Carlos Jornet, President of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information

Lee Hills Sessions, October 19, 2021

President of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information

Carlos Jornet, The Voice of the Interior, Argentina

77th IAPA General Assembly

Lee Hills Sessions

Wednesday, October 20, 2021 - 11:30 a.m.

Thank you very much, Mr. President. Good morning to those who I have not greeted yet.

The persistence of the health crisis in many of our countries forced us once again to be prudent, to meet again remotely, even though we would have liked to meet face to face again. And hopefully this will happen soon.

Unfortunately, when the pandemic ends, when Covid-19 is a memory or at least a more manageable, less deadly disease, some regrets will have settled more strongly on our continent.

Some of those sores that will have spread, that will hurt more intensely, will be censorship, authoritarian impulses, intolerance.

Informational deserts will also have grown.

As President Jorge Canahuati stated, communities without local media to represent them will have multiplied from one end of our America to the other. And there will be more fertile ground for disinformation and hate speech to grow, for corruption and organized crime to germinate.

This scenario of loss of sustainability for hundreds of media companies is accentuated by the growing competition from global platforms, which use the content of the same media to get more than 80 percent of the world's digital advertising.

As early as last April, we said that the shadow of a black swan, with an impact of perhaps irreversible consequences for many publications, was looming over the written press; to some extent, on journalism and, therefore, on freedom of expression.

We were far from imagining that a short time later, the regime of Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, in Nicaragua, would unleash a real hunt to silence all critical voices.

And that in Cuba there would be another repressive wave as the only response to contain the massive protests against the communist regime and demand for freedom.

Both realities were exposed harshly and forcefully in the final reports of two missions that we carried out to these two countries in a virtual way, due to the health crisis, but basically to get around the lock that both governments impose to keep hidden the outrages they commit against the citizen freedoms and human rights.

The Spanish writer and comedian Jaume Perich said that "thanks to freedom of expression today it is already possible to say that a ruler is useless without anything happening to us. Nor to the ruler".

Like any joke, it contains part of the truth, but it also includes a twist that starts from tense reality to lead us to reflect.

It is true, technology opens up new possibilities for free expression every day. We can denounce oppression by getting closer to reality, even remotely.

It is clear that in many regions of American continent it is not possible to say that a ruler is useless without paying the consequences harshly. Nicaraguan and Cuban colleagues know this very well; the artists; civil rights defenders; committed priests; the intellectuals.

Dictators, autocrats and also leaders with a democratic veneer, time and again find ways to exercise censorship, to limit access to those tools that allow citizens to raise their voice against the abuses of those who govern them.

Let us therefore try to reformulate that phrase that, beyond humorous intentions, exposes the tragedy that exists in terms of freedom of expression and of the press. Thus, we could say: "Thanks to freedom of expression, in many countries of America it is possible to say that a ruler is useless, and that nothing will happen to him. But sooner or later he will not be able to prevent the claim for freedom from triumph, from the truth from prevailing, from the abuses of power from coming to light".

It is more than evident that the purpose of all authoritarian action is to silence the opposition, to prolong a status quo that translates into an eternalization of despotic governments in power.

But when the flame of freedom is lit, when the people assume that claim as a priority, that wave is unstoppable.

As a symbol of this struggle, on Thursday the IAPA will present the Grand Press Freedom Prize to two of the regional vice presidents of this Committee, Juan Lorenzo Hollmann Chamorro and Henry Constantin Ferreiro.

They represent the tenacity to face despotic power.

They - and many other persecuted colleagues, among whom the number of women grows proportionally - reflect the decision of so many Nicaraguans and Cubans not to surrender to the outrage.

The same message was given a few weeks ago by the Norwegian Committee when it awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to colleagues María Ressa and Dimitri Muratov. They are not the first journalists to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but it is the first time that the award has been awarded for defending freedom of expression, "a precondition for democracy and lasting peace", as the resolution says.

The president of the committee said that Ressa and Muratov "represent all journalists who defend this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions."

This suffocating environment for the exercise of the activity is increasingly aggravated by confrontational, disqualifying speeches that promote violence against journalists.

Another nine communicators have died from violent events in the last six months in the Americas: six in Mexico and one, respectively, in Brazil, Colombia and Haiti.

Thus, the number of murdered in the exercise of their activity rises to 17 in the last 12 months.

One of the concerns of the IAPA, and the central work theme of our Impunity Subcommittee, is to prevent the death of each journalist from falling into oblivion, due to deficiencies in the investigation or insufficient judicial commitment.

For this reason, in this semester we have carried out negotiations with representatives of governments, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and with the relatives of murdered journalists, demanding justice, but also to promote effective public policies to protect journalists. And, above all, so that the states can make moral and financial compensation to the families of the victims.

A milestone in this work in conjunction with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is the recent condemnation of the Colombian State for the acts of torture, kidnapping and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya, currently an editor at El Tiempo, which occurred in 2000 when she carried out a research project in the Modelo prison, in Bogotá.

The ruling just harshly questions the violation of the victim's rights to judicial guarantees, the absence of judicial protection and equality before the law due to the lack of due diligence when conducting investigations into said facts, the discriminatory nature in gender reason for said investigations and the violation of the reasonable period of time.

It also warns of "serious, precise and consistent evidence of state participation in the aforementioned events."

Regarding the escalation of repression against the press that is currently being recorded, a data that is very representative of the action or complicity of the State in some countries is that in these six months 20 independent journalists in Cuba and 37 colleagues and opposition leaders in Nicaragua paid with jail the claim of freedom.

At the moment they are imprisoned:

In Brazil, the blogger Paulo Cezar de Andrade Prado.

In Cuba, two independent journalists Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca and Esteban Rodríguez and youtuber Yoandi Montiel, while female colleagues Mary Karla Ares and Camila Acosta remain under house arrest.

In Nicaragua, our regional vice president Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro, and also Miguel Mendoza. And two other members of La Prensa board of directors, Cristiana Chamorro and her brother Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, she under house arrest for being a candidate for president, and he because she anticipated that she would be a candidate.

When we review the country-by-country reports, which can already be consulted on our website, we verify the existence of frightening restrictions on access to public information in practically all countries; an increase in aggressions in the context of social protests; discrimination in the allocation of official propaganda, increase in lawsuits against journalists, and

a growing conditioning on the independence of the judicial powers.

Only in Nicaragua we registered 57 judicial subpoenas to journalists. But there were also cases in Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay and Cuba.

The most extreme cases against the media, as mentioned by our president in his inaugural speech, were the seizure and expropriation of El Nacional, in Venezuela, a few days after our midyear meeting, and a similar action ordered by the regime of Daniel Ortega against La Prensa, in Nicaragua.

In the first case, the objective was to execute the plundering sentence that had condemned the media to pay the equivalent of 13 million dollars to Diosdado Cabello. As for La Prensa, a final judicial ruling was not even expected to attack the newspaper and try to silence it, which did not happen due to the tenacity of its directors and staff.

Threats, attacks and other violent events occurred in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, the United States, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela.

It is difficult to specify the number of journalists who had to go into exile in the last six months, but the data that is known speak of at least 26 in Nicaragua and two in Cuba, while two foreign reporters were expelled by the government of El Salvador.

Stigmatization from the State –in general, the prelude to more serious attacks against the press– registers recurring cases in Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru.

And undoubtedly the most repeated theme in the reports that we receive for this assembly are the restrictions on access to information.

Despite the seriousness of the health and economic crisis unleashed by the pandemic, the limitations for journalistic work grew in practically the entire continent, and with greater frequency and intensity in Antigua & Barbuda, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, United States, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico and Trinidad Tobago.

As we can see, the lack of transparency occurs in countries with governments of both ideological signs; authoritarian governments and also those of nations with a greater democratic tradition; in some cases due to the force of the facts, in others due to legislative or judicial harrasment. For example, in Bolivia, where a bill calls for the elimination of journalistic secrecy and another would restrict access to information.

The tendency to regulate the flow of information over the internet is another threat looming in the region. Since with the excuse of avoiding the spread of disinformation, and under grandiloquent titles, projects are presented that end up limiting freedom.

This is the case, for example, in Canada, with an anti-hate bill that creates "digital security" monitors; in Chile, with texts being debated by the new Constituent Assembly; in Colombia, with projects to regulate social networks and content on childhood and adolescence; in Cuba, with Decree Law 35; in El Salvador, with regulatory initiatives of the Bukele regime; in Venezuela, where the government regularly blocks the internet sites of independent media.

All these harsh realities will be reflected, as anticipated, in the 2021 edition of the Chapultepec Index, which we will present this afternoon. That will be an updated photo of the scenario that the press experienced in the last year.

But for a long time we have been trying to have tools that allow us a real-time look at what is happening in each country of the continent. We already have in an advanced stage of development a monitor that, using artificial intelligence technology, will show on an interactive panel the attacks on the press, the government stigmatizations, the authoritarian deviations that are emerging.

This project, which we call SIP Bot, will be formally launched next November, but today we will tell you in more detail what it will consist of.

Another initiative that we will launch starting today is a video version of the Salta Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression in the Digital Age. Prepared in plain language, it seeks to transmit to new generations the concepts of this document approved by the IAPA in 2018.

I suggest that we first see the full version, a little over two and a half minutes long, and then two short cuts made for social networks, one with English subtitles and the other in Portuguese, to reach the entire continent.

In closing, I would like to point out that despite the worrying context that I described above, our speech is not discouraged. It is a call to action, to redouble efforts to change that reality. And that is what the initiatives we have just presented point to.

So that when the storm subsides, when humanity returns to the path of development, the sun of freedom of expression will shine again and we will find the ways that guarantee the sustainability of professional journalism.

And let us achieve that in those countries where obscurantism reigns, a solid, vigorous press can soon be developed that helps expand the citizen debate.