Message for World Press Freedom Day
Pierre Manigault, IAPA President
The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina
Miami (May 2, 2016).- This year we celebrate together with UNESCO World Press Freedom Day, raising the slogan "Access to information and fundamental freedoms: This is your right!" with the hope of helping to create a culture of openness and transparency that enables societies to be ever more democratic.
Unfortunately in many countries, both those in which access laws exist and those where do not exist, continues to be restrictions to this fundamental right by public bodies. In countries such as Venezuela, Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia and Costa Rica there does not exist legislation in this regard, although legislative bills with similar characteristics are under review.
In our hemisphere conferences, beyond the problem of violence against journalists, access to information is a very relevant matter. Our recent meeting in the Dominican Republic was no exception.
Some advances are noted in the region. In Argentina members of Congress are discussing an access to information bill, long sought by the IAPA and local press organizations, while Paraguay has its own since 2014.
There are also some setbacks. The most notable one is in Ecuador. The new communication gag law threw into disarray the benefits that had been obtained through the Organic Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information. A similar situation is occurring in Nicaragua, where the government is completely ignoring the obligations that are demanded by its access law in effect – but not practiced – since 2008.
In recent months both in Honduras and in Puerto Rico, on the excuse that security limits the provision of information, the people are finding ever more obstacles to learning about public actions.
Although in the United States the Access Law dates from 1966 the government continues to classify information of public interest for reasons of national security. The always existing tension between those in power and the press resulted since decades ago in the holding of the "Sunshine Week," an event that reaffirms the need to educate the public that openness and transparency are part of an ongoing and constant social battle.
In the IAPA we have always declared that the quality of these laws depend on the unobstructed manner in which the government is required to provide information, with few exceptions and free of charge to the requesters, as well as the fact that there should be contemplated specific sanctions against officials and public offices that omit, manipulate or do not deliver information to the public. That is what we have understood since 2004 when we held the Hemisphere Conference of National Congresses of the Americas.
As an institution we adhere to this global campaign with the desire that all journalists convert the hashtag #wpfd2016 to a trending topic, with the idea of encouraging a culture of openness and transparency.
World Press Freedom Day which is celebrated on May 3 was established in commemoration of the Declaration of Windhoek, a document that contains principles on the defense of press freedom, drawn up in 1991 during a meeting of African journalists promoted by the United Nations Education, Science and Culture 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.