Indianapolis, Indiana

October 7-11, 2005


Freedom of the press has faced fundamental challenges in the past six months: an unprecedented wave of violence against reporters in Mexico, continuing repression of Cuba's independent journalists, and growing concern over the ability of U.S. journalists to protect confidential sources and the Bush administration's use of paid journalists to disseminate propaganda presented as actual news.

On a positive note, no journalists were killed in Colombia over the last six months. This stands in stark contrast to the 25 years of attacks against the press by drug traffickers and forces on the extreme left and right that made Colombia the most dangerous work environment for journalists in the hemisphere.

IAPA members from Mexico report that the recent wave of violence is the worst that country has seen in recent years. At least three journalists have been murdered and another has been kidnapped and remains missing. Drug traffickers and corrupt security forces are engaged in a turf war — particularly along the Mexico-U.S. border — and have repeatedly targeted the media and journalists.

In response to crimes against journalists and the problem of impunity in both Mexico and Peru, newspaper reporters, editors, and executives have joined forces to form special investigative reporting teams. They also forged alliances to confront the threat of violence from organized crime, and to demand that the authorities investigate crimes and prosecute the culprits.

Working conditions for the press in Panama have improved since the administration of President Martin Torrijos fulfilled a pledge to repeal "insult laws" designed to restrict publication of incriminating stories about public officials, as well as other laws curtailing press freedom that date back to the years when Panama was ruled by military dictators.

Debate about press conditions in the United States usually has been minimal when compared to the more difficult circumstances confronting journalists elsewhere in the Americas. This year, however, much of the focus was on the ability of U.S. journalists to protect confidential sources. Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter, spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal her sources.

A sharp debate is raging in the United States over the issue of confidential sources, which could lead to the passage of federal legislation on reporters' privilege.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has moved toward increased classification of government documents, and has substantially reduced the amount of information it is willing to release under the Freedom of Information Act.

In Cuba, 26 independent journalists, many of them suffering from serious medical ailments, continue to languish in prison on trumped-up charges of subversion that arose after they refused to stop their work. Two of them remain on a hunger strike to protest the abuse to which they have been subjected.

Journalists in Venezuela continue to face a tense and uncertain future as President Hugo Chávez continues to use his powers to dictate constitutional changes and other political decrees to keep a tight grip on government and restrict press freedom. The weapons used against the media include an amendment to the Penal Code that would broaden the law against insulting government officials, as well as the content-regulating Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.

Reporters in Honduras are still hamstrung by a prior restraint order that prevents any publication of polls or surveys within three months of elections, and also prohibits exit polls on Election Day.

A positive trend has emerged in favor of laws on freedom of information, which have been recently passed by Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Panama. Meanwhile, legislatures in Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay continue to delay the passage of such laws.

In conclusion, journalism remains a dangerous profession and press freedoms are lacking in many countries throughout the hemisphere.