MEXICO CITY, MEXICO (October 17, 2016)–The 72nd General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) which brought to together in this city more than 450 media executives and journalists wound up today after five days of varied sessions in which there was discussed the state of press freedom in the Western Hemisphere. These are the CONCLUSIONS:
Twelve journalists murdered since April this year, together with many others who have been victims of harassment, of physical attacks and of death threats, demonstrate the danger that the practice of journalism signifies today in our hemisphere. Murders continue to mount without their perpetrators having been brought to justice, which implies that there exist a high number of cases that have remained in complete impunity. In this way it remains clear that there exists little protection and no response from the government to these extreme cases. Just in Mexico there have been produced seven of these crimes and there are already 118 murders and the disappearance of 20 journalists in that country since 2000. In Colombia there have in that time been more than 100 unsolved murders and in Brazil the figures are not very different.
These cases represent the tip of the iceberg regarding freedom of expression, given that it reaches the point of murdering a journalist after threatening him or her, harassing him or her and attacking him or her. The intimidating threats to journalists and newspaper editors and publishers are happening in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Venezuela. The scare tactics come from drug traffickers, criminal gangs but also from local and national authorities and members of the military. With the timid reaction of the government authorities, when not to their active participation in the intimidation of the journalists, there is seen to be created a climate that contributes to the aggression and, eventually, the murder of members of the press.
But moreover there has been observed in these years an increase in the interference in the work of the press in requiring reporters to take part as witnesses in many legal proceedings and, in some cases, seeking to force them to reveal their sources. That's the case in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, United States and Mexico. In several countries, such as Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Trinidad and Tobago, the country's maximum authority has meddled in journalistic tasks, whether filing complaints against journalists or criticizing them directly. In many other countries, such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico and Bolivia, official advertising is used to reward or punish the media depending on the news they publish. And there continue to be in several countries strong restrictions on access to public information. While numerous laws on such access have been enacted there have not failed to be cases in which subsequently the application of those laws has been restricted.
A worrying sign is that legislative efforts to present projects that restrict freedom of expression, as in the case of the Dominican Republic remain.
In Cuba the appearance of independent media is of concern to the government, which has increased the repression of them and, in an even more noticeable manner, against citizens journalists. Frequent are arrests, threatening interrogations --greater deterioration in the situation of the independent press, which is suffering serious attacks, theft of equipment and insults on the part of those in power.
In Venezuela there has been deterioration in the situation of the independent press, which is suffering serious aggressions, theft of equipment and insults from those in government.
The arbitrary detentions and the bans on reporting about them, as has occurred in the case of journalist Braulio Jatar, illustrate the low point which that country has reached. The headquarters of some Venezuelan media have suffered nighttime attacks with shots and Molotov cocktails that are not investigated.
Along with the traditional obstacles that the press has to face in order to freely carry out its task of informing new challenges have been added. The cyber attacks on some media have become of an alarming nature. Whether through hacking or through the creation of false accounts on social media or through the creation of apocryphal pages the media are being exposed to new forms of obstruction of their work. They must prepare themselves and defend themselves, therefore, for this new threat to freedom of expression which is already seriously restricting the media of Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago. The IAPA, in conjunction with Google, has launched an initiative titled Project Shield which uses that company's technology and infrastructure to protect news sites from cyber attacks that seek to impede the dissemination of news and thus to ensure freedom of expression. The Inter American Press Association is confident that with this help the large and small media of Latin America will be better protected.
Among these new threats there has arisen the creation of a new so-called right, the right to be forgotten. As a consequence of judicial resolutions of a European court there have appeared numerous legal initiatives in the Americas that seek to regulate this matter, which could easily become a new form of censorship. Already there have been presented emblematic cases in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia y Panamá and in some of these countries there has been made an arbitrary interpretation of what has occurred that has manifested itself in legislative bills that seek to regulate this supposed right, allowing people in disagreement with some news item to be able to have the published information removed. The potential of censorship of a similar initiative is immense, as also are the complexities of its application, as the rulings of each court being only applicable in the territories where they operate and the oblivion aspires to be of universal application.
In addition to the seriously violent threats and to the challenges that the press is facing there should also be noted areas of progress. Today it is easier to access public information in many countries, where new access laws have begun to be applied, as in the case of Argentina, where a law in this regard has been enacted. Similarly, there should be recognized the intention of the Argentine government to achieve the distribution of official advertising in a more technical manner, independently of editorial stances.
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.