Michael Greenspon - IAPA President, April 25, 2023

Midyear Meeting 2023
April, 25-27

Michael Greenspon

April 25, 2023

Virtual Mid-Year Meeting of the IAPA

April 25-27, 2023

Good morning. Thank you for joining us in our new mid-year Inter American Press Association assembly.

Today there are clear signs that we are going through one of the worst moments for democracy in our Americas.

I am not talking about public insecurity, the advance of organized crime, or the corrupt depredation of public administrations. Nor am I talking about the consequences of the polarization of society, poverty, or climate change. Though we could, unfortunately, talk about any one of those.

Rather, I want to talk about the profound tragedy coming for our democracies for not respecting press freedom and freedom of expression. The deterioration of these freedoms erodes the rest of human rights, weakens institutions, and kills hope and dreams of living in a dignified manner.

It is enough to look at Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to put a face to the tragedy of living without freedom of the press and democracy. These countries are the ones that have expelled, persecuted, and imprisoned critical journalists and citizens the most and closed down the media.

All three are exporters of a country's best assets: its citizens.

In Cuba, we must still call attention to the fact that journalists and citizens are imprisoned for criticizing the government, even as, most independent journalists were expelled or decided to flee the country.

The same is happening with Nicaragua. In February, the regime exiled 222 political prisoners, including several independent journalists – we will hear later from a group of them, including our regional vice president Juan Lorenzo Holmann – the regime took away their nationality as if homeland could be uprooted.

In Venezuela, the regime has shut down almost all vestiges of independent journalism. In recent months, it closed another 80 stations and reassigned those licenses to friends of power who would continue doing propaganda and indoctrination work.

We do not believe, however, that press freedom is only at risk in these dictatorships. On the contrary, there are also high levels of contempt in countries with free elections.

Since we last meet in Madrid, nine journalists have been assassinated -- four in Haiti, where another four other journalists were kidnapped. Many also left El Salvador due to government persecution, including a digital medium, El Faro, which tired of the government's arbitrariness, moved its offices to Costa Rica. This country has also given shelter to the Nicaraguan media and journalists. We thank the Costa Rican government.

In addition to enprisonments in Cuba, we also have another journalist, an IAPA director, in prison in Guatemala. In December, I led a mission to that country to visit José Rubén Zamora. We saw him in jail and witnessed a process that did not appear to be transparent. We demanded due process. Weeks later, the Public Ministry worsened the situation. It opened investigations against el Periodico journalists and columnists, such as former IAPA president, Gonzalo Marroquín, just for commenting critically on the Zamora case.

Hundreds of journalists have been attacked in numerous other countries. Some due to general public insecurity, others due to crossfire between organized crime and law enforcement, and many due to disproportionate police force. For this reason, in IAPA, we are beginning to work with the Redacciones + Seguras (Newsrooms more secure) project. Furthermore, we understand that beyond countries like Chile, Ecuador, and Paraguay, where the creation of official protection systems is being considered, the media have a responsibility to create specific protocols and methods to protect its journalists and media personnel.

In recent months, we have participated in UNESCO consultations on security. Later this morning, Eduardo Bertoni, the former rapporteur for freedom of expression, will tell us about a new protocol that creates a better coexistence between law enforcement and journalists.

We consider it harmful to democracy that many governments spy on journalists, as happened in El Salvador and Mexico, through Pegasus, or that most governments have armies of trolls and use anonymous and partisan accounts on social media to attack journalists and the media.

For this reason, we have also participated in the meetings promoted by UNESCO to regulate the moderation of content on digital platforms. My colleague and predecessor, Jorge Canahuati, was at UNESCO in February to express support for the process and voice our concerns.

Due to their eagerness to regulate expression, we are afraid that governments could fall into abuse. Moreover, we worried that a laudable cause - fighting against disinformation or hate speech - will be the excuse to regulate or censor news content distributed by the platforms. Regardless, if there is a consensus to regulate, we demand that freedom of expression is respected and that autonomous, transparent organizations be created, free of economic, political, or government pressure.

This Thursday, we will have a critical panel to understand this process, with representatives from UNESCO and experts on press freedom.

Regarding digital platforms, we understand that they can and must be our allies. They are essential for the sustainability of the press.

But neither the big platforms nor governments nor society, in general, can ignore the precariousness of the media because advertising, the traditional support of journalism, has been absorbed by the platforms.

This precariousness also has severe consequences for democracy. In all countries, we see how information deserts advance. In the US, local media have closed in half of the counties in the country. The same is happenening in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and in other countries.

Without local journalism, without investigations, communities and democracies lose strength. In the last few decades, many unsuccessful formulas have been implemented to recreate local journalism where it has been lost. Tomorrow we will listen to Ken Doctor and his innovative projects to revive confidence in journalism.

I also want to ponder the attitude of Google, one of the few platforms willing to do more for journalism. We are encouraged that in Latin America, Google continues to promote the Showcase program – a licensing system through which it pays the media for content – launched this year in Mexico – to go along with Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia. We expect firm steps from Google to expand to Chile and Peru before December.

After numerous meetings with Google executives, I want to announce that we have agreed to benefit more than 120 media outlets in Central America and other countries where Showcase does not yet exist. We will launch a new lab on audiences and income in May to support small and medium-sized media, the most vulnerable. You will hear the details of this new project tomorrow on the panel with Rodrigo Bonilla from Google and our executive director, Ricardo Trotti.

Also, this year, together with other organizations, we will launch a project to strengthen freedom of expression, the press, institutions, and democracy in Central America.

Our push, in this sense, is not only to defend press freedom but also to promote it. We are convinced that our declarations of Chapultepec and Salta guide the importance of press freedom to build democracy and have fairer, more egalitarian societies where people can live with dignity.

I do not want to conclude without mentioning two important events. First, we awarded the Grand Chapultepec Prize to the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group this year. We appreciate their support, which made us more efficient in litigating murdered journalists' cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. They also helped us negotiate with governments in our demand for justice, measures of non-repetition, and moral and economic reparation for the relatives of our colleagues killed.

Finally, with the conviction that freedom of the press and expression can be taught, we value the agreement with the Andrés Bello University, with which we create our Chapultepec Index and offer courses to educate journalists, citizens, and members of the judiciary.

Next week, we will participate in World Press Freedom Day in New York and the week after in Cali, Colombia, I will participate in the ninth congress of our accreditation council for journalism schools.

It encourages me to go to that congress, not only because we will talk about media sustainability and the future of journalism education. But because, the students of the Autonomous University of the West of Cali will sign the declarations of Chapultepec and Salta, committing their future professional lives to defending and promoting freedom of the press.

At the IAPA, we are convinced that journalists and the media are the ones who should work the most to create awareness about press freedom as a fundamental value of democracy.

As the real defenders and promoters of press freedom, I invite you to participate actively in these discussions.

Thank you so much.

I now thank Carlos Jornet, our president of the Freedom of the Press and Information Committee, for starting our discussions on freedom of the press.