María Elvira Domínguez (Opening address)

Opening Address

President of IAPA

María Elvira Domínguez, El País, Cali, Colombia

75th General Assembly of the Inter-American Press Association

October 4, 2019


Good morning. Welcome Mr. Mayor of Coral Gables, Raúl Valdés-Fauli; members of the Host Committee: Aminda Marques and Alejandro Aguirre. My special gratitude to our honorary president, Scott Schurz; for without his generous support we wouldn't be holding this assembly in Miami.

THANK YOU, colleagues, friends, who have come from all corners of the continent convinced that our mission and our work are as fundamental today as they were 75 years ago.

My deep gratitude for understanding that yesterday as well as today, it is important to continue to show our strength, our union, and above all our solidarity with all those colleagues who face restrictions on the practice of journalism, and with all those societies that live under oppressive regimes without being able to enjoy freedom of expression.

In this meeting we celebrate the 75th anniversary of our assembly – the first one was held in 1942 in Mexico. However, the spirit of our institution was born much earlier, in 1923. Surely the founding fathers of the IAPA, such as the distinguished journalists Carlos Mantilla Ortega – the first president, and Tom Wallace – the second president, would have thought that 75 years later we would live in an ideal world - without censorship and with ample freedom.

Today we know that the pursuit of freedom, happiness and other aspirations of humanity, is a daily and permanent quest. We cannot let our hands down for an instant, and hence the importance of an organization like ours, which takes on the fight to create spaces for the prevalence of freedom, justice and full respect for human rights.

My experience this year was bittersweet. On the one hand, I was very concerned to learn first-hand that in every corner of our continent, whether because of violence, stigmatization or persecution, the media and journalists do not find the ideal climate of freedom to work. But I also learned that in every corner, there are media and journalists, who find cracks in the censorship and with resilience and courage, manage to reach the public with information.

I learned that press freedom not only involves the quest to discover the truth, but is also the fundamental ally for justice and equity.

Earlier this week, in Cali – my city – an extraordinary event took place. Gerardo Bedoya - the opinion editor of my newspaper, El País de Cali – was assassinated in 1997. The IAPA took up the case, investigated it, and for more than 15 years sought justice through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. By justice I mean not only pushing forward the legal proceedings we have demanded, but also that family members find some peace and quiet after so many years of suffering – through moral and economic reparation that could serve to close a chapter of harsh impunity in their lives. This week we saw the government's commitment to continue searching for the material and intellectual authors of Bedoya's murder. I thank the current Colombian government for assuming state responsibilities for a crime committed decades ago.

You may recall that last March in Cartagena, we also had an act of recognition by the Colombian State in favor of the case of Nelson Carvajal – which we successfully litigated before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

In both cases, it is evident that our fight for press freedom is linked to the right to live and the right to a dignified justice. Our satisfaction comes from giving courage and hope to the families of the victims, who not only had to endure the murder of their loved one, but also had to take refuge in other countries to protect themselves from the threats the murderers extended to them for the sole reason of demanding justice.

Today, thanks to the IACHR, we are working on other murder cases in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, with the same goal. We are reaping the rewards we sowed with our project against impunity 25 years ago. They say that late and slow justice is not justice, but believe me, when we see the sense of reparation that the relatives of Carvajal and Bedoya felt, we feel that justice – whenever it comes – is always welcome.

Our work is urgent in the face of the horror of violence. In the last 30 years an average of 18 journalists per year have been murdered in the Americas. In 2019 the horror of violence continues to take its toll on us. Eighteen journalists have been killed, forcing us to step up our efforts. It is necessary that we keep on denouncing this to society, that we do not stop for a second, that we do not hold back any words to denounce when a journalist is silenced.

This violence against press freedom and the lack of justice is also felt in Nicaragua, where since April 2018 the government of Daniel Ortega has stepped up its persecution and attacks against journalists and independent media. Last June, we visited Managua to ask the release of three journalists, to ask for an end to all attacks on the media, and for favorable conditions for the return of almost a hundred journalists who were forced into exile. While in Managua, we achieved one of our goals: Miguel Mora, Lucía Pineda and Marlon Powell Sánchez were released.

I ask Miguel and his wife Verónica Graciela to stand up so we might applaud them for their courage and unwavering commitment to press freedom and the defense of human rights.

I remind you that Miguel was imprisoned a few weeks after our assembly in Salta – when on behalf of all independent journalists he received the IAPA Grand Prize for Press Freedom. At the time, we said that he would surely receive reprisals for his strong speech. We weren't wrong. He was arrested along with her editor in chief, and to this day, his media outlet – 100% Noticias – is still occupied by the police.

In previous visits to Managua and Washington, we expressed that the IAPA would not allow the Nicaraguan issue to be ignored on the international agenda, despite other important developments. Before the Nicaraguan government and U.S. congressmen, we insisted that Ortega release the supplies held at Customs to the newspapers La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario and, among other demands, we asked for a judicial investigation into the murder of journalist Miguel Ángel Gahona. In this case we have worked hand in hand with the Chamorro Foundation to present reports to the UN Human Rights Council. I want to thank Ana Elisa Martínez, executive director of the Foundation and its president, Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of former president Violeta and one of the IAPA martyrs, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro. Thank you for being present.

We have also just returned from a mission to Mexico in which we met with national authorities and officials from the state of Veracruz in the ongoing search for justice demanded by the families of murdered journalists. We have called for the prompt investigation of the many murder cases that remain in total impunity, and also for progress in the creation of a truly efficient protection mechanism in terms of investigation, prosecution, protection, and especially prevention. We are hopeful because a group of leading Mexican media outlets, such as El Universal, Organización Editorial Mexicana, Televisa, TV Azteca, Milenio, Cadena Fórmula, La Silla Rota, among others, have decided to join together to combat impunity and collectively fight for press freedom.

In addition to Nicaragua... Cuba and Venezuela are a clear example that when press freedom is persecuted and censored, the structures and development of society crumble, condemning its citizens to poverty and ostracism.

The press freedom reports we will hear tomorrow will show us about the lack of freedoms. We will also get to know the fundamental aspects, the methodology and the advances of the first Chapultepec Index – a monitoring device we are working on jointly with the prestigious Andrés Bello Catholic University in Venezuela. This project aims to evaluate the legal and judicial restrictions that can negatively and permanently affect press freedom in each country. I want to express my gratitude to the business groups of Colombia, the Sura Group and the Bolivar Foundation of the Bolivar Group, as well as to our former president Edward Seaton and his wife Karen, for generously supporting us in this project with which we celebrate the renewal of the Chapultepec Declaration. As you know – and as we duly celebrated in Cartagena – this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Declaration of Chapultepec, and for this I would like to thank Susan McClatchy for her constant support so that the vision of her husband - our former president Jim McClatchy – continues to have the relevance that the IAPA envisioned 25 years ago.

Dear friends. This is not the best year or the best time for our media outlets. Our industry continues to absorb the consequences of the economic crises that affect some of our countries. And to that we must add the crisis of the business model of our industry. The situation is complex. On the one hand, we embrace the great advances brought by the Internet, which has made communication more horizontal and democratic. But, on the other hand, the new digital spaces have brought great challenges, as we stressed in our Salta Declaration.

Anyone would say the media have not been able to embrace transformation quickly enough, but that is not true. We have all, for years, started this process – some faster than others – looking for suitable formulas and models that provide future sustainability. I frankly believe there is greater optimism now than there was a decade ago.

In any case, the truth is that part of the success of the platforms is based on the value of the content we produce in the media. I am therefore convinced – as we have stated in Article 12 of the Salta Declaration – that we must strive for an appropriate balance between platforms and the media and for a coexistence that ensures freedom of expression, respect for copyright, and the economic benefits generated by these contents.

We are not sure which is the best formula. Europe has its ideas, Latin America has its own, and in the United States of America there is a movement that wants media and platforms to sit down and debate. David Chavern – president of Media Alliance – will tell us today about his efforts in the U.S. Congress to allow discussions with platforms. We hope that these talks may be possible and successful, and serve to lead the way - even for other regional press associations.

We know that Facebook and Google are increasingly receptive to the needs of the media and are working towards this end. On Monday, Richard Gingras – vice president of Google News – will talk about Google's efforts to promote and give media and media content the relevance they deserve.

Today more than ever the media are committed to continue producing responsible and quality content, especially in times when information has become a banal commodity and fake news and propaganda generated by bot-centers and unscrupulous people, not only disinform, but have also demonstrated their ability to even derail electoral processes.

Producing information in a responsible manner and with the high-quality standards required by democratic duty is costly. A sample of that quality will be shown tonight at the excellence awards ceremony. We will appreciate how traditional media such as La Nación de Buenos Aires, El Tiempo de Bogotá, AZ de Oaxaca and the Brazilian digital media Metrópoles have invested in quality investigative journalism – publications that have generated great changes in society.

Journalistic quality and content come at a price. The media pays for it. But this is what makes us different. It is our strength that makes us unbeatable.

Finally, I want to use this Assembly in this city that welcomes us so warmly to invite American journalists and media to commit – even more than they already are – to the mission and work of our organization. In this sense, I want to remember the commitment that great journalists such as Tom Wallace, Jack Knight, Lee Hills, Andrew Heiskel and Jules Dubois had for our organization; convinced that the problems of some – no matter in which country in the Americas they arose – were everyone's cause.

Colleagues, ours is an Inter-American organization and as such I want to embrace the spirit and legacy of the first woman president of IAPA, Argentina Hills, who assumed leadership of this organization in 1977 and whom we will honor on Sunday. By Inter-Americanism she understood that we all had the responsibility to defend ourselves from any attack – in any country in the Americas – that could undermine press freedom and justice.

The fight for press freedom is not a fight for personal salvation, but a fight of all, and many times in favor of the most vulnerable, regardless of whether from the comfort of my region I should fight, for example, for Venezuelan or Nicaraguan colleagues, or to seek justice for the families of journalists fallen in Brazil, Colombia or Mexico.

Friends, our organization has been fighting for 75 years and I am sure that with everyone's commitment, our combative spirit will continue for 75 more years. ALL the media of the Americas have the duty to renew efforts in this fight - which is everybody's fight. I pick up the spirit of 1923 when the idea of this organization was born and then crystallized in 1942. Those – our forebears – who faced the same turbulence that we face today, knew that strength lay in unity and solidarity, and that an organization like ours was well worth existing. Today, as yesterday, we are convinced that the IAPA is worth it.

Thank you very much.