IAPA Warns of Growing Risks to Freedom of Expression and Press

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Conclusions of the Mid-Year Meeting where the update of the Declaration of Salta began.

Miami (April 19, 2024) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) concluded today its semi-annual meeting, held virtually, with the presentation of its conclusions after three days of debate on the situation of press freedom in the Western Hemisphere and a series of panels related to the update of the 2018 Declaration of Salta of Principles on Freedom of Expression in the Digital Era, in light of the technological changes of recent years.

Below is the full text of the Mid-Year Meeting Conclusions:

"2024 is an intense electoral year for the continent, with growing risks to freedom of expression and the press. Instances of intolerance from politicians with high chances of coming to power and from authorities in various countries darken the outlook for journalism, as reflected in this Midyear Meeting.

In this context, political discourse advocates direct communication with the public. It enhances confrontation with media and journalists through spying practices, online harassment, and strategic lawsuits against public participation aimed at silencing critical voices. At the same time, in some countries, imprisonment, forced exile, or deportations of journalists come equally from state actors and organized crime.

Seven journalists were killed in Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Haiti, and Mexico, and another four remain imprisoned in Cuba and Guatemala. Also, in this semester, there were reported cases of journalists being kidnapped in Haiti and Mexico. Several instances of attacks and stigmatization were recorded in Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico. The presidents of the last three countries often refer negatively to journalists through their social media networks and the mainstream media.

The Nicaraguan regime has dismantled the independent press. In addition to confiscations, imprisonment, and subsequent exile of editors and journalists, the government adds persecution against family members and looting of homes and bank accounts of those who maintain a critical voice. The Special Cybercrime Law was designed, and it is being used to persecute any critical expression on social media against the official discourse.

In Cuba and Venezuela, persecution against the few journalists who manage to express themselves and against citizens translates into economic sanctions, blocking of channels of expression, stigmatization, and harassment in public places.

A panel at this meeting conducted an in-depth analysis of the spread of intimidation and attacks by drug trafficking against the press in Guatemala, Ecuador, and Argentina, the latter country being until recently immune to this scourge. Another panel discussed the impact of political hostility towards the press during elections in the United States, El Salvador, Mexico, and Venezuela.

Judicial harassment continues to be a strategy used in several countries to silence the press. In Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, cases of judicial harassment were recorded, some through criminal lawsuits and others through civil lawsuits in which judges admit disproportionate damages that thwart press freedom.

In other countries, such as Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela, governments maintain surveillance mechanisms against journalists.

Freedom of expression was also vilified by denying access to public information to both citizens and journalists in Bolivia, the United States, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

Regarding legislative projects or worrying judicial trends for freedom of expression, according to the Supreme Court of Brazil, the media would be responsible for defamation or libel expressed by interviewees. In Canada, a bill criminalizes public expression online. In Peru, a legislative project seeks to increase penalties against officials who disclose irregularities to the press.

The flip side of these cases comprises projects, resolutions, and governmental actions that deserve to be highlighted. In the Chilean Senate, enacting a law to protect journalists during coverage is advancing. In Panama, a bill proposes to regulate official advertising, and another seeks to protect against judicial harassment. In Puerto Rico, the Judiciary issued a ruling reaffirming the confidentiality of information sources. In Costa Rica, the Constitutional Court admitted an injunction against a minister for failing to provide public information. In Colombia, after investigations by the IAPA, an act of recognition was held for Guillermo Cano, while in Ecuador, President Daniel Noboa signed the Chapultepec and Salta declarations.

This meeting also analyzed the impact of IAPA missions to Colombia, Guatemala, and Ecuador, the progress of the Safer Newsrooms program, and the status of initiatives related to journalists in exile. Five panels addressed disputes and agreements between media and technology companies, from alliances with artificial intelligence developers and analysis of new agreements to regulations regarding copyright, abuse of dominant position, and payment of compensation to content authors."

See here all the documents from the meeting.

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.

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