Conclusions of Christopher Barnes, President of the Inter-American Press Society and Roberto Rock, President of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information.
Our task of monitoring and denouncing violations of press freedom in all the countries of the Americas, which has once again become evident in the country-by-country reports reported by this body of Conclusions, continued despite the fact that we have not been able to hold our half-year meeting in Saltillo, Mexico, due to the exceptional times we live in with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We express our satisfaction because it has been reported that, for the post part, governments of the majority of the countries of the continent, in the face of the states of emergency, quarantines, curfew and other measures to counteract the Covid-19 contagion, have respected the constitutional guarantees and international principles on freedom of press and expression, so that the media and journalists do their essential work.
In Aruba, Chile, El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago the governments have imposed some kind of restriction on the flow of news, although, equally, the press keeps the communities they serve informed. Unfortunately, in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, governments-maintained states of exception against independent journalism that oblige them to continue classifying them as authoritarian regimes.
Coverage of the pandemic has deepened already tense relationships between the media and political powers, without distinction of ideologies, whether due to controversies at press conferences, scarce official information or accusations by government officials against opinions and information as in the cases of leaders of the United States, Donald Trump; from Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro; from Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador; from El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, and from Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.
In Venezuela, the regime jailed two journalists for covering cases related to coronavirus, while journalist Ana Belén Tovar has remained in jail since November 19 without any charges being brought. In Cuba, in addition to Roberto de Jesús Quiñones, who is serving a one-year sentence, 11 independent journalists were detained in arbitrary manner while 24 others are prohibited from leaving the country simply for reporting without State approval. In Nicaragua a permanent state of siege is underway, in which the Ortega government does not allow any meeting in public spaces, encourages police officers and para-police groups to attack the media and attack journalists, while maintaining a media duopoly at the hands of relatives of the presidential couple.
During the semester that mediated with our last Assembly, violence has not ceased against journalists. Nine of our colleagues have been murdered between last October and March. These crimes occurred in Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico and Paraguay, while a female journalist is still missing in Peru. In Colombia impunity continues where seven cases of murder prescribed and another five will prescribe during 2020.
The social protests that in recent months have affected Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Haiti gave rise to direct attacks upon the installations, work and broadcast equipment of news media. The media were victims of attacks having being accused of being responsible for the political, economic and social chasm which exists in the countries.
Journalists and media were also the target of cyber-attacks on the part of the authorities. Clear cases of blockades, hacking and identity changes were carried out in Cuba and Venezuela, the government of the latter country is considered one of the most active in the world in these kinds of technological aggression. Many other media have suffered cyber-attacks, particularly in El Salvador and in Brazil, where an attack occurred every seven minutes during 2019.
On the legal front pending tasks still exist for the legislators on the decriminalization of the offenses of defamation and slander, as Honduras and Peru. Meanwhile, in Paraguay, Panama, Peru and Mexico, financial awards in civil lawsuits have no limits, and so media find themselves besieged for million-dollar reparations that put their stability at risk. Added to defamation lawsuits was that which US President Trump's campaign team filed against The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN, being the first time that this kind of action is recorded in the country's history.
Finally, form IAPA, we wish to congratulate and thank all news media and journalists in the Americas for the commitment and responsibility they are showing during this public health crisis which is affecting the world. Even more inspiring is knowing that they are doing so during this difficult time where the health crisis has deepened the economic instability that our media have been experiencing these last decades. For this reason, we vow for the health of our associates and their families, as well as for the strength of our professional work, perhaps now more necessary than ever to continue living in democracy.