07 April 2014


The Midyear Meeting of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), held in Barbados, found that freedom of expression and freedom of the press have clearly suffered a setback in the Western hemisphere, with countless acts of disruption by authoritarian populist governments, security forces, armed parapolice groups and organized crime, among others. Just as the IAPA is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Declaration of Chapultepec, a foundational document for press freedom in the Americas, nine journalists have been killed in the last six months: four in Brazil, two in Honduras, two in Mexico and one in Colombia. This rampant violence continues to leave a trail of impunity. In Colombia alone, the statute of limitations has expired for five killings, and 142 others remain unpunished. Assaults on media outlets and journalists occurred in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico and Peru, disrupting news coverage of public protests and of cases involving allegations of corruption, and this has led to a rise in self-censorship. Predictably, press laws in a number of countries helped tighten restrictions on the media and diminish press freedom. In Ecuador, implementation of the Communication Act led to the creation of the Information and Communication Superintendency, which has already assessed fines on media outlets, imposing a new form of censorship that undermines these outlets’ ability to operate. Judicial harassment of media outlets and journalists occurred primarily in Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Brazil, with civil lawsuits and criminal complaints brought largely by public officials in retaliation for denouncements of corruption. In Barbados, three news executives are being criminally prosecuted for publishing a photograph that had been disseminated on social media, while one blogger in the United States and another in Cuba remain behind bars for criticizing government leaders. A lack of transparency and of freedom of information is still the norm in Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Some of these governments maintain absolute secrecy despite laws on freedom of information that require them to release information about their activities. In Venezuela, the administration of Nicolás Maduro tightened restrictions on media outlets and social media through direct censorship, even as it imposes indirect censorship on newspapers in the form of administrative restrictions, by not allowing them to import newsprint and other supplies. In Argentina, the administration of President Cristina Fernández continues to restrict the placement of government advertising as a way of punishing critical media outlets, while it grants this advertising to outlets friendly to the administration. This practice is spreading to countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama. These excesses that run counter to freedom of information are compounded by the concentration of media outlets under state control. In Bolivia, unknown individuals continue to purchase private and independent media outlets, which thereafter place themselves at the government’s service. The governments of Argentina, Ecuador and Nicaragua continue to expand the number of media outlets used for disseminating propaganda. Not all news is bad for freedom of expression and press freedom in the hemisphere. The Jamaican Congress passed reforms decriminalizing defamation, while Grenada’s Electronic Crimes Act was amended to remove provisions that were contrary to freedom of information. The Constitutional Court of Costa Rica found the Attorney General’s Office and the Judicial Police guilty of violating the right to privacy and the right to keep one’s sources confidential in an espionage case against a journalist. The Paraguayan Senate passed a freedom of information act. The Canadian government defeated a bill on Internet monitoring that would have undermined the right to privacy and the right to keep one’s sources confidential. Lastly, the distressing circumstances of independent newspapers in Venezuela and of Venezuelans’ right to information prompted the strongest shows of solidarity by the delegates at this meeting, which opened and concluded with a plea to send newsprint to help Venezuelan newspapers overcome the government’s blockade and continue reporting the news at this decisive moment for democratic institutions in Venezuela.