IPI Says State of Press Freedom in the Americas Still Alarming

The International Press Institute (IPI) today, in a statement commemorating World Press Freedom Day and yesterday’s launch of the group’s annual World Press Freedom Review, said the state of press freedom in the Americas continues to be a cause for alarm.

Six journalists were killed in the region in the first four months of 2011, leading to hopes that total deaths will drop from the highs of 31 and 28 seen respectively last year and in 2009.

But that number made the Americas – and Latin America in particular – the most dangerous place for journalists outside of the Middle East and North Africa, which have experienced a spike in killings owing to recent upheaval in the region.

According to IPI’s World Press Freedom Review, the Americas were the second-deadliest region for journalists in 2010. The deadliest area was Asia, which saw 35 journalists killed, with 15 in Pakistan alone.

Threats and attacks against journalists, especially in Latin America, as well as government pressure and censorship, were a persistent problem in 2010 and remained a source of concern this year.

IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “We are very concerned about violence against journalists taking place in Latin America. At the same time, we are also concerned about subtle pressure put on journalists in countries like the United States and Canada. We hope on this World Press Freedom Day in the capital of the United States that people will remember that press freedom should be of concern to people around the world, even in the more progressive West.”

Bethel McKenzie made her comments following yesterday’s launch of IPI’s 2010 World Press Freedom Review. The review, which focuses on the Americas, examines the state of the media around the world, documenting press freedom violations and major media developments.

Mexico continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with three killed so far this year in attacks attributed to narco-traffickers. Only Iraq, with seven deaths, and Libya, with four, have seen more killings. Mexico was the second-deadliest country in 2010 with 12 deaths, following only Pakistan.

Major press organizations in Mexico agreed on a code for covering organized crime after the February death of television station engineer Rudolfo Ochoa, who was killed in an attack on his station by armed intruders. However, the accord was followed less than a week later by the kidnapping and shooting of television host José Luis “La Gata” Cerda Meléndez and print journalist Luis Emanuel Ruíz Carrillo in Monterrey.

Some positive steps have been made at local levels on decriminalizing defamation and protecting the confidentiality of sources. But Noel López Olguín, a print journalist based in Veracruz, has been missing since March, and other journalists and media company employees have reported threats and harassment by criminals and, in some cases, by local authorities.

Bolivia and Brazil have each seen the death of a journalist in the last month. David Niño Guzman, news director for Agencia de Noticias Fides in La Paz, was found dead with injuries to his abdomen caused by an explosive device two days after he disappeared. In Brazil, television host Luciano Pedrosa was shot dead in a restaurant, and in March blogger Ricardo Gama was nearly killed when he was shot in the head, neck and chest by an unidentified gunman.
Bolivian journalists have experienced attacks by both demonstrators and police while covering rallies, and have been the targets of criminal complaints – as opposed to proceedings under the country’s press law – for alleged insults to officials’ honour or reputation. President Evo Morales in March remarked during a ministerial meeting that his only enemies were certain media whose goal was to destabilize his government.

Brazil’s government was expected to enact a freedom of information act to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, but legislators also looked at a bill to create a federal journalism council that would have the power to monitor the activities of journalists and punish them for ‘ethical’ infractions. Journalists in South America’s largest country also complained of government censorship and physical attacks by authorities while covering corruption.

Journalists in Ecuador have fared slightly better in terms of violence, but many found themselves facing multi-million dollar defamation complaints by authorities, including President Rafael Correa. The president, who publicly called journalists “assassins of ink” who “hurt the government” by exposing contrary views, filed a $10 million lawsuit against two investigative journalists who reported on contracts between the president’s brother and the state. Correa followed that with an $80 million lawsuit against a critical daily he has accused of trying to turn members of the police against him.

Voters in the country will decide later this week whether to approve  a communications law – supposedly aimed at curbing “media excesses” – that would create a council to regulate media content and bar “private national media companies, executives, and main shareholders” from holding assets in other companies.

Colombia remains dangerous, with numerous journalists being targeted for attack in pamphlets issued by right-wing paramilitary groups. The Attorney General has announced that she would strengthen protection for media workers, but impunity remains a problem, as shown weeks ago when the limitations period to bring charges for the 1991 murders of El Espectador reporters Julio Daniel Chaparro and Jorge Enrique Torres expired without any prosecutions.

In Argentina, journalists with dailies Clarin and La Nacion continue to be at odds with President Cristina Fernandez. They recently blamed the government for failing to move against a demonstration in March that blocked the entrance to their printing facilities. The dailies later published blank front pages in protest.
That month the communications department of state-run La Plata University awarded Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez an award for his contribution to “popular communication.”

Chavez’s government, as it has for a number of years, continues to exercise increasing control over media, shutting down independent broadcast and print media. Chavez recently gave his vice president authority to grant, revoke and suspend frequencies and cancel administrative orders in matters related to radio and open television broadcasting.

Physical attacks remain a high danger in Central American countries, particularly in Honduras, where a number of journalists have been attacked by police while covering demonstrations. The country saw the third-highest number of killed journalists – 10 – in 2010, but no deaths have been reported this year.
In March the president of a board overseeing a community radio station was shot in the leg by civilian critics of the station’s editorial policies on local land disputes, who hours later threatened a station correspondent that she would be “the second to die.”

Just last week in El Salvador cameraman Alfredo Hurtado was gunned down on a bus by two unknown young men after having received death threats by gang members operating in the area where he lived.

North American journalists faced a significantly lower threat of violence, but some incidents emerged, such as a death threat last month against a California journalist covering a trial in the 2007 murder of Oakland Post reporter and editor Chauncey Bailey. While some states in the United States moved forward with protections on the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and improvements to freedom of information laws, others took steps back, and concerns were raised over the use of “anti-terrorism” grounds to restrict the release of information.

Some politicians were accused of limiting media access to sympathetic outlets, a phenomenon also alleged in Canada, which has been in the midst of a campaign leading up to yesterday’s federal election. Canada has also been the subject of calls for a comprehensive public inquiry into the arrests of and alleged assaults on journalists by police at the G20 Summit in Toronto last June.

In the Caribbean, Cuba released the last of 29 journalists detained during the 2003 “Black Spring” crackdown, with most choosing exile in Spain under a deal brokered with the Spanish government and the Catholic Church. However, Cuban authorities later accused IPI World Press Freedom Hero Yoani Sanchez of engaging in cyberwar against her country through her Generacion Y blog, and last month arrested a string of journalists, preventing them from reporting on a Communist Party Congress.

The press freedom situation also remained dire in Haiti, which in January marked the one-year anniversary of a devastating earthquake, and in the Dominican Republic, where nine incidents of violence against journalists were reported in January alone. In a move against impunity, however, Dominican officials in February brought charges against police who allegedly plotted last June’s attempted assassination of journalist Jordi Veras.

Source: http://www.freemedia.at


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Go back | Date: 10 May 2011
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