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University forum calls for more freedom of expression

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, March 7, 2011 - Greater freedom of speech and the press to strengthen democracy were called for in a unanimous voice by journalists, civic leaders, academics and university students during a forum organized last week by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) in Managua, capital of Nicaragua.

The forum "Freedom of Expression, Reality, Obstacles and Solutions" held on March 4, brought together over 300 university journalism and law students from Managua and Leon. Collaborating in the organization were the University of Commercial Sciences (UCC) and the Violeta Barrios Chamorro Foundation.

Taking place in an election year in which the government of President Daniel Ortega continues to pressure the media and journalists through political and economic channels, Francisco Chamorro, director of El Nuevo Diario, Nicaragua and regional vice president of the IAPA's Committee for Freedom of the Press and Information, warned that officials intend to create a climate of self-censorship to further their own aspirations.

Jaime Chamorro Cardenal, editor of La Prensa, another opposition newspaper in the country, said the most obvious censorship is the disappearance of local television and radio newscasts, many of which have been bought and are being run by relatives of President Ortega.

In the most anticipated presentation, a group of journalism and UCC law students related their experiences, highlighting the need to live in a free and just society, which also means "demanding greater moral commitment from the media so that information is distributed responsibly."

Argentine lawyer, Adrián Ventura, of La Nación, Buenos Aires, acted as the "Ambassador" of the IAPA's Chapultepec Project, urging young people to seek new ways of being able to "live under a real democracy", and journalists to use the inter-American Human Rights System when complaints are not taken up by the local courts.

During the opening ceremony, Gilberto Bergman, UCC Provost, defended the use and teaching of new technologies in the struggle for press freedom while Cristiana Chamorro, of the Foundation by the same name, celebrated the 85th anniversary of La Prensa, drawing a parallel between the importance of unrestricted reporting on abuses by governments of different ideologies throughout this period. IAPA Executive Director Julio Muñoz highlighted the significance of the Declaration of Chapultepec which demonstrates the close relationship between press freedom and democracy, and the obligations of officials to protect free expression.

Fabricio Altamirano, CEO of El Diario de Hoy, El Salvador and member of the IAPA Executive Committee, closed the event by stressing the responsibility of each future leader to safeguard the freedoms and diversity and plurality of opinions, as individual rights and democratic duties.

Finally, Ricardo Trotti, Director of Press Freedom, provided information on the assassination of Nicaraguan journalists Carlos Guadamuz and María José Bravo in 2004 which have not been fully clarified. The IAPA has urged government officials to ensure that these crimes not go unpunished.

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