09 March 2015
With reference to a request made during this Midyear Meeting, the President of the Republic of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, has undertaken to be a spokesperson for the complaints of the independent press so that the VII Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama in April may contribute to establishing a climate without restrictions, harassment, assault and coercive legal measures which affect freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. This commitment was publicly undertaken by the President of Panama after the President of IAPA, Gustavo Mohme, asked him, on behalf of the organization, to inform the Heads of State that any discussion and agreement emerging out the VII Summit of the Americas should be achieved within a framework of respect, guaranteeing these freedoms as stipulated by international treaties. President Varela also signed the Chapultepec Declaration. These encouraging acts have taken place at a time when the free press of the Americas is facing difficulties in executing its role. During the last six months, eight murders have been committed in Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru. There have been hundreds of cases of physical assaults and a number of legal proceedings affecting reporters and communications companies, all of which have cast a shadow over the status of freedom of the press. Two journalists, one in Mexico and another in Argentina have had to go into exile as a result of threat to their lives, thereby adding to a long list headed by Venezuelan journalists, with more than 400 of them currently spread out across 34 countries. Together with this state of uncertainty, we have also observed the growing and widespread trend towards the approval of regulatory measures and “ethical” rules which restrict freedom of expression by means of discrimination in the distribution of official advertising and an increase in different censorship methods. Censorship is the weapon used by governments through various actions to prevent the press from publicizing any news they disapprove of, such as is the case in Ecuador where, by means of the oversight body created under the Law on Communications over 30 penalties have been levied on the media, journalists and cartoonists. Furthermore, two radio stations have been closed down. With the same regulatory spirit as that which prevails in Venezuela and Ecuador, parts of these censorship or restrictive methods have been applied in other countries throughout the continent, constituting obstacles on the free broadcast of printed or television news, as well as on social media, and we have observed an increase in the shutting down of Twitter accounts and the prosecution or harassment of bloggers or internet users. In Venezuela, eight tweeters have been prosecuted, and in Ecuador, the social media accounts of five users have been shut down. Uruguay has seen the enactment of a law on communications services which provides vague and dangerous definitions on the content of audiovisual media. In parallel with these restrictive measures, we have also observed with concern how various countries have increased the fiscal persecution of, and imposition of heavy fines on, communications media as a result of their criticism of government activities or denunciation of administrative corruption. As a result of their desire to control the communications spectrum, a number of governments such as the governments of Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela, employ the strategy of purchasing news companies using front men, or of controlling radio and television space from which they can launch attack on their critics, placing in question the reputation of communicators and encouraging harassment and persecution. The case of Nicaragua is notorious, as the government has increased its monopoly of its own media and where there is only one independent television channel. Free access to public sources of information continues to be interfered with in countries where laws enshrining this exist, while in other countries there is none at all. In Puerto Rico, journalists and media are restricted from freely accessing these sources, and in Barbados, there is doubt as to whether a long awaited access law will ever be enacted. In El Salvador, this has become standard practice for the three State powers. In the case of Costa Rica, the ludicrous situation exists of denying information on the identity of persons visiting the Executive Branch, alleging that excessive transparency jeopardizes the security and sovereignty of the country.