22 March 2001

Alert

IAPA strengthens its fight for press freedom while in Fortaleza


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(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 21 March 2001 IAPA press release:


IAPA STRENGTHENS ITS FIGHT FOR PRESS FREEDOM WHILE IN FORTALEZA


The hemispheric organization issued 23 resolutions underpinning its fight against the violence and physical, economic and legal attacks against journalists and the media in the Americas.


Fortaleza, Brazil (March 21, 2001) - The Inter American Press Association stressed that the lack of an independent judicial system in many Latin American and Caribbean nations represents a serious threat against press freedom, during the culmination of the organization's Midyear Meeting yesterday in this city.


The IAPA issued 23 resolutions that urged governments in the region to place more attention on crimes against journalists, legal reforms to repeal insult laws and restrictive measures against the practice of journalism and, among other matters, that governments should not use public resources to benefit or punish the media.


"It was a very positive meeting," explained IAPA President Danilo Arbilla. "It allowed journalists to continue fighting and guarding freedom of the press and expression, which is so important for all men and women, and to point out significant initiatives for the future."


The struggles and achievements expressed by Arbilla, director of the weekly Búsqueda, Montevideo, Uruguay, can be found in the Conclusions approved by the more than 300 newspaper editors and publishers at the end of the Midyear Meeting.


The following is the complete text of the Conclusions:


Murder continues to be used as a tool for silencing journalism in the Americas. Over the past six months, six journalists were killed while in the line of duty: three in Colombia, and one each in Haiti, Paraguay and Mexico. Despite this loss of human lives, positive changes were made in three countries.


In Guatemala, the government agreed to resume the investigations into the 1980 disappearance of journalist Irma Flaquer. This is another step forward in the IAPA's efforts to bring an end to impunity in the murders and disappearances of journalists, demonstrating the importance of persisting in that task.


In Peru, in a shining example of rigorous journalism, investigative reporting into abuses by the President Fujimori administration produced a healthy shake-up of Peruvian society. It also resulted in renewed democratic openness.


The Declaration on Freedom of Expression, drafted by the special rapporteur and recently adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, is a step forward in the fight to reassert the fundamental principles of democracy in the inter-American legal system. The promulgation of this Declaration is a testament to the significance of the inter-American conference called by the IAPA in Mexico in 1994, which culminated in the Declaration of Chapultepec.


In Mexico, power changed hands after 71 years of rule by a single party, clearing the path for true democratic rule and the full exercise of freedom of expression. It is encouraging in this regard that the new government has decided to introduce a bill in Congress to allow free access to public information, and is also prepared to make the murder of journalists a federal crime.


Judicial harassment of journalists in Costa Rica, Jamaica, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile is reaching alarming levels, and the courts are becoming a tool to be used against press freedom and to promote self-censorship. Along these lines, we must learn our lesson from the experience with Fujimori in Peru.


Special attention should also be paid to Costa Rica, where a court sentenced the newspaper La Nacion and one of its journalists for citing information from reputable European publications on corruption by a local public official while abroad. The judgment, which was out of proportion to the offence in question, was upheld by the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court.


In Argentina, some of the 4,000 lawsuits that had been announced against the daily El Liberal of Santiago del Estero, which has been attacked continuously by the province's governor, have already begun. In Jamaica, the daily The Gleaner is appealing the award of millions in damages in a defamation case. In Brazil, payment of disproportionate punitive damage awards had a severe financial impact on several papers. In Chile, the State Security law and two articles of the Penal Code are being used to protect 300 officials and former officials in disputes with media outlets. In Uruguay, a prosecutor asked for a photographer to be punished after he took a picture of a public figure, which the judge said was a provocative act.


Some corporatist ideas from the Franco era in Spain have appeared in countries like Nicaragua, where an obligatory licensing law was recently approved. In Honduras and Venezuela, a license is still required to practice journalism. In Mendoza province in Argentina, and in Ecuador, bills are being promoted that would require membership in a colegio or possession of a qualifying university degree to exercise the human right of gathering and disseminating information and opinions. In this respect, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says in its sixth principle: "Every person has the right to communicate his/her views by any means and in any form. Compulsory membership or the requirements of a university degree for the practice of journalism constitute unlawful restrictions on freedom of expression. Journalistic activities must be guided by ethical conduct, which should in no case be imposed by the State".


In Cuba, the harassment, persecution and imprisonment of independent journalists is compounded by the rigid cutting off of communication with the rest of the world. The publication of attacks against the press and journalists in an effort to undermine their credibility has raised concerns in Venezuela, Guatemala, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador and Nicaragua. As happened previously in Peru, journalists who denounce instances of corruption in government and impunity are being targeted.


Journalists in Venezuela and the rest of the continent are becoming more and more concerned about the escalation of direct verbal attacks by the government, especially by President Chávez, on that country's press. The purpose of this policy can only be to exercise absolute control over the dissemination of news and opinions, as is typical of authoritarian regimes.


In addition to the murder of journalists, the courts' lack of independence in many Latin American and Caribbean nations is becoming a serious threat to the free flow of information in the hemisphere. On the other hand, judicial harassment of newspapers and journalists, as described earlier, has been increasing. These situations limit the full enjoyment of democratic guarantees in those countries. For this reason, the principles of the Declaration of Chapultepec and the Inter-American Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression are of overwhelming importance, and the latter must be ratified by the Organization of American States' assembly.




Source

Inter American Press Association
"Jules Dubois Building"
1801 SW 3rd Ave.
Miami, FL 33129
USA
Fax:+1 305 635 2272
 
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