Miami (October 23, 2020) .- The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) approved the Conclusions of its 76th virtual General Assembly in which the main situations affected freedom of expression and of the press in the Americas were discussed, particularly the effect of the pandemic and the murders of journalists.
76th IAPA General Assembly
October 21 - 23, 2020
The crisis posed by the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted all sectors of society. The press is no exception. More than 130 journalists and media personnel in the Americas died from coronavirus infection while carrying out their professional activities - they were recognized by the IAPA with the 2020 Grand Prize for Press Freedom.
In addition, restrictions on the exercise of the profession and a sharp drop in revenue put many media at risk or caused them to be shut down permanently - leading governments around the world to put in place measures to preserve journalistic work as a bulwark of freedom of expression and democratic debate.
This was also the case in the Americas. Although in several countries of the region, attacks and pressures on the press did not diminish - they worsened.
Fourteen journalists were killed in the last six months: six in Mexico, three in Honduras, two in Venezuela, one in Barbados, one in Brazil and one in Colombia; in the latter country, four murder cases expired in this period and three more will expire before the end of the year.
The launch of the Immortal Pencils campaign in the context of this 76th Assembly seeks to raise awareness about the impunity that surrounds most crimes against journalists. The lack of justice encourages more violence, censorship and self-censorship - hence the slogan that leads this public education project: "Voices can be silenced, but freedom is bulletproof."
In this period, other attacks against journalists and media were recorded in Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico, as well as in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, the United States and Haiti. In Paraguay, the connivance between politicians and drug trafficking increases the risk for those who report on the city of Pedro Juan Caballero - on the border with Brazil.
In Venezuela, the government of Nicolás Maduro intensified the persecution and arbitrary detention of journalists as a tool of intimidation and censorship. The police and the military approach and attack journalists without reason, strip them of their work equipment, steal their belongings, expel them from public spaces, and prevent them from carrying out their work.
The Cuban regime increased repression and censorship against independent media and journalists, activists and citizens. Independent media were blocked and hacked for accusations of contempt, enemy propaganda, incitement to violence or receiving funding from abroad. Numerous journalists were arrested, detained, threatened and beaten and were forbidden to leave their homes or the country.
In the U.S., anti-racial protests after the murder of George Floyd led to 148 physical attacks on journalists and 118 arrests. In addition, during the electoral campaign President Donald Trump continued his attacks against the press and tried to block - unsuccessfully - the publication of two books about his life and presidency.
In Brazil, where violence against journalists continues unabated, President Jair Bolsonaro adds obstacles to freedom of expression with a daily policy of stigmatization, insults and threats against the press. And there were three cases of judicial censorship against the media.
The discrediting of journalists is also a practice of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, while his Salvadoran counterpart, Nayib Bukele, applies indirect censorship measures - such as discrimination in the official guidelines, fiscal pressures and stigmatizing attacks through national chains, trolls and messages on social networks. And he completes his scheme of government propaganda through pressures on content and the launch of two official media: a television news program and Diario de El Salvador - both in print and digital editions.
The Teleamazonas channel in Ecuador suffered a bomb attack in retaliation for its investigations. And the government limited freedom of expression through general and specific circulars to some media - complaining that they were spreading sensationalist and false information about the pandemic.
In the same vein, legislative projects or decrees issued under the argument of sanctioning the dissemination of false news in countries such as Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Argentina are of concern. In Argentina, the Public Defender of Audiovisual Communication Services announced the creation of the government observatory Nodio, "against disinformation and symbolic violence in the press and digital platforms." The opposition warned that it seeks to restrict freedom of expression and asked for the annulment of the new entity.
To the attempts to limit access to information in countries such as Canada, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and El Salvador during the pandemic, restrictions were added to the journalistic work in Caribbean nations, as well as in Peru, Ecuador and Chile.
In Chile, moreover, a plebiscite on constitutional reform proposes the regulation of the media, and some academics propose the recognition of the "right to communication," the limitation of media ownership, and the regulation of content.
Economic and legal pressures against media and professionals within the sector are multiplying in El Salvador, Panama, Mexico, and Nicaragua, while in Colombia it became known that an Army spy network was monitoring 52 journalists.
Despite this scenario, it is worth noting the commitment of several leaders to maintain press freedom in their countries. During this assembly, the president of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, and the president of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader Corona, signed the Chapultepec and Salta declarations, being the first ones to sign both documents - besides that, for the first time, they did it with a pencil from the Immortal Pencils campaign.
Another historic event in this assembly was the presentation of the Chapultepec Index, a new tool that from now on will be used to measure the degree of freedom of the press and expression in the continent. The measurement period of the first issue had to close on data collected until April of this year - so for some countries it does not reflect the worsening of subsequent actions against the press that were documented in this year's press freedom reports.