25 February 2014

IAPA calls for greater effort in Guatemala to improve press freedom climate

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (February 21, 2014)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern at a flare-up in violence unleashed against journalists and news media in Guatemala, particularly in the interior of the Central American country, and the risks of making reports about judicial deviations criminal offenses, after a mission staged a two-day visit in which the organization consulted the top authorities, and representatives of the various branches of government, of civil groups and journalists. Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, who headed the international delegation, said that the mission’s conclusions will be presented to the organization’s upcoming membership meeting to be held in Barbados in early April. These will be based on the meetings held and reports received and on actions to constantly monitor press freedom in the country. By way of advance Paolillo enumerated three recurring aspects on which the mission consulted, analyzed and observed during its meetings, among them with Guatemala’s President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. 1. The IAPA following 13 missions to Guatemala in the last 15 years, and after having submitted several cases of unpunished murders of Guatemalan journalists to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, voiced its concern at the worsening of violence against journalists in the interior of the country, especially at a climate of impunity and lack of institutional protection, which is giving rise to a vicious circle that is generating greater violence and self-censorship among media and journalists. The IAPA is calling upon and urging the executive authorities and the Attorney General’s Office to show greater effort, diligence and speed in the final creation of the Journalist Protection Program, which should have the procedures and necessary resources to protect and prevent violent acts against journalists, through joint actions of the Attorney General’s Office and civil and press associations. It also calls for greater resources and a more decisive role for the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Journalists set up in 2001 at the direct request of the IAPA following an amicable agreement with the government over the case of Irma Flaquer, kidnapped and gone missing in 1980. In this regard, the delegation asked for information about the state of the investigations into the murders committed in 2013 of Carlos Orellana Chávez, Luis de Jesús Lima, Luis Alberto Lemus Ruano and José Napoleón Jarquín Duarte, and recent attacks on Nery Morales. 2. Concerning the conflict that is of public knowledge of President Pérez Molina and Vice President Baldetti with the newspaper elPeriódico and its editor, José Rubén Zamora, the delegation voiced concern at the various actions taken by the Executive Branch of Government against that news media outlet. The IAPA acknowledges as a positive development that the President and Vice President have dropped criminal charges against Zamora. It was disappointed, however, at the decision of the two stated to the delegation that they will have recourse to the path that is established by the Constitution and the Law on Expression of Thought, whose relevance is unquestionable in regard to the determination of conflicts regarding honor. That does not detract, and this the members of the mission understand, from the fact that those decisions can become a message, given to those who bring it about, that it can have undesirable effects for the practice of journalism, taking into account and moreover recalling the tenor of rulings and case law of the Inter-American Human Rights Court concerning the fact that public officials, because of their role, are most exposed to scrutiny and the supervision of their actions by the public, media and journalists. The IAPA is also urging the government to extend measures of transparency and access to public information as has been established by law, including with awareness campaigns for every Guatemalan to have the right to call for an accounting, in benefit of the democratic state. On this matter the IAPA insisted to the government on the need to create or in any event ensure autonomy for transparent and technical mechanisms for the distribution of official advertising, so as to prevent this being used to discriminate among, reward or punish media. In this regard the delegation expressed to the government its concern at the abrupt stoppage of official advertising experienced by elPeriódico. The IAPA also notes with concern that at the time when the Executive Branch of Government is taking legal and administrative actions against elPeriódico it is proceeding to a tax audit which can defined as additional pressure to silence a critical voice. In this regard surprising are the declarations of the president of the Guatemalan Social Security Institute, Juan de Dios Rodríguez, who on January 28 urged in a radio broadcast “all the inspection entities” to take action against Zamora, in a veiled threat that the IAPA condemns and rejects. Rodríguez said, “There are alternative paths, criminal paths, taxation paths, administrative paths and that of civil courts for damages. There is where all our denunciations have to go so that no one comes and treads on our honor and our honorability.” A few days later tax inspectors installed themselves at the elPeriódico offices. And as regards threats to those not pleased by the authorities and the improper administration of public resources, about which reference was previously made regarding official advertising, the IAPA is disturbed at denunciations it has received, with supporting documentation, on the use of monies of the state to finance a monitoring of media and social networks through the Guatemalan Tourism Institute, which at the same time as making propaganda for the government attacks opponents and journalists. The IAPA told the government that it calls for respect for the principles of press freedom expressed in the Declaration of Chapultepec, which stipulates that “this is not something authorities grant, it is an inalienable right of the people” and that “no news medium nor journalist may be punished for publishing the truth or criticizing or denouncing the government.” At the same time the IAPA expresses that while it is not within its competence to involve itself in the work and rules that media and journalists follow in the practice of their profession it warns that the condition of journalist does not imply, rather quite the contrary, that it has a letter of marquee, so it reminds that it promotes the principles of its Letter of Aspirations, among which it is established that “the press, given the task it undertakes, cannot renounce the reporting of matters that affect public interest and common good, but it should take care not to wound persons and institutions unnecessarily, always assuring the supreme right of citizens to receive information.” 3. The delegation showed special concern at the monopoly of on-air television stations affecting the country, renewing its demand of years concerning the most decisive role that the government should play to encourage a climate of greater diversity and plurality of voices, essential for the greatest respect and enjoyment of citizen’s rights in a democracy. The delegation said that governments cannot have excuses for inappropriate handling of distribution of electronic media operational licenses, considering these to be finite resources that belong to society. A reason for which, moreover, the delegation was unpleasantly surprised by the fact that there has been adopted a system of 25-year extension of licenses. On these points the IAPA delegation held meetings with Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, Human Rights Public Prosecutor Jorge De León, and Member of Congress Nineth Montenegro of the Encuentro por Guatemala party. Other meetings involved Guatemalan Journalists Association (APG) President Hugo Pedro Trujillo and its directors, Guatemalan Journalism Chamber President Pedro Trujillo, and representatives of the organizations Acción Ciudadana, Manfredo Marroquín; Centro de Defensa de la Constitución, Marta Altolaguirre; Ceriga, Iliana Alamilla, all of whom delivered reports on the state of press freedom in their country. The IAPA in addition had meetings with several journalists and media representatives, among them José Rubén Zamora, President of elPeriódico; Prensa Libre President María Mercedes de Blank and directors of that newspaper, and with Gonzalo Marroquín, President of Crónica, who in turn as former IAPA President took part in several meetings. In addition to Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay weekly Búsqueda, the IAPA mission was made up of Edward Seaton, former IAPA President, Seaton Newspapers, Manhattan, Kansas; Danilo Arbilla, former IAPA President, Uruguay; Fernán Molinos, vice chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, La Prensa, Panama City, Panama; José Roberto Dutriz, vice chairman for El Salvador of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, La Prensa Gráfica, San Salvador, El Salvador, and Ricardo Trotti, Press Freedom Coordinator. 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.