Gustavo Mohme, President of the IAPA
Official opening ceremony of the IAPA Midyear Meeting
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Your Excellency, Mr. President of the Republic of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, colleagues and friends of IAPA. Firstly, Mr. President, I am pleased to welcome you on behalf of our institution which groups together approximately 1,300 different news media in America, and on behalf of all journalists working today, particularly those who are harassed and persecuted by regimes that do not respect established basic freedoms. Our meeting will conclude on Monday with a number of recommendations offered to countries within the region, and given the happy coincidence that our IAPA meeting is being held in your country and that in April you will be hosting the Summit of the Americas, we respectfully ask you to extend our message to the continent’s leaders: “Our hope is that, for the benefit of all citizens of the Americas, freedom of the press and of expression will become the key point of any political, economic or social discussion.” We are aware that recent diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba will help to prevent ideological polarization in our continent. However, we hope that any economic, political or social decision reached or reform achieved will not leave out freedom of the press and of expression and other civil liberties which are essential for any democratic society. Mr. President, unfortunately in America unresolved issues still exist which were discussed this morning in this very room. These issues relate to many governments’ and States’ failure to act to prevent the persecution, arrest, imprisonment and murder of journalists and social media users. It is deeply worrisome that eight journalists have been murdered in the last six months in Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru. However, what is even more worrying is the existence of impunity and the absence of any justice. We recently discussed this issue with your colleague in Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos, who admitted that the reason for the problem is that, often, judicial powers exist in a state of collapse, or in many cases, are have been taken over by political powers. Despite this, and in keeping with his democratic talents, President Santos offered to use his best efforts to help solve this serious scourge suffered by the press throughout our continent. Today we also discussed the internet. We have not only been analyzing the great advances achieved by this digital revolution, but have also noted, with increasing worry, how many governments, relying on excuses such as the threat of terrorism, national security or State secrets, have relied on surveillance or espionage, without court orders, to spy on and neutralize journalists, critical citizens, and opposition leaders or politicians. This is particularly serious in Venezuela where innocent lives are being lost and opposition leaders have been imprisoned. We have reviewed and raised our voices on the issue of the extensive legal abuses experienced throughout our continent, with governments denying access to public information or discriminating against the media on the basis of their editorial position. In a number of countries, we have observed how censorship is being legitimized under laws which clash with the Constitutions and international agreements assumed by States concerning the issue of freedom of expression. Merely as an example, we have seen this happening in Ecuador, where the government has used its Communications Law to censor and penalize, on 37 separate occasions, any journalists, cartoonists, Twitter or Facebook users, and to close down various news media. As is the case in other countries, the government of Ecuador has claimed ownership of the truth for itself and retaliates against anyone holding a different opinion. Mr. President, we do not wish to overwhelm you with a litany of problems and believe me, we in the press also face many problems. A number of our members have responded to this economic reality and the transformation that the media is experiencing by working within the sphere of the digital revolution. But here and now, convinced as we are of your democratic values and encouraged by the air of freedom breathed in your country, and as the host of the Summit which will gather together most of the leaders which represent us, we dare to ask you to speak on our behalf at this important meeting, letting them know that real democracies are not only about clean and transparent elections, but also about a fundamental respect for civil rights and liberties, one of which is freedom of expression. Thank you.