IAPA's President Report


Gustavo Mohme, La República, Lima, Perú

Opening of the 74th IAPA General Assembly

Friday, October 19, 2018

Salta, Argentina


Good morning. Welcome Mr. Governor of Salta, Juan Manuel Urtubey; Mrs. Governor of Buenos Aires, María Eugenia Vidal; Mr. National Secretary of Communication of Ecuador, Andrés Michelena – in representation of Mr. President Lenín Moreno; the "ambassador of Salta la linda" in the IAPA, my dear friend Sergio Romero – responsible for us being here. Colleagues from all over the hemisphere, and especially the students from the Argentine Catholic University of Buenos Aires, the Catholic University of Salta, and the University of San Pablo de Tucumán.

I know these are difficult times for the press – in general, due to the economic crisis that affects all countries. However, despite this, we know about the vitality of the press, for example – here in Argentina, for having uncovered the case of the Cuadernos de la corrupción (Corruption Notebooks), or in my country, Peru, for the decisive role in denouncing the recent irregularities of the Judicial Branch. We will have more examples this Sunday at our Awards Gala. There we will recognize the best Journalism in the Americas, and show how despite the difficulties, aggressions and violence, journalistic quality has prevailed to expose what many would prefer to remain in the dark.

In previous times, when populism in Argentina and Ecuador cut off the spaces of power – as well as in Venezuela and Nicaragua, the first thing those governments did was to create a strategy against press freedom that manifested itself through the personal persecution of journalists and the suffocation of the media. All forms of repression were used against the press.

All this repression went on before the permissive gaze of the public powers without independence – and the harassment of those addicted to or kidnapped by the political power, who spawned the legal structures to support it. In Ecuador it was the Organic Law of Communication and in Argentina the Law of Audiovisual Communication Services. Both laws – under the excuse of guaranteeing "democracy in the media," similar to the Social Responsibility Law in Venezuela, were nefarious weapons against independent journalism.

Some of those colleagues that have been victims of deceitful power are present in this room. Carlos Pérez of El Universo de Guayaquil – whom Rafael Correa sued for 40 million dollars, or Jaime Mantilla – whom Correa closed the Hoy newspaper and his other media, and this is just to give a couple of examples. Nor will I be able to forget when Argentine journalists – during the Kirchner government, were publicly prosecuted in the Plaza de Mayo in an attempt to undermine their credibility or place them on the side of the opposition politicians.

Today we are optimistic about the new governments in both countries. There is an atmosphere of greater respect for freedom of expression. A few months ago – during an IAPA mission, we met with President Lenín Moreno, and we are confident that in the reform of the Communication Law that is being promoted, the crime of "media lynching" – attributed to the media, will disappear forever, and that SUPERCOM - the censorship office that by means of fines and sanctions closed dozens of media outlets just for criticizing power - will be eliminated.

As we know, the governments represented by the Kirchners and Correa are not unique cases in the history of our continent. Attacks against press freedom have no ideological or political color: examples range from Pinochet, Stroessner, Pérez Jiménez, Noriega, Rodríguez Lara, Fujimori and Videla, to the Castro brothers, Chávez, Morales, Maduro, Ortega... the list is long... very long. And we at IAPA –with our 75-year history – had to stand up to all those powers.

This is not to say that the problems are over. This year – in addition to the gratifying visit to President Moreno, we were in Washington and Managua on grounds of great concern. In the United States – together with the Commission of Reporters for Freedom of the Press, we met with legislators, judges and opinion leaders to take a closer look at the eye of the storm in which the press is caught – being confronted by President Donald Trump. We expressed that Trump's calls against the press as "enemies of the people" or his inflammatory and constant rhetoric could lead to serious consequences. But we were even more concerned about the decline in access to public information, and the fact that journalists keep being prosecuted to get them to reveal their sources.

We understand, of course, that the checks and balances of the public authorities and the First Amendment are good attributes of the American culture, but we still feel the need to warn about these issues.

The visit to Nicaragua was different. We went back to the 14th century. To a family dictatorship – quasi-monarchic. To a system where a government believes itself to be a State. A country where the foundations of a republic have ceased to exist; where the police and the justice system are at the service of the Executive Branch, as well as other para-state forces that generate violence for the State but take refuge in illegitimacy. Many journalists were assaulted, their media set on fire, a journalist was assassinated, and many media were forced to close their doors. The attacks by cybermilitants are atrocious – defamation and stigmatization make freedom of the press unfeasible. But also for their determination to continue informing and denouncing power, despite the serious consequences, they deserve all our respect and admiration, and for that they have received the highest award from our institution: the Grand Prize for Press Freedom.

Cuba and Venezuela were the two countries we could not travel to this year – for obvious reasons. These governments don't want to know anything about the IAPA. Our site is blocked in Cuba. Tomorrow – in the discussions of press freedom, we will be able to appreciate the bleak panorama in both countries. Nicolás Maduro has already moved on to another level of censorship, because – in addition to the more than 100 newspapers that stopped circulating because they are not even given access to buy paper from the state monopoly, now the regime is active in harassing media and journalists on the Internet. In the past, the Internet was a space of freedom, but today the regime is more aware of it and uses it for propaganda and to combat criticism and dissent.

Cuba has always been the censorship laboratory. Tomorrow, you – university students, will be able to appreciate the privilege you have to study Journalism in your countries. In Cuba, if a young person wants to study journalism, he or she must pass an "aptitude" test – to demonstrate their ideological affinity and commitment to the government. We regret and denounce here that our regional vice-president in Cuba, Henry Constatin, was once again prevented by the regime from being in Salta. That's Cuba: the censorship of free will, not just repression of freedom of the press and expression.

Because of all these problems, I do not want to ignore the permanent mourning with which we live in our continent. So far in 2018, 29 journalists have been murdered, not counting the Haitian colleague who has been missing since last March. When we were in Medellín, we lived it in our own flesh when we learned that the three members of the El Comercio team in Quito, Javier Ortega, Paul Rivas and Efraín Segarra, were murdered by the FARC.

This year we had one of the most important achievements in our history. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights sentenced Colombia for the case of journalist Nelson Carvajal – which the IAPA investigated, requested, and litigated so that finally his family could have some peace and justice. We continue to work hard in the Inter-American System for the case of Guillermo Cano and Gerardo Bedoya, among others – knowing that we will never be able to do enough to diminish the rates of impunity and violence.

I said at the beginning that beyond the economic crisis that damages the livelihood of the media, we are also affected by an identity crisis. Not only do we have a drop in advertising revenues – because advertising has gone to other platforms or because we have to face increasingly expensive inputs, but many are also slow to adapt to the new digital environment.

In this new storm – which some call perfect, the digital era entangles us in a kind of identity crisis, in which we can easily fall prey to uncertainty and fear. We at La República also had those doubts, but there came a time when we made the "chip change" and began to look for all the opportunities that the digital environment offers us.

I will not tell you that we are now entirely sustainable – we continue to struggle like everyone else, but we are constantly learning to adapt to this ever-evolving climate which demands great efforts.

And if we bring that to our area of press freedom, we have also lived and witnessed how legislators, governments and power groups – due to the sweeping changes and uncertainty brought about by the new and the unknown, began to legislate with measures that can be as dangerous as the strictest of censorships.

That is why – as we stated this morning, we think we should have a new Declaration, which – similar to the Chapultepec Declaration, would serve as a beacon for us in the face of the new challenges posed by the digital era in terms of freedom of expression. These are not principles written in stone, because we will have to adapt them to the changes in context, and to the hasty laws and judicial rulings that may emerge in order to censor freedoms.

I hope that in this assembly we will have the best of discussions, that we will enjoy all the experts we have invited, and that we will continue to demonstrate our strength by defending not the corporate privilege of the media, but the inalienable right of the people to be informed and enjoy their freedom of expression.

Thank you very much.