Report to the 72nd General Assembly

Mexico City, Mexico

October 13 – 17, 2016


In this period the country went through a prolonged and virulent general election campaign that justified the presence of international electoral observation missions. The coverage made by the media was under intense public scrutiny. From April to June, the date of the voting, polarization sharpened over the dissemination of press denunciations that implicated the political parties and their presidential candidates in disputes.

In that atmosphere the press highlighted issues and pronouncements about press freedom.

On a positive note the political parties included references to transparency, the right to access to public information and freedom of expression and of opinion. Summoned by the Peruvian Press Council candidates Keiko Fujimori of Fuerza Popular, Veronika Mendoza of Frente Amplio and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of Peruanos por el Kambio signed the document titled "The Principles of Lima. Access to Information in the Hands of the Government."

Exacerbation lessened beginning on July 28, where Kuczynski assumed the Presidency after an adjusted second round electoral victory.

In this new scenario Congress member and Vice President of Peru Mercedes Aráoz criticized the quality and content of audiovisual media, reviving the debate on the validity of self-regulation of the press and the appropriateness of promoting laws on family time and codes of ethics on contents in the current Radio and Television Law.

President Kuczynski declared that "I am opposed to any muzzle on the press, television and radio. I believe in media freedom .... Peru has press freedom and we have to maintain it."

The concern about an eventual regulation of content increased when eight Fujimorist members of Congress submitted a bill that would declare of national interest the encouragement of culture through publicly and privately owned news media. If approved the bill, currently in the Culture and Patrimony Committee, would charge the Culture Ministry with carrying out administrative and technical actions to have an impact in favor of culture, promote the strengthening of the family, and child, teenager and youth promotion and protection throughout the Peruvian territory.

The bill adds that "it will contribute to the development and diffusion of culture and will enable social news media to emit programs of quality, where culture and knowledge combat backwardness and marginalization, through offers of entertainment without resorting to undignified spectacles."'

Also in September a second legislative bill, to modify the regulations of the Radio and Television Law, proposed increasing the powers of the Control and Supervision General Directorate (DGCS) over complaints and sanctions presented against the heads of media regarding their own codes of ethics and the timetable for protection of minors.

In practice there exists a desire to convert the right to opinion into an offense and in some cases the use of the courts as a mechanism of judicial hounding of journalists.

From April to September there were reported some 10 cases of denunciations of journalists in various judicial and administrative areas that share a trend of censorship. They envision multi-million-dollar fines and imprisonment of journalists in penal cases, which reanimated the debate regarding decriminalization of so-called "press offenses."

There existed a criminal charge of offense against "The state and national defense, attempts against national security, treason and disclosure of national secrets," submitted by former Defense Minister Jakke Valakivi citing Rosana Cueva and Karina Novoa, editor and reporter of the Panamericana Television program "Panorama," for having reveled irregularities in the use of public funds destined for the military intelligence sector for the anti-subversion fight.

Despite the fact that the current government's Defense Ministry withdrew the charge, which entailed a penalty of 15 years' imprisonment, the Public Prosecutor's Office has not yet pronounced, unnecessarily prolonging a dangerous situation of legal uncertainty that the IAPA has described as "an act of force and intimidation of those who practice investigative journalism, an excess and a restriction of press freedom limiting people's right to be duly informed."

In August, after 13 years of irregular legal proceedings, the Public Prosecutor's Office decided to postpone the oral hearing against journalist Mauricio Aguirre Corvalán on a charge of an offense against the state and national defense – revealing secrets of national interest, with punishment of eight years in prison and damages of $200,000, until the Chilean justice system pronounces on the matter.

Concerning the controversy regarding the acquisition of the Grupo Epensa group by the Grupo El Comercio group, these are the positions:

The Grupo La República group considers that the Judicial Branch has not yet resolved in first hearing the petition for protection filed by eight journalists in November 2013 against the Empresa Editora El Comercio publishing company; on violation of rights of freedom of expression and freedom of access to plural information; over the acquisition made of shares of Empresa Periodística Nacional publishing company (today Prensmart), increasing control to over 80% of print media in Peru.

Under Peruvian laws this process should have been resolved in a very decisive timeframe that should be no longer than 30 days; however, it is taking nearly three years and meanwhile one of the plaintiffs, Zileri Gibson, has died.

In addition the judge has been changed several times; it is that the trial began before the 4th Constitutional Court which is presided over by Judge Juan Macedo Cuenca, then in January 2014 there took over Judge Magnoia Béjar Monge, later Judge Macedo resumed his role, in December 2015 there was appointed Judge Máximo Falla Atoche, in March this year there was appointed Judge César de la Cruz Tipian, and in August Judge Macedo again.

This month there is being notified a charge against the other companies involved, as are Prensmart and Alfa Beta Sistemas, which will imply a return to square one.

The journalist plaintiffs in September 2015 turned to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, asking it to pronounce on the delay in the administration of justice. However, more than one year has passed and there has been no pronouncement.

In this regard, the Grupo La República is asking the IAPA to make a public call to the judicial authorities with the objective of their not allowing any further delay in the proceedings and resolving the journalists' request, otherwise there would remaain endorsed a situation of consummated facts.

For its part the position of GEC and Epensa considers that in the acquisition of 54% of the shares of Empresa Periodística Nacional Epensa (today Prensmart), the "acquisition," did not give Empresa Editora El Comercio (GEC) "80% of the country's print media" but 80% of the readers of those media. The difference is important: the readers are free and have other options given that following the acquisition the GEC possesses only nine of the 60 print newspapers existing in Peru.

It holds, furthermore, that the written media market is a permanently open one on the arrival of new competitors (in fact, since the acquisition there have entered the market two more national newspapers).

Even when the situation in the Peruvian print media market was not the one described it would be anachronistic after the appearance of the digital alternatives to the print media in the country to consider the print media market as "the relevant market" in order to determine a situation of risk for informational plurality and freedom of expression.

Finally, one has to declare that the GEC "control" regarding the three GLR media refers exclusively to the commercialization and printing: in the earlier mentioned acquisition it was determined that the editorial content of the three newspapers of Prensmart remain in the hands of a company 100% owned by the Agois family.

In view of this, the Prensmart and GEC groups hold that there is no support for the lawsuit filed as there has been no risk whatsoever to freedom of information and of expression in Peru with the joining of the two groups. Similarly, Prensmart and GEC are also concerned at the delays made by the Judicial Branch, considering that the petition for protection should have been declared inadmissible or, in its defect, unfounded at this time, At the same time they maintain that a pronouncement by the IAPA on what is in fact a commercial conflict between competitors does not correspond, that nothing affects freedom of expression and in the fact that, regarding the rest, as proved by the mission sent in 2014, there has not been any political interference.

Regarding another matter, there was a setback for the anti-impunity fight. The Judicial Branch's Executive Council (CEPJ) in the final stage of the trial for the murder of Hugo Bustios, correspondent of the magazine Caretas in Ayacucho, agreed to replace the court's experienced presiding judge, charged with drafting the sentence, thus risking a breakdown in this case. In late September, despite the fact that the proceedings are to be wound up, the CEPJ attended to the request for the withdrawal from the trial for health reasons of Judge Marco Cerna Bazán, until a few weeks ago chief judge in the court, director of debates and in charge of drawing up the sentence in the Bustios case. Cerna, however, continues handling another five cases of serious violations of human rights. As denounced by the Human Rights Commission, in charge of the legal defense of the journalist' family, there is great concern that the change in judges would result in the breakdown of the trial.

Of concern are the disproportionate pecuniary and imprisonment punishments of journalists and news media in various criminal courts that show a dangerous tendency to criminalize the right of the press to give an opinion about matters of public interest.

For example, the sentence of 1 year and 8 months of suspended imprisonment and the payment of around $35,000 in favor of former president Alan García Pérez against the former editor of Diario 16, Fernando Valencia; the sentence upholding the conviction in the defamation lawsuit of Caretas magazine columnist Rafael León filed by journalist Martha Meier Miró Quesada; the sentencing to one year in prison suspended and the payment of around $15,000 in the suit against Carol Villavicencio Lizárraga, publisher of the Huancayo weekly El Huacón filed by then Member of Congress Casio Huaire Chuquichaico; the revocation of the suspended imprisonment for non-compliance with payment of $3,000 in damages in the trial for defamation of the editor of the weekly Prensa al Día in Huaura, Ronald Daniel Ormeño Gonzales, which led to his detention.

Similarly, of concern are questionable libel suits admitted by courts that seek disproportionate damages, as for example the criminal trial for libel with damages of close to $30,000 brought by the general manager of the Tumbes regional government, Pedro Octavio Mejía Reyes, against the host of the program "En Contacto TV" and journalist with the newspaper Tumbes 21 Milagros, Rodríguez Pereyra; the criminal libel suit and request for damages of some $200,000 filed by the regional governor of Callao, Félix Moreno, against journalist Juan José Garrido Koechlin, editor of the newspaper Perú21, who was cited as a civilly responsible third party; the libel suit aggravated by offense to honor and damages of some $100,000 brought by former minister Rafael Rey Rey against journalist Raúl Tola Pedraglio and the newspaper La República as responsible third party.

In July Oscar Castilla, executive director of the Association of Investigative Journalism, Public Eye, was accused by High Court Justice Javier Villa Stein before the Directorate General of Protection of Personal Data (DGPDP) of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights concerning reports headlined "The supreme patrimony of Judge Javier Villa Stein" and "The high court judges of the million," carried on his Web site. These reports dealt with a matter of public interest such as the assets of a high court judge, including an interview previously arranged and granted to the media outlet by the former Chief Justice.

In September the Directorate General of Protection of Personal Data (DGPDP) of Peru rejected a formal complaint made by former Chief Justice Javier Stein. It coincided with the installation of the working group charged with drafting the normative technical report for the creation of a National Transparency, Access to Public Information and Protection of Personal Data Authority, which if it goes ahead will represent a significant advance in the matter of transparency in the country.