Report to the 75th General Assembly of the IAPA

October 4 – 7, 2019

Coral Gables, Florida


During this period, journalistic practice has been affected by isolated events such as a bill which, even though aimed at protecting personal information, could in practice limit free access to public information; and by corruption involving the media and journalists.

In April, an investigation by the Public Prosecutor's Office revealed that Senator Javier Zacarías Irún (ANR, cartista) had paid journalists to promote the image of the Zacarías Irún clan with money from the Municipality of Ciudad del Este - of which he was an advisor. Money from the municipality went to 30 journalists and seven media outlets to promote a favorable image of Mayor Sandra McLeod (ANR, cartista) and her husband, Senator Zacarías Irún. The municipal money also paid for the production of entertainment programs for political purposes, one of them led by Javier Zacarías McLeod, son of the senator and the mayor.

Also, in April, emerged a list of seven journalists who appeared on the seized appointment book of General Ramón Benítez - former director of the Customs Technical Department of Specialized Surveillance of the Customs Directorate (Detave), accused - along with six other officials and a policeman - of criminal association, aggravated passive bribery and smuggling.

The Detave was dissolved because Benítez - former director and former commander of the Joint Task Force (FTC) - led a network of bribery and smuggling. Along with the names of the journalists in his appointment book were details of collection and payment of money.

In May, the Public Prosecutor's Department of Forensics presented the expert's report on the cell phone of journalist Edgar Chilavert - who has been in prison since October 2018 on an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. The accusation was made using printouts of the alleged exchange of messages with the victim - but not including the cell phone containing such messages.

The prosecutor admitted the printouts as valid - without any technological basis. The expert's report from forensics did not find any elements that would implicate the communicator in the crime. Given the lack of evidence to incriminate him, in June, a lawyer asked for his release. However, Judge Hilda Benítez decided to keep him in pretrial detention.

Before the accusation against him was filed, Chilavert - a journalist with Radio Aquidaban FM in Concepción - had publicly exposed acts of corruption during the sale of the Port of Concepción, carried out by Mayor Alejandro Urbieta with the permission of the Municipal Council.

In May, an attempt to bribe a journalist came to light, in an effort to stop his investigation into the alleged misuse of influence in the security services contract for the Social Security Institute (IPS). Abc Color journalist Juan Carlos Lezcano had been publishing a series of articles about irregularities in a bidding process for 140 billion guaraníes (around 23 million dollars), carried out by the state-run entity to benefit Security Service Technology SA.

The journalist was invited to the office of a producer with whom he worked to meet with Senator Dionisio Amarilla (PLRA) and the owner of SST, Oscar Chamorro Lafarja. He was offered a pay off on the 10 installments he owed on his car and work for his girlfriend, in exchange for stopping his publications.

The reporter documented everything with his cell phone - including a cash envelope. The case and the money (about $6,450) were reported and handed over to the Public Prosecutor's Office.

In June, the House of Senators withdrew the investiture of legislator Amarilla.

In May, Cartista and Añetete senators attributed the expulsions of several ANR senators to the influence of the media. Senator Enrique Riera (ANR, HC) accused the press of pressuring the justice system and disseminating the guilt of the expelled senators in the public opinion. Along the same lines, in July, amid the institutional crisis caused by the signing of the protocol on Itaipú with Brazil, President Mario Abdo Benítez - in a ceremony at the López Palace - spoke of the alleged damage that the press causes to society by manipulating information. The previous month, supporters of Senator Amarilla (PLRA) - expelled from the Senate - attacked journalists who tried to interview him when he left Parliament. SNT reporter Alejandra Pereira was punched in the nose, and ABC TV reporter Jeannette Cuevas was shoved out. Abc Color's reporter, Arturo Godoy, came out in defense of the journalists and received spits.

In July, legislators from the "llanista" sector of the opposition party PLRA (Authentic Radical Liberal Party) presented a "Personal Data Protection" bill. In practice, the bill would limit free access to public information. Articles 8, 9 and 10 would allow the deletion of personal data, such as those contained in affidavits of public officials. In addition, those who wish to access such information must submit a request to the data holder for authorization. Since the legislation does not differentiate between private citizens and public officials, it could be used to limit access to information on state servers.