Miami (December 20, 2020) - Although all activities and disciplines have suffered the devastation of the pandemic, as this difficult year comes to an end, I want to emphasize the immeasurable value that independent journalism brings to the public and to democracy in traumatic and difficult times.
The media and professional journalism may not have done things differently than usual, such as seeking the truth, monitoring public and private powers, generating public discussion on critical issues, and defending the right to free speech. However, the pandemic has boosted those contributions - with a public that turned massively to the media seeking quality and reliable information.
Despite the reunion between citizens and the media, newspaper companies suffered the full force of the Covid-19 crisis, especially because the slumping economy drastically reduced advertising revenues. Many local media - medium and small - disappeared, leaving entire communities voiceless and now more vulnerable to injustice and corruption. Other media had to downsize to face the crisis, undermining content and their future. And almost all had to invest quickly to change the business model and finally embrace the digital transition - acquiring debts which compromise their present.
This dichotomy, between the value of the media in a democracy and their efforts to keep afloat, is one of our priorities. A democratic society prides itself on strong and independent civic institutions and a robust and vigilant press.
Given this dilemma, we believe that countries should continue to provide help and solutions to all sectors of the economy - including the press, which in many countries has been relegated as an industry - to enable them to continue strengthening society in the midst of adversity. In July and October, we sent a letter to all the governments of the Americas, in which we stated: 'In times of crisis and emergency, independent journalism and professional media are essential for free nations. Ensuring their viability and permanence is a responsibility of democratic societies.'
In this sense, we reiterate our satisfaction to President Iván Duque of Colombia, for being the first government in the Americas to include a stimulus package in the budget - already approved for 2021 - which includes an allocation of more than US$ 20 million to encourage the digital transition, as well as the strengthening and the economic revival of the media. We also reiterate our appreciation to the Radical Change Party of Colombia which - aware of the serious situation of the media - has presented a bill to Congress which includes loans, and economic and tax incentives with special consideration for the regional media. We understand that the Liberal Party, among others, has already welcomed this initiative, which would be passed in the next legislative period.
We are convinced that these initiatives by the Executive and Legislative branches of the Colombian government - with adherence to technical, objective, and control and transparency measures, and respecting editorial independence - could be disseminated and adopted by other governments in the region that also value the important role that professional and independent journalism plays in democratic life.
We believe that it is also important to bring multilateral organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the Andean Development Corporation, among others, as well as organizations that defend democracy and freedom of speech, such as the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its Special Rapporteur's Office on Freedom of Expression, into this dialogue. Nor do we want to leave out foundations, non-governmental institutions and private enterprise - knowing that press freedom, independent press and democracy are universal rights and duties, as well as mandates, embedded in almost every constitution in the Americas.
2021 will bear the inertia of this pandemic year. The negative effects will continue or, in many cases, worsen. As societies, we have a responsibility to uphold and strengthen democratic values.
From the IAPA we will continue to support journalism and our partners with initiatives to support digital development projects, convinced that the sustainability and strength of the media is a prerequisite for maintaining the public's right to be informed. And as always, out of our commitment to democratic values, we will continue our unrelenting struggle for freedom of the press and speech - to which we are bound by the Chapultepec and Salta declarations.