Elizabeth Ballantine, The Durango Herald, Durango, Colorado
World Press Freedom Day*
Miami (April 30, 2014)—The commemoration of World Press Freedom Day this year has a special significance for us in the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), in that it coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Declaration of Chapultepec, a document that is a guide to evaluate, understand and ensure freedom of expression and of the press. This anniversary will have special relevance in our General Assembly in Santiago, Chile, this October.
Beginning next Tuesday we will be starting a series of webinars to highlight the 10 principles of the Declaration of Chapultepec,http://bit.ly/PLuXGE, with our own and guest speakers, experts on the right to information. It is our objective to create discussion on the responsibility we journalists and members of the public have to defend and promote freedom of expression, a priority that democracy imposes.
These webinars will be open to the general public, although our intent is to involve schools of communication, especially those that take part in the Latin American Journalism Education Accreditation Council (CLAEP) and those that have contributed with research in our Chapultepec and Impunity programs.
In addition to promoting press freedom this May 3 we are reaffirming our commitment to defend it – the fact is that the current panorama shows divisions and setbacks. One of our urgent concerns is occurring in Venezuela. Many newspapers have shut down and others are facing serious difficulties to continue publishing due to the denial by the government of granting them foreign currency to import newsprint and other essential supplies. We are also proud to point out that this serious restriction has brought about a strong solidarity that is being demonstrated by the dispatch of newsprint to Venezuela, through an initiative of the Colombian Association of Newspaper and News Media Editors and Publishers (Andiarios), the Grupo Diarios de América (GDA) group, Periódicos Asociados Latinoamericanos (PAL) Latin American newspapers association, and individual members of our organization.
The most relevant challenge, however, continues to be violence and impunity. In just one year, since May 3, 2013, a total of 17 journalists have been murdered in the Americas – four in Brazil, four in Mexico, three in Colombia, three in Honduras, two in Guatemala and one in Haiti. Added to this violence is the fact that installed mechanisms for defense of the press, such as the one in Mexico, do not function adequately and those to be installed in Honduras and Guatemala continue to be just a promise.
Legal strategies against the press have also attracted our attention. The Communication Law that went into effect in Ecuador is the most concrete case of how a government legitimizes censorship, limits the public's right to plural information and thus seeks to monopolize public conversation.
In that quest for unique information many governments have recourse to propaganda, creating their own media chains or ones supporting them, as in Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, they manipulate placement of official advertising, discriminating against critical media and rewarding those that support them, or they simply deny to provide public information, as also occurs in the United States and Canada, a restriction that for many years has existed in Cuba to the detriment of its citizens.
Looking ahead, we have great concern about the future of governance on the Internet, fearing that some governments, as became clear at a recent meeting in São Paulo, Brazil, want to impose control over a Web that should continue to be neutral and unfettered.
On a final note, we cannot fail to say that democratic education also imposes proper conduct on the news media, above and beyond their responsibility of safeguarding freedom of expression. Our guide is the Aspirations Letter, http://bit.ly/1hKlUwL, a document that complements the Declaration of Chapultepec, in which are stated the highest ideals and standards of our profession.
*World Press Freedom Day, which is celebrated on May 3, was established in commemoration of the Declaration of Windhoek, a document that contains principles concerning defense of press freedom, drafted in 1991 during a meeting of African journalists motivated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
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.