Hemispheric press group release grim freedom report

After three days of analysis and discussion on the state of freedom of the press and of expression, the Inter American Press Association* has released its conclusions, in which the organization highlights violence and constant government harassment as elements that constantly hurt the exercise of journalism in the Americas.

Below are the full conclusions:

Freedom of the press in the Americas continues to be held in check by intolerant authoritarian governments that multiply and reinvent their harassment of journalism, as well as by violence that seems to know no limits.

A new and formidable attack makes the already difficult situation worse in terms of freedom of expression: the pressures from governments to induce private enterprise to remove advertising from independent media outlets.

Today in Argentina, as has occurred in Perú under Alberto Fujimori, important advertisers have completely withdrawn their publicity after the government ordered them to do so in the face of fear of reprisals in taxation or of some other nature. Critical journalism, discriminated against by the government by not receiving government advertising, is facing a crossroads from which it may not survive.

The Inter American Press Association considers it absolutely necessary to call on governments not only to proclaim, but also to practice the most basic standards of a republican democracy — freedom of expression, division of powers, independence of justice, individual citizen guarantees, and alternation of the party in power — at the risk brought about by a single modus operandi of anti-democratic practices that do not respect ideological frontiers in the western hemisphere, but which are especially prevalent in Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panamá.

This process comprehends, fundamentally, immense state and private propaganda machines created for the sole purpose of defaming and attacking journalists, those responsible for the media, business people, and politicians that do not share the official line of thought.

Official advertising, which is growing openly and is reaching millionaire sums, continues to be utilized as a method of discrimination against non-conforming media in those countries, to which we may add Guatemala.

Official discourses are reproduced in an identical manner: They accuse the press media of destabilizing and creating opposition due to their merely doing their work, which consists of informing and expressing opinion. Laws that favor access to public information are ignored or not passed in the first place.

Press laws have been passed or are on their way to passage that make the work of a critical press difficult, and which venture into news content in Ecuador, Chile, Honduras, and Costa Rica. With these legal tools, as has been proven in Argentina and Venezuela, they attempt to multiply the space of the media dependent on the state and reduce the number of independent voices.

All of this directly contradicts that which all American states have committed to respect in the Inter-American Democratic Charter signed on Sept. 11, 2001 in Lima, Peru, according to which “Essential elements of representative democracy are respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” freedom of expression and the press, “access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law… the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.”

For its part, the Inter American Press Association calls on those companies that fold before the blackmail of government that they exhibit worthy behavior in accordance with the value of democracy and freedom of expression. History has demonstrated in these cases that all gain is momentary and short-lasting.

On the other hand, it must be reported that in the region violence against journalists does not cease. In Mexico, two journalists were murdered and one remains disappeared. In Cuba, the media and journalists are permanently harassed and persecuted arbitrarily, while discrimination persists in granting permission to leave the country. And in Brazil two men of the press were murdered while in Perú and Colombian attacks against journalists and the communications media continue to grow.

Finally, the Inter American Press Association expresses its grave concern, and its most energetic rejection, of any attempt to weaken the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States that may occur at the meeting of ambassadors that will take place March 22 in Washington, D.C.

*A.M. Costa Rica’s parent corporation is a member of the Inter American Press Association.

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