban dictatorship. Now, those in government of any ideology use coercive economic mechanisms. The old method of discrimination in the placement of official advertising is also used in Guatemala and in Trinidad and Tobago. In other countries, such as Brazil, Colombia, Panama and Peru, lawsuits seeking big damages against media and journalists with the clear aim of extending self-censorship exist. As is the case for Panama, where the president prohibits its ministers and other officials from providing information to media and journalists that expose cases of alleged government corruption. Instead of explaining how the people’s resources are handled they claim the right of ownership and act like kings instead of presidents of democratic republics. At one time, we could have imagined that the maturity of the democracies would result in an automatic transparency, but unfortunately we were wrong. We are increasingly more distant from that ideal. The culture of secrecy and vigilance by government bodies has become more intense. The government of the United States is the one that has caused us most surprise. Spying under the recurring excuse that national security is above anything else. Even above the basic principles that founding fathers set down in indelible ink more than 200 years ago. Under this argument of national security, other governments in the Americas are also obstructing access to information. For example, in Canada where the authorities are increasingly using “classified information” in order to legally deny information of public interest to its citizens. In El Salvador and in Paraguay the legislatures deny information regarding the assets of their members, despite the legal orders to make the public aware of them. And in countries where there are laws on access to public information such laws have proved to be inoperable or are neutralized by other laws. As in the case of Ecuador who has had the sad “privilege” of passing a “communication law” that makes censorship official without beating around the bush. The Ecuadorean law is one of the worst pieces of news that has occurred during the last six months regarding freedom of expression. The government has taken absolute control of the flow of information. The media are required to regulate themselves in accordance with the whims of President Rafael Correa. The re-installment requirement of mandatory membership of journalists in a guild - a problem that has cost us so many years to eradicate- poses a new threat to the Americas.. However, dear colleagues, we cannot let our guard down; on the contrary, given this disastrous panorama we are obliged to redouble our efforts. The three special presentations that we will be having today on the United States, Cuba and Ecuador, added to the country-by-country reports, will surely be a comprehensive demonstration of the enormous challenges for press freedom.