At the Midyear Meeting of the Inter American Press Association, held in Punta Cana on April 8-11, one of the highlights was the signing of the Declaration of Chapultepec by the president of the Dominican Republic and the secretary general of the Organization of American States, in the presence of delegates from 22 countries and hundreds of media outlets.
The countries of the Americas continue to experience the same common problems. Killings of journalists; impunity; threats; acts of repression; restrictions; laws undermining privacy; control of social media; pressure on media outlets and journalists by governments, politicians, drug traffickers and other organized criminals; limits on access to public information; and electoral laws harmful to democracy — these are some of the violations reported in our countries.
The positive developments should be noted. Argentina, Cuba, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic have seen positive changes, some of them partial. For example, the new administration in Argentina has ceased its assault on the independent press and has eliminated the subsidy of government advertising for media outlets linked to or friendly with the government. In addition, a proposed law on access to public information was submitted for consideration.
In Cuba, while other areas still have much room for improvement, the treatment of the international press has softened since the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana.
In Paraguay, the extradition of the alleged gunman in the killing of Pablo Medina and his assistant is a victory over impunity. Paraguay has also enacted a law on access to public information, which as of March requires all government entities to publish information on salaries, official travel and procurement on a public website, thereby strengthening transparency.
In the Dominican Republic, the Constitutional Court partially overturned the criminalization of defamation in the Law on Expression and Dissemination of Thought, although it is still part of the Penal Code.
Meanwhile, six of the countries participating in the Midyear Meeting saw a total of 12 journalists killed: four in Mexico, four in Brazil, one in Colombia, one in El Salvador, one in Venezuela, and one in Guatemala.
Mexico has seen, in addition to the killings, further assaults on journalists, especially in states heavily affected by drug trafficking. The lack of response and protection from the government is evident in cases involving attacks on the press. There has also been an alarming increase in violence against female journalists (84 cases), ranging from harassment, sexual or otherwise, to smear campaigns on social media. In Colombia, the statute of limitations ran out on two homicide cases, thereby playing into hand of impunity.
Censorship, restrictions, pressure, and threats against media outlets, and against their owners and journalists, have also continued in Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador and Mexico.
In Venezuela, critical journalists continue to be harassed and persecuted in an effort to silence them, and the government continues to refuse to comply with the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordering it to the restore the signal of Radio Caracas Televisión.
Acts of repression continue in Cuba, where in March alone there were 1,200 arrests, 319 of them during the visit of the U.S. president. In Bolivia, the government has blocked the renewal of licenses for hundreds of privately owned radio stations, and the new communications law only leaves 33 percent of radio stations in private hands.
Other restrictions, such as the monopoly over newsprint imposed by the Venezuelan government through the state-owned Corporación Alfredo Maneiro, have forced three newspapers to cease publication during this period, and another 80 newspapers are weighing the possibility of doing the same.
Police actions, as well as pressure and threats from drug traffickers and criminals organized into gangs, local politicians and "narcopoliticians," constitute a growing trend in countries such as the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador and Paraguay.
In El Salvador, La Prensa Gráfica and El Diario de Hoy sustained cyberattacks with the alleged involvement of government officials and persons using public funds to discredit the newspapers.
In Ecuador, the Superintendency of Information and Communication (Supercom) and the Communication Council (Cordicom) imposed 78 disciplinary measures — including fines, corrections, mandatory replies, and written reprimands — on radio stations, television stations, printed media outlets, and other organizations. Threats have also continued against journalists, and President Rafael Correa has warned that he will take on social media in the government's discourse.
The controversy between the right to privacy and national security, and on access to private information, is at the heart of a debate begun in the United States with the case of Apple and other companies, which have refused to decode personal telephones at the government's request in order to facilitate access to encrypted messages on smartphones.
In Trinidad and Tobago, concerns have been raised by a proposed law on cybercrime and personal information, restrictions on the press, and the right to privacy.
The regulation of social media in Ecuador, and court rulings and proposed laws on the "right to be forgotten" in Colombia and Chile, fly in the face of press freedom and the public's right to information.
In Panama, court rulings against La Prensa and Panamá América set a negative precedent for press freedom and discourage investigative journalism on matters of public interest. In the U.S. state of Virginia, two proposed laws would restrict access to information on public officials.
In Nicaragua, the government has failed to comply with a law on access to information, while government advertising is granted only to state-controlled or neutralized media outlets, which creates unfair competition. The Honduran government, under the pretext of national security, limits access to public information.