IAPA President Elizabeth Ballantine
The Durango Herald, Durango, Colorado
Mr. Prime Minister of Barbados
Freundel J. Stuart
Friends and colleagues,It is a great pleasure to be here on this beautiful island of Barbados which quite justifiably is called the gem of the Caribbean. It is also timely to point out that this year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Declaration of Chapultepec, created in Mexico on March 11, 1994. But it is also timely to say that the Western Hemisphere is being increasingly threatened with attacks on press freedom and with a rising spiral of violence. Since we met in Denver in October the situation has worsened. We are very concerned at the violence seen in Venezuela, where the government is continuing with attacks and official censorship. As we heard yesterday about journalists expulsion and the government’s increased attacks on the press, threats and even restrictions on the importation of supplies. The IAPA has mobilized to support its Venezuelan colleagues. We have made an effort to have here in Barbados a good number of representatives from that country, whose departure from the country is being hampered. We have backed major initiatives of relaying to international public opinion the Venezuela press panorama. I would like to highlight and thank in this matter campaigns such as those of ANDIARIOS’ under the slogan “We are all Venezuela, without press freedom there is no democracy.” They began an initiative to support its Venezuelan colleagues to seek the provision of supplies, due to the cuts made by that country’s government. A laudable initiative of both campaigns. Also to Miami’s Diario Las Américas, which disseminated an analysis of this crisis and of the violence, urging all IAPA member newspapers to back it and publish it. In addition, the IAPA took the Venezuela case to the World Press Freedom Organizations Coordinating Committee, which at its last meeting in London in January backed our claim and our resolution. Violence is taking various forms. It continues to be the main scourge and statistics show that to date six journalists have been murdered in the Americas. Anti-press laws continue to be the biggest threats and last year this situation worsened in Ecuador, where the Organic Communication Law makes gagging official. As we also have heard at this meeting, we are seeing a worrisome weakening of the context and circumstances in the acceptance of freedom of expression values and legal principles as enshrine in the Declaration of Chapultepec. On the domestic front, our work has centered on the strategic plan to prepare the IAPA for the future, and I thank the Strategic Development Committee for its leadership in this matter. The future of our organization is also directly linked to our financial security. The main foundations that have funded us in the past today cannot continue our work has been focused on requesting the support of our newspapers through the donation of advertising pages. We organized a mission through Brazil and Colombia to pledge for support and although we were successful in commercializing a first advertisement package, we still do not have a commitment from the leading newspapers of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia, which in return has made progress in the program a bit rough. I repeat here our request to them, in order to be able to ensure the programs’ success and continue with the activities that are the center of our very existence. On another aspect, we are concerned at the conflict regarding media ownership in Peru. This has been a sensitive and difficult topic as it involves several distinguished and longtime supporters of IAPA who are leaders in the organization. It has highlighted the many conflicts of interest ingrained in media ownership not only in Peru, but in many of our countries and even in IAPA itself. The issue of media concentration is a perennial staple for us most often joined in battle with totalitarian governments whose seize power. At this meeting it has been Venezuela’s sad turn to experience shocking violence. I would like to emphasize the good functioning of our organization. On reaching 72 years of life, the IAPA is maintaining a predominant force with its membership and with the success of its membership meetings. Our concerning power has not diminished despite the great financial difficulties that the industry is facing. Our work is constant in the defense of freedom of expression. We recognize the good work being done by the Press Institute’s Digital Center with its webinars, the traditional in-person seminars and our new meeting ap. Many thanks to the staff and officers of the Press Institute for this work. We have a long path of challenges ahead of us. Our Americas are changing from one day to the next, nations that lived in a climate of peace are abruptly becoming the opposite, and we are seeing how governments intolerant of criticism are multiplying their efforts to silence and control the press. Given these threats we need to keep our organization stronger and more united. Our next General Assembly will be in Santiago, Chile, and we have already seen a solid program being outlined by our Chilean colleagues. On a final note, I would like to refer to the validity of our principles and their relevance in the future of the Americas. Only when a nation loses its freedom and the possibility of expressing itself does public opinion shake up and react. It is not a coincidence what today we see in Venezuela or Cuba; or the injustices seen in those countries where the government unsuccessfully holds power. The free thoughts of the Declaration of Chapultepec could not be more right than when it quotes “democracy and freedom, inseparably paired, will flourish with strength and stability only if they take root in the men and women of our continent” and when it reaffirms “a free press is synonymous with free expression.” Today we are celebrating the 20 years of this Magna Carta which has guided us masterfully. Let us refocus on those principles and continue our work. Our battles and debates differ in time and place but at the core they remain the same. Building on our distinguished 72 year old history of action and intellectual heritage, a task of the IAPA in recent years has been to remain relevant in light of the sweeping technological changes that have be set our industry. Reliable grants of the US newspaper industry, whose profits aided our campaigns, have faded away. The emerging market economies of Latin America and their digital transformation are on the way. A generational change lies ahead in all the Americas. We must engage in all the new forms of communication and media platforms to educate and embrace younger members. I believe that the increasing Hispanic population in the US and Canada presents the opportunity to rekindle old relationships and add new ones. Thank you very much.