Report to the 71th General Assembly
Charleston, South Carolina
October 2 – 6, 2015
Press freedom has been significantly impacted by a number of developments in the past six months.
In August, the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled in favor of extraditing Vilmar Acosta Marques (aka "Neneco"), who is charged with ordering the October 16, 2014 murder of journalist Pablo Medina, 53, of the newspaper ABC Color and his assistant, Antonia Almada, 19. Acosta Marques had been captured in March in Naviraí, located in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The extradition process is expected to take about three to four months.
Charged in connection with this killing — which shook the country and highlighted the influence of drug trafficking on Paraguayan politics — are the former mayor of the city of Ypejhú, Vilmar Acosta Marques, 39, of the Republican National Association (Colorado Party); his nephew, Flavio Acosta Riveros, 30; and his driver, Arnaldo Javier Cabrera López, 37.
Politicians and journalists are debating the risks to democracy and press freedom that may be posed by the concentration of media outlets in the hands of the head of state. One controversial development in the past six months has been the acquisition of news outlets by a business group linked to President Horacio Cartes and founded by his sister, Sarah Cartes, who in April became the owner of the conglomerate of radio stations and newspapers of Grupo La Nación (which includes the newspapers La Nación and Crónica, along with the radio stations FM Montecarlo 100.9 and AM 970). In August, Grupo Nación de Comunicaciones bought out the newspaper Popular, the online newspaper Hoy, and the online radio station Laser Stream — three of the six outlets of Grupo Multimedia, led by former President Juan Carlos Wasmosy (the radio stations Uno 650 AM, Popular FM, and Corazón FM were not purchased) — and also purchased a majority of shares in Holding Hei Network, which, in addition to operating music television channels for specific audiences (Hei Música, Vint, and Tropicalia, the latter two of which will be launching soon), creates content for radio and television and develops online projects.
After radio journalist Gerardo Severino Servián Coronel was killed on March 5, his brother, Francisco, said that the journalist had repeatedly criticized the government of the district of Zanja Pytá, which is in the hands of the Republican National Association (Colorado Party). Servián Coronel worked at the Ciudad Nueva radio station in the city of Zanja Pytá, ten kilometers from Pedro Juan Caballero, and he was intercepted in the Da Granja neighborhood of the city of Ponta Porã, Brazil, by another motorcycle from which two gunmen who opened fire on him.
In April, Supreme Court Justice Gladys Bareiro de Módico filed a criminal complaint for defamation against journalist Roberto Pérez of Radio Uno, seeking the maximum fine and restitution for some comments that had upset her. Pérez lodged an appeal with the Court alleging that her complaint violated multiple provisions of the Constitution.
In July, Ruth Almada, an eyewitness to the double murder of Pablo Medina and his assistant, testified before Judge Carlos Martínez and prosecutor Sandra Quiñónez. Almada, the assistant's sister and the only survivor of the attack in Villa Ygatimí, testified that Medina had said that Vilmar Acosta had threatened to kill him. She also identified Wilson Acosta Marques as the gunman.
In July, radio journalist Blanca Natalia Rojas said she had been threatened by Michel Flores, the mayor of Villa Florida for the Republican National Association (Colorado Party), for criticizing his performance in office.
In September, the Paraguayan Journalists Forum (FOPEP), the Paraguayan Journalists Union (SPP), and the Coordinating Body of Journalists on Alert (CPA) issued a joint statement expressing their concern over the purchase of media outlets by Grupo Cartes. The statement also accused the government of failing to protect or defend freedom of press and freedom of expression, noting that five journalists have been killed and that these attacks have been on the rise outside the capital during the administration of Horacio Cartes.
In September, the Paraguayan Supreme Court created the Office of Transparency and Access to Public Information, which will be responsible for implementing Law 5282/14, "On Free Public Access to Public Information and Government Transparency."
As soon as Law 5282/14 went into effect, Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga ordered that assistant ministers, advisers, secretaries, and general directors of the Foreign Ministry cannot grant interviews, give press conferences, or make contact with the media unless they are authorized by the ministry's Information and Press Service.
In September, Juan Carlos López Moreira, the president's chief of staff, announced that all public agencies that have waiting rooms will be required to have their televisions tuned to state-owned media outlets — specifically, to Paraguay HD TV Digital, formerly TV Pública.
In response to the questions triggered by this order, López Moreira met with journalists and claimed that this was only a recommendation, not a requirement, and he gave his assurance that government employees will not be punished for failing to comply.