Miami (April 21, 2020) - Protection mechanisms are important tools that have helped save the lives of journalists at risk in several countries in the region. However, a study by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) showed that these systems lack the human, technical and economic resources needed to be efficient.
In various reports and resolutions, as well as in conversations with regional vice-presidents of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, the IAPA found that the official protection systems currently in place in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Paraguay, should - in addition to resolve their deficiencies - include a closer working relationship between the various executive and judicial agencies to improve risk prevention mechanisms for journalists.
Brief description of the protection systems and deficiencies:
Since 2018 the Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Communicators and Environmentalists - established in 2004 - includes journalists. However, the Program lacks methodology and protocols to meet the needs of communicators.
In 2019, the government reduced the funds assigned to several committees within the National Human Rights Council, thus impacting the Permanent Committee on the Right to Communication and Freedom of Expression.
The Protection Program for Journalists and Social Communicators was established in August 2000, and since 2011 it has a National Protection Unit.
It is considered the most effective in the continent and served as a model for other countries. However, the system still requires additional economic and technical resources, as well as training. For some critics, the system has not really improved in 20 years and it has failed to deactivate risk sources for journalists.
In May 2019, the Inter-Institutional Committee to Protect Journalists and Communication Workers was established with the aim of implementing protection mechanisms for journalists and communication workers.
It is criticized for not including journalists' groups or press associations in its structure. It is made up only of official entities: The Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs, the Council for the Regulation, Development and Promotion of Information and Communication (Cordicom) and the General Secretary for Communication.
On November 15, 2019, the Office of the Prosecutor for Journalists and Human Rights Defenders was created as part of the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. After criticism from journalists and press associations, former President Jimmy Morales suspended the launch of the Program for the Protection of Journalists, Communicators and the Media - which was scheduled to start on November 30, 2019 - due to lack of coordination with journalists' associations and the civil society.
On May 15, 2015, the Protection System for Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators and Justice Workers was established. The General Directorate of the Protection System receives all petitions for protection, requests the implementation of the protection plan for those at risk, and coordinates the actions of State agencies with civil society.
It is criticized for the lack of technical and financial resources for its proper operation.
In 2012, the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists was established.
A Federal Superior Audit determined that the budget in 2019 was lower than in previous years, even though the population at risk had grown. Currently, more than a thousand people - including informants and human rights defenders - receive some kind of protection.
There is no coordination between the Mechanism and the 28 state protection units, which also lack staff, economic resources, and the political commitment from the local governments.
In 2017 - at UNESCO's recommendation - the Bureau for the Protection of Journalists was established. It is made up of the three most important journalists' associations in the country: the Paraguayan Journalists' Forum (FOPEP), the Paraguayan Journalists' Union (SPP) and the Paraguayan Association of Graphic Reporters (ARGP). Other participants include the Supreme Court of Justice, the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Police, the Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, and the Ministry of Technology and Information, among other official entities.
The government reactivated the Bureau earlier this year after the murder of Brazilian journalist Leo Veras in Paraguay. However, there is criticism that the mechanism doesn't have the funds or the means to remove a potential victim of aggression or threat from the danger zone and, overall, it doesn't have an adequate budget. There is no continuity in the participation of officials after changes of government.
The IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 Western Hemisphere publications, and is based in Miami, Florida, USA.