Report to the Midyear Meeting

Bridgetown, Barbados

April 4 – 7, 2014

Threats and discussions on the state of press freedom in Peru increased during the last six months.

The Law on Informational Offenses: The government has enacted Law 30171, which amended Law 30096, it being passed by Congress in October 2013. However, the new piece of legislation does not amend paragraph 2 of Article 11 which increases the prison sentence by up to one third above the legal maximum set for offenses covered by this law, in the case of the person committing the offense through the use of his or her special position for access to classified data or information or being aware of this information by reason of holding a post or carrying out a function.

In application of this article a public official who denounces an unlawful action could be committing the offense contemplated in the Article 7, which refers to "interception of information data," with punishment of imprisonment of not less than three years or more than six years.

The amended wording does not, once again, include "public interest" as justifying the offense. Cases of physical aggression, death threats and judicial harassment of journalists and news media in reprisal for denunciations of public officials, authorities or organized crime have increased in several parts of the country. We call the attention of authorities of the Attorney General's Office and the Judicial Branch of Government to the indiscriminate and biased admission by the courts of civil and criminal lawsuits against journalists and news media, in particular by the self-styled "Orellana Group" of businessman Rodolfo Orellana Rengifo, the object of an investigation by the Organized Crime Specialist Public Prosecutor's Office, the Peruvian Congress and numerous news media regarding the offenses of money-laundering, trafficking in land, fraud and unlawful association to commit crime.

Peru's Press and Society Institute (IPYS) and the Peruvian Press Council have complained that the lawsuits filed by Orellana and Benedicto Jiménez (his lawyer) are a pattern of judicial harassment of the independent press in an attempt to silence its investigations.

Also a matter of intense debate is the alleged concentration of ownership of the printed press, as a result of the association between the Grupo El Comercio group and the Grupo Epensa group, two of the three leading national newspaper chains, in August 2013. Being discussed is whether the commercial operation has any impact on freedom of expression and pluralism of news media.

Other citizens – Enrique Zileri Gibson, Mirko Lauer Holoubeck, Rosa María Palacios, Augusto Álvarez Rodrich, Luz María Helguero, Fernando Valencia, Mario Saavedra Piñón and Gustavo Mohme – have filed a constitutional protection suit against El Comercio and Epensa, seeking the annulment of the commercial operation, based on Article 61 of the Peruvian Constitution, arguing that it has given rise to controlling 78% of ownership and circulation and nearly 90% of the total national sales of advertising in newspapers. This situation fatally damages free competition and freedom of expression, they say.

On the other hand, the Grupo El Comercio group argues that there is no such concentration because the two now associated companies "continue to manage their contents independently," that each company "continues to practice its own principles and journalistic values" and that "the risks for press freedom are only suppositions" and that the association does not affect pluralism.

In particular, Luis Agois, Board chairman of Epensa, says that "news production, dealing with content and editorial stance are in the hands of the Agois family. Of the commercial and industrial side El Comercio has 54% and of the news side the Agois family has 100%."

In December Peruvian President Ollanta Humala described as "shameful" the fact that in Peru "we are having one group that is practically the owner of news media." He added that the buyout "... for now is not illegal," which was interpreted as a signal that the Executive Branch will prepare a law to regulate news media. The President said that the alleged concentration should be debated in Congress.

The three main newspapers of the groups in conflict (El Comercio, Correo and La República) published editorials opposing the President's statement.

The chairman of the Inter American Press Association's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, called on the Peruvian President "to have his government stay outside the dispute so that it can be debated in the corresponding bodies" and he welcomed the public statements made by Justice Minister Daniel Figallo, who denied that the Executive Branch is preparing a law on the matter.

In its turn, the Peruvian Press Council has rejected any external attempt to regulate information and opinion and has reiterated its commitment to self-regulation of the press.

In this regard, of concern are announcements by legislators about the preparation of a "media law" that will suppose government regulation of media property and content.

The Grupo El Comercio group submitted to the Peruvian Press Council a Commitment to Commercial Self-Regulation with the aim of reinforcing its willingness not to exercise an abuse of a dominant position neither in the commercial area, nor regarding printing, nor in distribution.

In the framework of encouraging debate with the objective of resolving differences the Peruvian Press Council called to Lima the Organization of American States' Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Catalina Botero, who paid an academic visit to Peru in February.

The Peruvian Press Council also co-sponsored a seminar titled "Reflection on the Regulation and Ownership of News Media in Latin America" held by the Carter Center in March, taking part in whose debate were directors and members of the Peruvian Press Council and national and international specialists.

In addition, there was recently held a hearing by the OAS IACHR on the alleged concentration in Peru. At that meeting Peruvian Ambassador to the OAS Juan Jiménez Mayor, the former prime minister in the current government, pointed out the importance that the government is giving to enactment of Article 61 of the Constitution regarding print news media.

The most significant developments in this period:

On December 10, Edvan Ríos Chanca, a contributor to the weekly magazine Hildebrandt en sus Trece, reported that he had been the victim of an attack in which an explosive device detonated and damaged the door and windows of his home. Ríos had written numerous articles about alleged irregularities and corruption in connection with the administration of Vladimir Cerrón, governor of Junín region.

On March 21, a criminal court found journalist César Quino Escudero guilty of aggravated defamation against César Álvarez Aguilar, governor of Ancash. The journalist was given a one-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay 3,000 Peruvian sols (US$84) in reparation. Journalists Santos Paredes García and Noé García Velásquez are also on trial in the same case.

In January, the Fourth Chamber of the Superior Court of Lima opened the trial against former President Alberto Fujimori, who is charged with siphoning large amounts of money from the Armed Forces and the National Intelligence Service (SIN) to fund his illegal campaign for reelection to a third term, as well as to influence the editorial line of sensationalist newspapers. The special prosecutor's office for cases involving corruption is seeking an eight-year prison term.

On January 22, reporter Vicky Vargas and cameraman Jorge León of Channel 2, Frecuencia Latina, in the city of Tacna, on the border with Chile, reported that, while filming near the Chacalluta border checkpoint, they were roughed up by members of the investigative police and threatened with prosecution for espionage.

On February 20, Úrsula Pinedo, a journalist for the programs "Hoy por Hoy" and "Línea Directa" on Channel 43 in Tumbes region, reported that she was assaulted and her life threatened by Alba del Rosario and Esmeralda García García, who work closely with the governor of Tumbes, Gerardo Viñas Dioses. Pinedo believes this attack, which occurred outside the radio station La Hechicera, was in response to her investigations into alleged fraudulent purchases by straw men on behalf of the governor.

On February 27, reporter Milka Pacheco Infante and cameraman Luis Daniel Oyola Atino of Channel 43, along with cameraman Wilmer Rodríguez of Channel 21 in Tumbes region, reported that public safety officers of the provincial government of Tumbes had assaulted them while they were covering the expulsion of a group of merchants from a public area.

On February 26, general editor Eduardo Abusada and copydesk editor Manuel Alejos of the newsweekly Velaverde reported that Richard Román Pedraza, a officer in the Peruvian National Police and the nephew of former Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza, had threatened their lives at the magazine's offices.

On March 4, Enrique Vizcarra Tinedo, a contributor to the newspaper Tumbes 21 and news director of the program "Impacto Informativo" on Cable 21, in Tumbes region, reported that he had received death threats over the phone. He attributes the threats to his reporting on irregularities committed by José Augusto Chuyén Vallejo, an official at the education agency (UGEL) in Tumbes.

On March 7, journalist Pedro Escudero Cárdenas of the website and Germán Escudero Saldarriaga, who runs the website, in Ancash region, reported that they had received death threats and insults in an anonymous blog. They attribute this to their news stories denouncing acts of corruption allegedly committed by local government officials and the mayor of Pomabamba, Juan Ponte Carranza, against whom an arrest warrant is pending.

On March 10, in La Libertad region, journalists from regional media outlets reported that they had been assaulted and insulted by technicians of a state-owned television channel, TV Perú, during a visit by Health Minister Midori de Habich in the district of Alto Moche.

On March 17, the Constitutional Court dismissed the petition for judicial relief filed by the general manager of the Autonomous Authority of Majes (AUTODEMA). The petitioner had asked the court to order Ronald Arenas Córdova of the newsweekly El Búho, represented by editor Mabel Cáceres Calderón, and journalist Luis Márquez Villalobos to "refrain from continuing to publish injurious, tendentious, malicious items ... in violation of the right to one's good name ... and the inviolability of private documents and communications." The Constitutional Court held that the reporting in question involved matters of public interest.

On March 20, Nilton Gamboa, a correspondent for América Televisión and director of a news program in Chimbote, reported that he had been followed for several months by people close to the governor of Ancash, César Álvarez Aguilar. Gamboa also said that 19 journalists, all of them critical of the regional government, are being targeted in a systematic smear campaign through anonymous flyers, programs, and paid political advertisements aired on Channel 25. The journalists, who reject the accusations against them, are Nilton Gamboa, Roxana Peña, and Edwin Azaña of América Televisión; Patricia Cardoza, Miguel Alcántara, and Gonzalo Horna of Correo newspaper, Chimbote edition; Javier Peláez, Willy Peláez, and Raúl Palacios of Diario de Chimbote; Walter Castro, Magaly Estrada, and Laura Urbina of Radio Santo Domingo; Noé García, César Quino, and Santos Paredes of Channel 55 in Chimbote; Américo Crispín of Radio Exitosa; Elvis Núñez of El Ferrol; and Wylder Asmat of Channel 88.