Performance of press freedom and freedom of expression in the Americas shows "signs of tragedy for democracy"

Conclusions of IAPA Mid-Year Meeting

Miami (April 27, 2023) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today concluded its virtual Mid-Year Meeting with a presentation in its conclusions of the main issues that influenced the performance of press freedom and freedom of expression in the Americas. The organization also addressed the challenges facing journalism in the areas of artificial intelligence and media sustainability.

Below is the full text of the Conclusions of the meeting, held from April 25 to 27:

"There are signs of tragedy for democracy in the American continent due to the lack of respect for freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which corrodes human rights, weakens institutions, and kills the hope for a dignified life.

This statement by the president of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), Michael Greenspon, made at the inauguration of the Mid-Year meeting of the continental organization that comprises more than 1,300 media, defines well this period, which concludes with a balance of ten journalists murdered, aggressions and attacks against independent journalism.

Five of the ten journalists were murdered in Haiti, and one each in Colombia, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, and Paraguay.

The drama of the Nicaraguan press was noted in a panel that revealed the harsh repression of a regime. The government expatriated and stripped the nationality of 222 political prisoners after having them imprisoned without due process or judicial guarantees, among them Juan Lorenzo Holmann, manager of La Prensa and IAPA director.

During this period, more than 30 journalists had to go into exile from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Ecuador, and El Salvador. From the latter country, a digital media, El Faro, opted to move its operations to Costa Rica in the face of government persecution.

Meanwhile, the Cuban regime, lord and master of all social and individual freedoms, maintains the ban on nine independent journalists from leaving the country and keeps a reporter and a social media influencer in prison.

José Rubén Zamora, president of elPeriódico and IAPA director, continues to be imprisoned in Guatemala through a rigged judicial process. It exposes a government that continues persecuting critical voices, such as half a dozen columnists and journalists who preferred to leave the country rather than be arrested for their opinions.

In Argentina, attacks on journalists and media were reported, particularly in Rosario, besieged by drug trafficking. In Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Mexico, journalists in the country's interior live in uncertainty due to unpunished threats from criminal gangs.

In many countries, such as Brazil, journalists were exposed to police repression during protests following the change of government and the seizure of government offices in Brasilia earlier this year.

Because of the generalized climate of violence against journalists, the IAPA meeting deepened its request to the governments of the continent to create protection systems such as those currently being analyzed by the Chilean Congress and presented yesterday in Paraguay. In addition to discussing new security protocols promoted by Unesco, the IAPA presented its project Redacciones + Seguras (Newsrooms + Secure,) which will seek Newsrooms to adopt security measures to its context.

In Cuba and Venezuela, the governments continued closing independent media and blocking national and foreign websites. In El Salvador and Mexico, it was reported that governments used Pegasus software to spy on journalists' communications. In almost all countries -especially in Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, and Venezuela- the powers use armies of trolls in social media to discredit the critical press.

In Argentina, the governmental Secretariat of Media seeks to control content uncomfortable to power. In Bolivia, independent media complain of suffering tax persecution for publishing criticism against the government.

The stigmatization and public degradation of the press are also widespread among presidents and high-ranking officials. For example, Gustavo Petro of Colombia continues denigrating critical journalists and media, while President Rodrigo Chaves of Costa Rica called them "political hitmen" in Costa Rica. Other presidents who make this practice a daily occurrence are Guillermo Lasso of Ecuador, Nayib Bukele of El Salvador, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico.

Anti-press freedom bills were presented in Bolivia, where racism was used as an excuse. In addition, some legislative initiatives in Peru and the United States seek to make it easier to sue journalists to muzzle their investigations and denunciations, contravening constitutional principles and Inter-American jurisprudence. On the other hand, in Panama, a bill seeks to limit the seizure of media assets and initiate lawsuits for millions of dollars against them.

The meeting also rejected and denounced restrictions on journalists and citizens seeking access to public information, as guaranteed by laws that the governments do not comply with. It happens even in the most democratic countries, such as Canada, the United States, Panama, and Puerto Rico. For example, journalists in the United States face problems accessing official sources, including President Joe Biden. On the positive side, the IAPA urged governments to imitate the stance of Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader, who announced sanctions against those public entities that fail to provide information to requesters promptly and timely.

During the continental meeting, different panels analyzed the future challenges for journalism. They discussed the impact of artificial intelligence on the profession, the quality of content, the economic viability of the media, and laws that seek a better balance between digital platforms and media regarding the intellectual property of news content. Finally, the IAPA announced the launching with Google of a laboratory on revenues and audiences that will benefit 80 media that operate in economically and politically vulnerable environments."

IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.