Message of Carlos Jornet, April 17, 2024

Mid-Year Meeting April 17 - 19, 2024

IAPA Mid-Year Meeting, April 17-19, 2024

Message of Carlos Jornet

President of the Committee on Press Freedom and Information

2024 is not just another year for democracy in the world: more than four billion people will go to the polls in fifty countries.

In the Americas, we will also experience an intense electoral year. And we dare to predict that on the continent, it will not be just another year for freedom of expression and the press either.

In the past few months, there have been significant shifts in the political landscape of some countries in the region, still with uncertain outcomes. And in several nations, electoral processes are underway.

Since our last assembly in Mexico in November, new presidents have taken office in Ecuador, Argentina, and Guatemala, after elections fraught with tensions. This year began with elections in El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele demonstrated how willing he is to manipulate institutional frameworks and persecute opponents to extend his stay in power.

The electoral super cycle will continue in May when the polls open in Panama.

In June, it will be Mexico's turn, where polls indicate that for the first time, there will be a female president.

In July, Dominicans will vote. Between October and November, Uruguayans will elect their new authorities in a runoff.

And on the first Tuesday of November, US citizens will decide whether to continue with Joe Biden or return power to Donald Trump, despite the unprecedented assault on Congress he encouraged on January 6, 2021.

Venezuelans have also been called to vote in July, in an electoral parody aimed solely at validating Nicolás Maduro's illegitimate regime. And to prevent any possibility of surprises, the dictator, who can already be unquestionably labeled as such, has banned all opposition figures with a chance of winning.

An electoral year should be especially conducive to journalistic work; so that not only political and social leadership but all citizens could express themselves freely, so that the debate of ideas flourishes, so that access to public information is deepened, a key factor in deciding the future of a country, a state, a municipality.

Unfortunately, in this context, the press tends to be the first victim of intolerance and institutional encroachment with which many leaders in the region, from left or right, pave the way to power or consolidate it.

Stigmatization and the use of social networks to discredit those who investigate governments or economic powers intensify in the heat of electoral contests, fueling aggression and threats, as we will see happening in about twenty countries.

Organized crime, often with the complicity or tacit approval of political and economic powers or security forces, continues to murder journalists, as happened in the last semester with two colleagues in Guatemala, two others in Honduras, and one each in Colombia, Haiti, and Mexico, respectively. Or threatening and carrying out attacks to intimidate and silence, as in Argentina and Ecuador.

Media blockades remain a recurring practice in Cuba and Venezuela; espionage or illegal surveillance are reported in Nicaragua and Peru; journalist kidnappings have been recorded in Haiti and Mexico; others have had to exile from Ecuador and Paraguay or were banished from Nicaragua.

And we continue to regret that, against all international standards, colleagues are still being imprisoned for the crime of reporting or investigating, as is the case with José Rubén Zamora, who has already spent over 600 days in prison in a Guatemalan jail, while in Cuba, at least three journalists are behind bars during this period.

Without reaching physical violence or persecution or deprivation of liberty, we register cases of harassment and abuse in Brazil (especially against women), Cuba, El Salvador (with trolls and haters acting on social media with governmental complicity), and Nicaragua, where similar actions are accompanied by confiscations and denial of identity documents.

And speaking of harassment, there is a growing trend to initiate multimillion-dollar lawsuits - the so-called SLAPPs or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation - to neutralize journalists and media in countries like Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Restrictions on access to public information have intensified in Bolivia, El Salvador, the United States, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

Among the positive events of the last semester, we highlight the signing of the Chapultepec and Salta Declarations by President Daniel Noboa, who took office in Ecuador in early elections to complete the term that Guillermo Lasso had left unfinished. He pledged to guarantee the work of reporters and media, at a time when organized crime intensifies its violence and when there are questions about the effectiveness of the protection system for journalists.

Also, there are favorable expectations arising from a bill in Chile aimed at protecting journalists; the fund It's Not Time to Be Silent, for women journalists in Colombia; the decision of the Constitutional Court of Costa Rica to accept an injunction against the Communication Minister for not providing public information; an incipient effort in Honduras to improve the Protection Mechanism; initiatives in Panama to regulate official communication spending and contain judicial harassment, and a ruling in Puerto Rico in favor of source confidentiality.

In parallel, there are worrisome projects or statutes in Brazil (to attribute responsibility to media for slanders by interviewees); in Canada, to criminalize online public discourse; in Paraguay, with a law protecting women used to censor media and journalists, and in Peru, where increasing penalties for officials for disclosing irregularities to the press are proposed.

In the sessions we are starting today, we will discuss these actions and projects in depth. And we will focus especially on the delicate situation experienced by the Haitian press, in a country ravaged by violence and turmoil. And we will analyze in panels and thematic presentations the difficult reality of journalism in exile; violence and disinformation in electoral contexts; coverage of organized crime and corruption, and cases of stigmatization, political conflicts, and judicial harassment.

Faced with authoritarian stances of those who accuse media and reporters of being enemies of the people, we will seek to coordinate measures that multiply the impulses favorable to free expression and neutralize those policies that seek to censor, persecute, silence the action of journalism.

Democracy is not weakened by the action of the press, as authoritarian leaders from one end to the other of the continent claim. The discourse of those who claim to prioritize direct communication with society often hides another purpose: to cloud the public debate, to enhance confrontation through bots and troll farms, in a friend-enemy logic that ends up undermining social debate and demolishing institutions.

The path is not with less journalism but with more and better journalism, with sustainable media, with actions by states to guarantee the safety of those who inform society. For all these reasons, from the IAPA we will continue to fight.