I assumed the presidency a year ago on our 75th anniversary in Miami with a lot of enthusiasm and hope. Little did we know that weeks later a news item would explode in Wuhan, China that would change the world as we know it for good.
By February/March everyone on this side of the world was bracing for the Coronavirus hit and many saw their best laid plans beginning to collapse; we were all apprehensive.
Fortunately, at IAPA we were proactive and able to make the right decisions on time to mitigate much of the potential impact on the organisation
From the beginning our focus was to ensure the safety of staff and our members. The staff has been working at home since mid-March and doing so seamlessly after having improved our cyber security systems, having suffered a ransomware attack in 2019. This new-found capability also allowed us recently to vacate our offices in Doral achieving considerable savings on rent.
Even though we suspended our face-to-face meetings: Saltillo in March, Miami in July, and Madrid, where today we should be opening this assembly, we were able to pivot and hold our mid-year meeting virtually in April, host three SIPConnect digital conferences with record attendance of 4,000 people, offer 22 courses on our Lee Hills platform, 30 webinars, reaching over 3,000 people and also produce 9 podcasts on journalism at risk.
Our Executive Committee met virtually 5 times, and our Board of Directors twice.
Most importantly, absent the capability to do missions, we continued to vigorously monitor and denounce violations of freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. We have sent letters to governments addressing the impact their handling of pandemic was having on press freedom and held more than 20 meetings with officials and families of victims, seeking justice to be served through the inter-American human rights system. We also participated in 15 Amicus Curie sent to US judicial authorities.
2020 was also a time for introspection. We completed a deep process of reform of IAPA's statutes/bylaws, which I am sure we will need to revisit in order adapt to the new new reality presented post- COVID.
I have really enjoyed the internal dialogue among the committee members about media sustainability. These discussions where all views contend and where consensus is often a long difficult road to travel ensures that what is agreed is truly in the best interest of IAPA and its members.
We continued with our work in Awards, and in addition to recognizing the excellence of the work of more than 500 journalists, photographers, chroniclers, columnists, cartoonists, we awarded the Grand Prize for Press Freedom to the families of more than 130 journalists and media staff who died having been infected by the coronavirus in their jobs.
We also promoted the Declaration of Salta with the #expresate campaign on social media and our followers on Facebook grew to more than 50,000.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, despite best efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, we were not able to report a good financial year, recorded a deficit of US$304,000. Apart from the postponement and cancellation of events this year, as well as a general decline in membership fee collections, $180,000 of that deficit was due to non-cash provisions related to accumulated uncollectible membership dues on the balance sheet. We are in the process of updating policies on membership management and collection of dues to avoid in the future having to record these significant accounting provisions at the year end.
Notwithstanding this outturn this year, and for your peace of mind, with an investment balance of $9.5M occasioned by the sale of the building in ++++, to the credit of our visionary leaders of the past, and a tradition of operational surpluses due to the astute management by the secretariat under Ricardo Trotti, IAPA remains viable and in good financial health. Indeed, our independent auditors have said we are among the best positioned in their portfolio of over 150 non-profit clients.
Today I can say that it was a relevant year, full of challenges, of course, but we were able to do a lot. The work is by no means complete though and I am pleased to share we are about to do.
After years of plans and pilot projects, I can announce that this afternoon we will launch our Chapultepec Index. This is a tool, created by the Andrés Bello Catholic University of Venezuela, which has the purpose of serving as a mirror to governments, for annual reference regarding efforts to comply with what are appropriate freedom of the press ideals.
We will also launch the public campaign Immortal Pencils which, under the creativity and production of the Zubi company , seeks to raise awareness about solutions needed to reduce impunity surrounding crimes against journalists. I ask everyone to please join this campaign, whose unique and excellent idea would be useless if it does not have the support and promotion of the media and our journalists.
Tomorrow First vice president Jorge Canahuati of Honduras will present with Rockstart, our new bet on media services; a competition to accelerate digital projects that will promote technological innovation and the monetization of the digital services of our media members.
We know that the challenges are not over; nobody knows what 2021 will be like and whether we will have defeated the pandemic to return to normal. But we do know that we must maintain our strength, because freedom of the press, as you will hear reports later, continues to suffer, and many democracies have weakened.
I will have the opportunity during these coming days to pay tribute to each of you, members, directors, officers and chairmen of the committees who have accompanied me on this different but intense year. I would like to however use the opportunity now to thank our sponsors because they believe and trust in our work. I speak of: the Knight Foundation, Grupo Bolivar and Grupo Sura de Colombia, Ed and Karen Seaton, Susan McClatchy, Scripps Foundation, Google, Facebook, ProtecMedia, Marfeel, Chartbeat, The New York Times, Agencia Efe, Europa Press, Latin Press, Zubi, Dos al Cubo, Robert Kennedy Human Rights, Organización Editorial Mexicana, among other companies.
IAPA is a very dynamic and solid organization thanks to your work, and strength. Our mission is well defined. We already have 76 years of history from which we can show a trajectory that makes us proud, especially in the last 30 years with our fight for press freedom being more focused thanks to the declarations of Chapultepec and Salta.
It is my absolute pleasure and honour to be opening this Annual General Assembly, I do hope you enjoy.
I now have the honor and pleasure to announce that the president of Panama, Mr. Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, will sign with an Immortal Pencil both declarations, being the first president to do so in virtual form, joining more than 70 heads of state from all the Americas who have signed it since its inception.
I appreciate the honor that President Cortizo Cohen has given us. I invite our regional vice president for Panama, Eduardo Quirós, who, together with our Panamanian members, will introduce the President.
Thank you very much.