24 February 2014

IAPA stresses concern at state of press freedom in Guatemala

 Miami (February 24, 2014)— The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today reaffirmed its conviction and felt more than justified, and reinforced, its concerns about the state of press freedom in Guatemala after learning that at the same time that the official mission of the organization taking place in the country asked the highest authorities of the Government, the Public Ministry and the Human Rights Ombudsman, greater protection for journalists who are victims of violence, unknown gunmen fired at the home of newspaper elPeriódico ‘s attorney The IAPA mission, whose members had questioned authorities about the existence of a monopoly that for several years had been benefitting a businessman who owns four national open television channels and dozens of radio stations, was subjected to a smear campaign of the kind that are organized by the authoritarian governments of Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Argentina every time they are criticized. The mission took place in Guatemala from Wednesday through Friday last week (February 19-21) and had meetings with President Otto Pérez Molina, Vice President Roxana Baldetti, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, Human Rights Public Prosecutor Jorge de León, press organizations, members of Congress and editors and publishers of Guatemalan media, such as the newspapers Prensa Libre, elPeriódico and Publinews, Crónica magazine and Emisoras Unidas broadcast group. It was made up of former IAPA presidents Edward Seaton (of the United States) and Danilo Arbilla (Uruguay), the chairman of the IAPA Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo (Uruguay), its vice chairman, Fernán Molinos (Panama), regional vice chairman José Roberto Dutriz (El Salvador) and Press Freedom Director Ricardo Trotti (Argentina). Gonzalo Marroquín, former IAPA president and currently editor of the magazine Crónicas, took part in some of the activities. Paolillo, who headed the mission, said he was “surprised” that the home of lawyer Víctor Hugo Barrios – who represented elPeriódico editor José Rubén Zamora in lawsuits filed a few weeks ago by the Guatemalan President and Vice President – was shot at “the very moment that a press conference given by the mission to announce its preliminary conclusions was winding up.” The attack, on which Barrios plans to file a formal complaint with the Attorney General’s Office and the Human Rights Prosecutor, was “a crude attempt to intimidate the lawyer and editor of elPeriódico, but it was also a warning message for organizations defending press freedom such as the IAPA,” Paolillo said. “We had just expressed our concern at the pressures being put upon elPeriódico through discrimination in the placement of official advertising and legal and tax harassment when the home of the newspaper editor’s lawyer was attacked. It is very difficult to regard this as an isolated event,” he declared. In addition Paolillo said he was “shocked” at “the virulence and repetition of defamatory spots against the IAPA and the members of the mission by the four television channels and the radio stations of the media monopoly that ran after we had voiced our special concern at its existence.” The IAPA’s concern had been expressed after years of asking the Guatemalan governments to play a more decisive role to encourage a climate of greater diversity and plurality of voices, something essential for the respect of the people’s rights in a democracy. “The mission was unpleasantly surprised by the fact that in December 2013 Congress had passed a system of a further 25-year extension of licenses for that very commercial group. After we mentioned the issue the group’s radio stations and television channels began a campaign against the IAPA and the mission members, using the same lies that are repeated, for decades, by dictatorships of all kinds which have devastated, and are devastating, the Americas, and the governments that are enemies of freedom of expression. That led us to confirm and underscore our great concern at the damage to press freedom that this situation represents,” Paolillo said. The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. For more information please go to http://www.sipiapa.org.