79th IAPA General Assembly, November 9 - 12, 2023, Mexico City, Mexico


79th General Assembly of the Inter-American Press Association

November 12, 2023, Mexico City, Mexico

The weakening of democracy in the Americas this year dragged its infallible shadow: the erosion of freedom of expression and press freedom. The beginning of new governments and several electoral processes in the region failed to promote the republican values of a free press.

On a general level, the resurgence of dictatorships, the strengthening of authoritarianism, organized crime, and economic weakness were the factors that most affected the region's freedom of expression and press freedom.

Two were the symbols of this situation during the 79th General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) in Mexico City.

On the one hand, the Chapultepec Index of Freedom of the Press and Expression in the Americas fell to its lowest overall score. The Dominican Republic led the ranking, while Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua again closed the table. For the first time, four countries appeared in the "highly restricted" category: Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The second significant fact of the meeting was that the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and his entire government snubbed the press of the continent by not attending the inauguration of the Assembly, as is the tradition of the presidents of host countries. The opposition pre-candidate for the presidency of Mexico, Xóchitl Gálvez, signed the Declaration of Chapultepec.

The General Assembly celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Declaration of Chapultepec and the fifth anniversary of the Declaration of Salta. Regarding the latter, a process of consultation with experts in freedom of expression and new technologies and journalists was agreed upon during the coming year, with the hope of updating it in preparation for the 80th General Assembly, to be held in Cordoba, Argentina, in October 2024.

Through a resolution, the Assembly resolved to show solidarity with Acapulco and Guerrero after the devastation left by Hurricane Otis. It was also agreed to ask the Mexican government not to attempt to silence or modify the coverage of the media and journalists during the tragedy.

In an environment of weakening media business, the Assembly discussed strategies for generating new revenues and audiences and ratifying the importance of continuing the fight for intellectual property rights concerning digital platforms and artificial intelligence engines. Google was also asked to expand its content licensing to other countries, such as Peru and Chile, through Showcase, which already exists in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.

Seven journalists were murdered: three in Mexico, two in Guatemala, one in Colombia, and one in Haiti, among many other attempts on their lives. But the violence did not end there. The number of exiled journalists increased, with at least 25 new cases reported: 15 in El Salvador, five in Ecuador, three in Nicaragua, one in Bolivia, and one in Paraguay. Arrests continued: four in Cuba, two in Nicaragua, three in the U.S., and one in Guatemala. Seven journalists were kidnapped and later released.

The worst-hit countries in the region were once again the dictatorships of Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela. Arrests, kidnappings, and exiles continued, as well as restrictions in the digital space. Threats against private advertisers in the independent press, media closures, and cancellations of television and radio concessions persisted. "The practice of journalism in Nicaragua is a crime," said Juan Lorenzo Holmann of the daily La Prensa, from the U.S., where he lives after being released from prison.

In the category of countries with high restrictions, Bolivia has been experiencing the most critical stage of press freedom since the 1980s. In this country, as well as in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the attacks of their presidents and governments against independent journalism, tax harassment, economic and judicial sanctions, material damage to media facilities, and threats to advertisers persist. There was no lack of legislative initiatives to "legalize" repression. More than 100 murders of journalists remain unpunished.

Seven countries make up the group in restriction. All of them - Peru, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil - are suffering an increase in organized crime, everyday crime and drug trafficking, and mafias that attack the press with increasing viciousness. Elections and new governments have come and gone in four of these countries this year; however, the work of the media has become even riskier.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador continues with his hostile discourse against the press; the Argentinean candidate Javier Milei made more than twenty verbal attacks against journalists; in Colombia, Gustavo Petro calls the press liars; and in Peru, the government of Dina Boluarte tried, unsuccessfully, to create the crime of instigating riots against those -including communicators- reporting on protests that ended in violence.

While Mexico continues to be the most violent country in the region for the exercise of the press, since this year, Peru has lacked public institutions committed to freedom of expression and press freedom following the intervention of Congress.

In all countries official advertising is handled with opacity, and there are restrictions on access to public information.

Among the countries in the "low restriction" category, Panama, Jamaica, Guyana, Suriname, and Puerto Rico, the main obstacle to journalism came from obstruction in the delivery of public information. There was also intimidation. In Costa Rica, a ruling by the Constitutional Court now makes it possible to confront the stigmatization of journalists by the government following a grievance by President Rodrigo Chaves.

In the USA, three journalists were arrested. A media outlet was raided, and defamation lawsuits continued. The persecution of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, continued to affect freedom of expression.

In Canada, the government passed a law allowing collective bargaining between digital platforms and media outlets as compensation for the use of their news content. In retaliation, Meta blocked access to news in Canada, and Google threatened similar actions.

In the Chilean constitutional process, guarantees for freedom of expression were agreed upon, and the Chamber of Deputies approved a bill for the protection and safety of journalists. In Uruguay, the Senate seeks to offer print media tax incentives.

This year, the Dominican Republic is the only country where freedom of expression prevails. No severe cases against journalists were reported. Dominican President Luis Abinader makes continuous public appearances to be accountable to the press.

The General Assembly held in Mexico paid an emotional tribute to IAPA Executive Director Ricardo Trotti, who leaves office today, a position assumed by Carlos Lauría.