Jaime Mantilla


Among the thoughts I shared with you during my speech at the beginning of my mandate, I mentioned Albert Camus, who held at the time of the Second World War, that the essence was not in discussing how to preserve freedom, but how under its suppression, a journalist can remain free ......

 Circumstances we are currently facing, since it’s not only the journalist, but all citizens who are in danger of losing the right to remain free Press freedom in our Americas has been deteriorating for a long time now, both for the lack of respect on the part of some governments and political powers and for the little awareness of the fundamental value that this right represents for life in democracy. It is not only an effect of the incursion of authoritarian governments which have taken over power, but of that gradual loss of the values of freedom of thought, expression and information among the people. The social inequalities, the indifference and the greed of a large part of the ruling classes, the comfort and passive acceptance of the dependent groups have made those governments employ a clear strategy to eliminate divergent political groups and silence the independent press – the only ones that contradict in the government play – with the aim of creating their own substitutes, doing away with the citizenry watchdog over their actions, taking over the legislature and, in many cases, the judiciary. All this in an environment of suffocating propaganda that has managed to plant in the people two components fatal for democracy – Hatred and Fear. Hatred among brothers and of those regarded as the most benefitting groups, and fear of losing their businesses, their benefits, their comfort, their consumerism and their dependence on the  subsidies they receive from the central power. If the economic effect of the increase in the prices of export goods, which generate a positive impact on the economies, generating liquidity and access to credit, is added to those governments, I see complicated, if not to say almost impossible, that the concepts, the values, the foundations of those freedoms can easily be maintained as principal objectives of the common people. The press of the Americas has had to face tremendous harassment that has brought it to the verge of collapse, without the people reacting as we believed they should have done, in not understanding that they are the principal motor to defend democracy. These thoughts describe the environment in which the IAPA has had to act during these last few months. When out of your generosity I assumed the presidency in October last year one could imagine the problems that we would have to face. The impossibility of accompanying you personally in São Paulo due to pressures by my government which have continued up to now seeking to silence the independent press, I hoped this would be compensated by an enthusiastic work to build bridges, establish dialogues with all the various governments in defense of the objectives that the IAPA has always defended – Freedom of expression, of the press and of information. Two serious enemies that we had to defeat were identified – intolerance and manipulation on the part of those authoritarian governments, and the violence unleashed against the independent press by several groups of those in power. In Ecuador, the Communication Law represents the most serious setback for freedoms in the Americas, as the IAPA described at the time, this legislation, which is violating democratic procedures, the Constitution, international treaties, was in the end imposed to do away with criticism, open debate and the transparency that the actions of the government and the people should have. We had invited the chairman of the Council on Regulation and Development of Information and Communication, a body created by this law, to explain its content and discuss it before distinguished lawyers. One month later we received his excuse, justifying it on the grounds that none of the members of that Council had the time to review this legal matter before the IAPA. We later learned that after a notable delay this body has sent to the Ecuadorean President for his approval the legislative bill to regulate the action of the Council. The above-mentioned entity controlled by the government named at the beginning of last week as Communications Superintendant Carlos Ochoa, host of a news program on one of the TV channels confiscated by the government, an active pro-Correa militant who has persistently attacked the independent press, its executives and every journalist who has not been pigeonholed in the views of the regime. This appointment, which violates the Constitution and the law, is produced despite the fact that four independent organizations presented to the Citizen Participation Council their fundamental rebuttal of the candidacy. Very speedily and without legal or logical basis they were filed away, enabling the appointment of the person challenged. In the panel discussion held yesterday afternoon you were able to review the details of this legislation which wipes out free speech in Ecuador. What is most serious is not that the so-called Gag Law is being institutionalized in Ecuador, but that the general terms of that law are similar to those that are being imposed in some legislations in the Americas, and this is why I call the attention of all of you to come up with a strategy of defense of the freedoms. In Argentina the abuse of governmental power has sought to similarly silence media that do not share the administration’s particular views. Although one still hopes that the justice system is not, as in other countries, taken over by the government in office, we believe that the battle to defend democracy will continue to be a very tough one. The government of Cristina Kirchner moved ahead on its decision to control newsprint, to determine its production, commercialization, distribution and price, introducing in May a legislative bill to expropriate shares of Papel Prensa, the only company that manufactures that primary product, and turn them over to the government, with the excuse that this is a product “of public utility and subject to its expropriation.” This is just one of the “innovations” that have been imposed in various draft laws that are being discussed – to turn independent, plural, free information into a “public service,” by which the governments would be enabled to regulate the provision of that so-called “public service.” As in other countries indirect censorship is applied through rewards and punishments in the distribution of official advertising, access to public information and pressure on privately-owned companies for them not to advertise in newspapers. While criticism is not yet a criminal offense the government occupies itself with discrediting it from its position of power, through constant harassment of the media and journalists that do not agree with the regime. The Audiovisual Services Law is a clear threat. The Argentine Supreme Court held a public hearing to listen to both sectors and is due to pronounce on the constitutionality of some of the articles of this law that the Argentine government uses to destabilize the press. The IAPA has been attentive to defend the freedom of expression of the Argentine press, on which it issued a press release and announced that it will intervene before international bodies in the event that the rights and freedoms for its exercise are violated. We have maintained unceasing criticism of the information monopolies on the part of governments or groups in power of any kind. The IAPA considers that the best guarantee for the subsistence of democracy is the existence of varied media that understand and defend independence and pluralism, and for that reason they keep their doors open to the various currents of divergent thinking. The more distinct media exist the better informed will be the community. The recent negotiations between respected media groups in Peru are of concern because they could put in danger this fundamental value for life in a democracy by bringing together in just one media group more than 80% of the circulation and sales. In Venezuela, the maturing of revanchist Chavism, prevents the people being able to defend their freedoms, while the government, following the injected recipe of the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA) has managed to befog the population with myths, legends and unfulfillable promises, without even managing to satisfy the minimum basic needs of food and health. As in other places, an attempt now is being made to brainwash children and youths, creating short versions of history – a similar procedure to the system that was imposed in the old Soviet Union, where the hierarchies created in each change of leadership a new history favoring the leader in office. In short, in some countries in the Americas actions and situations are being produced that seek to silence the independent press. In Panama, copying the orders that Ecuador’s President Correa gave to his ministers more than a year ago, prohibiting them from making statements to the independent press, President Martinelly has repeated these actions by prohibiting these kinds of statements to  La Prensa newspaper. For their part, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela are continuing with their determination, although with less force, to weaken the Inter-American Human Rights System, especially the Office of Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), whose reports on this issue have annoyed them, and this is why they have accused that body of being an “instrument of imperialism and of capitalism” against “progressive governments.” The IAPA has maintained unswerving support for the actions of the Office of Special Rapporteur and will continue providing it despite the new onslaught that is being made by Morales and Correa governments, as we feel that it is one of the principal mainstays for internationally calling for the applicability of democracy in our countries. On this situation we sent messages to 19 presidents and heads of government in the Americas, and to 33 Western Hemisphere diplomatic representatives to the Organization of American States (OAS), in which we explained to them our position and concerns at the so-called process of reforms and strengthening of the Inter-American System. We feel that the position of the independent press of the Americas, the sending of communiqués to the leaders of the Americas, among other actions, managed to frustrate the attack that the ALBA countries sought to make upon the Office of Rapporteur and the Inter-American System. The acts of violence demonstrate with horror the ferocity against journalists and news media. The murders of journalists, the majority of them perpetrated by organized crime, principally in Mexico and Honduras, and the corresponding lack of justice being done, create a somber panorama of impunity surrounding these crimes. This year 13 journalists have been murdered in Latin America – 4 in Brazil, 3 in Mexico, 2 in Colombia, 2 in Guatemala, 1 in Paraguay and 1 in Honduras. The call for justice and the impunity surrounding these murders continue to be a matter of priority for our organization. The increase in legal actions, such as libel suits, another kind of putting pressure, is repeated in some of our countries. In Cuba, despite a certain openness, there continues to be a lack of respect for individual freedoms, of expression and of the press. The constant repression of journalists and opponents, which we learn about thanks to the brave work of independent bloggers who move through labyrinths to inform the world what is happening in the island. Our Regional Vice Chair has been very explicit, commenting on the vicissitudes that they face. In any event, one sees glimpses of hope after so many years – the action of the official press increasingly seen to be weakened in the face of the rise of new voices and manifestations of free expression occurring in the information systems and social media. In Mexico, actions to counteract violence such as making crimes against freedom of expression federal offenses and the passage of a law for the protection of journalists have not been sufficient. In countries such as Brazil and Colombia steps are being taken to prevent acts of violence and protect the work of journalists, but a high level of impunity remains. In the United States we have heard from authoritative voices the serious situation that the press has been facing, threatened by shameful spying. I think it is necessary to summarize some relevant activities carried out by the IAPA and its representatives during these last few months: —One of the main actions that we carried out together with Julio Muñoz and the organization’s staff was to make an in-depth change in the design and content of our Web site. As you have been able to see, the current site is much more dynamic and attractive and has the capacity to grow in line with the increase in services that the organization develops. —Taking advantage of our Midyear Meeting in Puebla, and in commemoration of our 70th anniversary, we launched the book “Guest Speakers,” which contains the most important speeches by leading players in the history of the Americas and Europe. —On January 21, at the invitation of El Tiempo and its editor Roberto Pombo we attended a special massive ceremony in Bogotá, in which in the presence of President Juan Manuel Santos, more than 50 mayors and governors signed the Declaration of Chapultepec. We took advantage of the visit to speak with some companies concerned that democratic freedoms be maintained, and we took part at the Universidad de los Andes university in an interesting discussion with professors, students and journalists on “The State of Press Freedom in Latin America.”  —Following the election victory of Rafael Correa on February 17 we sent a letter congratulating him and suggesting we meet to discuss freedoms in the Americas. The note was answered three months later, by the Communication Secretary, in offensive terms, turning down the proposal. —On May 2-4, we were present at the international conference organized by UNESCO for 2013 World Press Freedom Day in Costa Rica. In representing the IAPA Roberto Rock, El Universal, Mexico, acted as moderator of the panel discussion “Addressing The Question Of Impunity.” Also taking part was Asdrúbal Aguiar, the chairman of our Legal Committee, with his presentation on “Pluralism in the Media, Governmental Ownership and Advertising.” His remarks placed emphasis on the problems and contradictions produced in ALBA countries. —On May 27-29, we carried out a mission to Honduras to gather information on amendments to the Telecommunications Sector Law and to learn about the proposals of the press regarding self-regulation. Also gathered were proposals for public reforms to put an end to impunity, counteract violence against the press and establish protective measures for the most vulnerable press groups. We met with President Porfirio Lobo, Justice and Human Rights Departments Secretary Ana Pineda, Congress Speaker Juan Orlando Hernández, former president Manuel Zelaya, presidential candidates in the upcoming elections and several news media chiefs. —On July 4, Madrid, the 6th Atlantic Forum Iberoamerica Facing The Future: Institutional, Political and Economic Challenges, The Role of the News Media, was held. Organized by the Freedom Foundation headed by Mario Vargas Llosa. We took part in the review of the media in the Americas, along with Carlos Lauria of the CPJ and José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch. The occasion served to detail to those present and media covering the event the actions the IAPA is taking in defense of independent news media. —On September 10, we met with the board of directors of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) in Washington, D.C., where we reviewed common issues in the work of the press and reported on the various IAPA initiatives and programs. The result could not have been better on obtaining a great presence of American journalists and media at this meeting. We believe we have set the scene for mutual collaboration between the American press and that of all of the Americas. —Coinciding with our visit to Honduras we received the request of Guatemala’s President Oscar Pérez to sign the Declaration of Chapultepec. Despite initial problems, we were ready to attend a special ceremony for this effect. Regrettably, at the last minute the president cancelled the scheduled ceremony because of activities concerning the possible incorporation of Guatemala into the Pacific Alliance. We later had the visit to the IAPA headquarters in Miami of a delegate of the government, who repeated that President Pérez wished to sign the Declaration, which could occur in the next few months. The panorama of freedom of expression and of the press in the hemisphere is quite complicated and dangerous, but this situation should motivate us to multiply the IAPA’s efforts in defense of the freedoms, in the training of journalists and in the continuation of its work as the historic statement of our communities. The dangers will continue to multiply. The absence of political parties and organized communities in the exercise of plurality determines that the voices of independent journalism be fundamental, as the only bastions of defense of democracy. The IAPA is facing a series of reforms that need to continue on an urgent basis and can only give results with the decisive and permanent support of all its members. We must continue to increase membership, especially in the United States and Brazil. We are on the path to obtaining alternative sources of income in order to widen support and services for the members. The IAPA should act within its business and journalistic structures so that all of us that live in the world of communication – journalists, workers, publishers, columnists, editors, journalism professors – support its initiatives in favor of freedom. The IAPA has proved to be the effective counterweight to the abuses of autocratic governments or those of the ones in power who fight against transparency. Practicing this we will be able to continue to guide our communities to reaffirm their freedoms. I regard as of fundamental importance that at this meeting we will have managed to bring together for the first time a group of renowned legal advisers who come to the IAPA with the aim of analyzing the various bodies of law that affect the freedom and work of the press in the Americas. The chairman of our Legal Committee, Asdrúbal Aguiar, will coordinate the work of this advisory group that is very necessary in the current cicumstances. Before concluding I would like to express my immense gratitude to the chairmen of the Committees for their work. I would especially like to offer my congratulations, in the name of all of the press of the Americas, to Claudio Paolillo, Chairman of the Press Freedom Committee. Without his persistent work we would not have been able to carry out positive work in defense of freedoms. Special thanks to María Elvira Domínguez, chair of the Strategic Development Committee, and to Asdrúbal Aguiar, chairman of the Legal Committee, as without their knowledge and deep reflections we would not have been able to understand the legal manipulation that is conducted in some of our countries. I should also express my personal congratulations to Julio Muñoz, our Executive Director, who with the pressures, problems and situations that he has had to resolve has been able to make time to give us perspectives, support and advice in this area that he has known for so many years. To Ricardo Trotti, a warm welcome back. A special thanks also to the IAPA staff. We have – you can be sure, dear colleagues – a group of people of great quality with love for and devotion to our organization. Before ending I would like to insist on some of the ideas of Albert Camus that I mentioned in my speech on taking office:  …. There are four means to achieve journalism under difficult circumstances: journalists can continue to be free even under the suppression of this right  The lucidity to fight against hatred and the culture of fatality … defending what is believed to be true.  The rejection of impositions, of that ascent of stupidity. Honest journalism makes sure of the authenticity of the facts it narrates. A free newspaper is measured as much by what it says as by what it does not say ….  This negative freedom is by far, the most important of all because it prepares the accession of the real truth.  And we arrive at IRONY … a spirit that has the pleasure and the means to impose prohibitions is impervious to irony. That is why it continues to be an unprecedented weapon against those with too much power.  It complements rejection as it enables not only to repel what is false but often to say what is true ….  A journalist must necessarily be ironic.  But the truth and freedom are demanding lovers, to the point that they have few lovers …. This attitude could not be sustained without OBSTINACY. Threats, suspensions, persecutions generally have the contrary effect to the one proposed. That is why obstinacy is put at the service of objectivity and of tolerance.  These are four suggestions to preserve freedom, but then …?  We need to practice justice and generosity, which are not expressed except in free hearts and in the even more astute spirits.  TO CREATE THOSE HEARTS AND THOSE SPIRITS, RATHER TO AWAKEN THEM, is the task that is both modest and ambitious of the INDEPENDENT MAN, of the independent press.  The IAPA has understood these messages and during my mandate we have sought to fight for these values, pondering these four means. I am sure that we have the people, the organization and the determination to continue to be the main trench of defense of freedom of expression. Thank you very much.