Report on freedom of expression in 1999
The following is a 13 January 2000 SPP press release/report:
Survey of freedom of expression in Paraguay in 1999
In order to analyse the state of freedom of expression in Paraguay during 1999, we have taken into consideration two factors: circumstances that affected the managerial environment of the media, and those that affected journalists themselves. We have analysed the situation during the period RaÃºl Cubas Grau's government was in power, as well as the situation under the current president, Luis GonzÃ¡lez Macchi.
OVERVIEW OF JOURNALISTS' CIRCUMSTANCES:
During the government of the current president Gonzalez Macchi, journalists have suffered a wide range of human rights abuses, mostly directly related to the publication of their journalistic work. During Cubas Grau's government, press workers suffered, above all, physical aggression.
During the Paraguayan March situation, from 23 to 28 March, the social communications workers came out in favor of democracy, and worked intensely in order to transmit, step by step, the facts about what was happening during the delicate political situation that the country was living.
Judicial Sentences Against Journalists:
On 22 December 1998, the former correspondent of the newspaper Ultima Hora in Ciudad del Este, Dolly Galeano, was ordered to pay a fine of 10 million Guaranies, for a comment she made in 1994 regarding the earnings of construction company Conempa, and the lack of health care for the residential groups of the Itaipu Binacional company.
Galeano did not have an opportunity to present the "proof of truth". The legal defender of the poor who took the case, Mara Ladan Samcevich, limited herself to simply accepting the plaintiff's accusations.
This is the second unfavorable sentencing against professional journalists in this decade. The previous one was passed in 1994, against Ricardo Canese, who was sued by the same company due to comments he made about Juan Carlos Wasmosy, the former Conempa president, and his participation in hydroelectric work in ItaipÃº. Both cases are being appealed.
Charges Against Journalists:
Two suits were brought against journalists during the past year. Candido Figueredo, correspondent with "ABC Color" newspaper in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero, was sued on 26 August by Clams Ufoch Odumodu, alleged African drug dealer. The suit was presented after the journalist came close to photographing and investigating the arrival of a shipment of cocaine to Ufoch Odumodu's home.
Journalist Jorge Villalba Digalo, from the newspaper "Ultima Hora", was also sued for libel and slander, in a criminal suit initiated by union members Eduardo Pérez Avid and Jorge Alvarenga, after the journalist's accusations that the union leaders endorsed irregular loans thus draining the National Workers' Bank (Banco Nacional de Trabajadores, BNT) accounts.
Attacks Against Journalists:
Two attacks against journalists occurred in 1999. One of the cases happened in the early morning of 9 September, when unidentified persons fired gun shots at the home of journalists Marlene Franco and Esteban Areco, members of the investigative team of "Noticias" newspaper. The cause of the attack is unknown. An attack of this nature had not occurred in Paraguay for six years.
Another such incident occurred on 24 August, when Ana BolaÃ±os, Carlos Juri and Aldo Espinola, members of the investigative team of "La Nacion" newspaper, were chased and shot by members of Senad, a Paraguayan anti-drug organisation. This incident occurred while the team was investigating in front of the residence of Argentine citizen Claudio Luis Elias Weil, alleged drug dealing nexus.
In 1999, after eight years of no arrests, several journalists were arrested as a result of their professional work. All incidents occurred outside the capital city. Indications point to the fact that the magistrates acted inappropriately by ordering the arrest of journalists who criticised the government, thus ignoring constitutional guarantees to freedom of thought.
The first arrest, of Camilo Cantero, journalist with the radio station Radio Libertad in San Ignacio, Misiones, and a correspondent with "Ultima Hora" occurred on 14 May. Judge Mario Ignacio Maidana ordered the detention of the journalist because of a car accident that happened months earlier, in which a compensation agreement had already been reached. The judge's decision was questioned given his animosity against the journalist, has at times criticised the actions of the magistrate.
On 28 May, the same judge ordered the detention of Gerardo Balbiani, director of the weekly publication "La Jornada", and its administrator, Geronimo RuÃz, for the alleged crime of issuing checks which had been stolen and canceled, and which drew on insufficient funds. According to the accused, the order was given because the weekly publication criticises the judge.
Another case occurred in Villarica, on 22 June. Judge Norma Jara de Benitez ordered the disciplinary arrest of journalists Norma AcuÃ±a and Secundino "Nino" Silguero, from radio station PanambÃ VerÃ¡, for having questioned some of the judge's decisions. This order, which is considered an abuse of authority by the judge, is now being appealed.
Intimidation of Journalists:
A few weeks after the above mentioned arrest, on 2 July, Judge Norma Jara de Benitez ordered that a program directed by Secudino Silguero, of Radio PanambÃ VerÃ¡, be recorded for three months, as information needed for a case that had nothing to do with the aforementioned journalist. Prosecutor Carlos Alvarenga authorised the decision instead of acting in defense of the public interest and freedom of expression.
On 17 December, officials of the Public Works Ministry, in a vehicle that was owned by the institution, harassed Catalino Ibarra, a correspondent with the newspaper "ABC Color" in the city of ParaguarÃ. The harassment occurred in front of the journalist's home. The officials surrounded him and questioned him about an article in which he alleged that equipment owned by this public institution were being used in private homes.
On 29 December, journalist Alberto Ledesma, was leaving his workplace in his car when he was pursued in an automobile by Luis Panza, member of a group of Red Party (Partido Colorado) supporters, who had previously attacked Ledesma and other journalists on 30 November. This persecution continued for several blocks. Panza is currently on probation and served time in prison for having attacked Ledesma and seven other journalists.
Threats Against Journalists:
Death threats were particularly directed at journalists in the countryside but were also received by journalists from the capital city and by one correspondent who was working abroad. All the threats were received during GonzÃ¡lez Macchi's government. The cases were:
On 31 March, Camilo Cantero, journalist with Radio Libertad from San Ignacio, Misiones, as well as other employees of this radio station, received anonymous death threats by telephone. They were presumably threatened because the radio station encouraged public demonstrations against the government of former president Raul Cubas Grau and Lino Oviedo.
On 10 August, Victor Oporto, journalist with Radio Uno in Asuncion, received anonymous death threats, later also directed at his pregnant wife. This happened soon after the publication of information about an investigation into the murder of the vice-president of the Republic.
On 10 October, Gustavo NuÃ±ez, a photographer, and Cesar Palacios, a correspondent with the newspaper "Noticias" in Ciudad del Este, were threatened on a public road by an unidentified person. The stranger told them that they would suffer consequences unless they ceased reporting on cases of corruption in Ciudad del Este's Customs office, especially with regards to tobacco and appliances.
On 26 July, Maricarmen Almada, a correspondent with the Buenos Aires newspaper "Noticias", received death threats by telephone while in Argentina, soon after publishing information on the political activities of former general Lino Oviedo during his asylum in Buenos Aires.
Attacks Against Journalists:
Most of the attacks against journalists occurred in the capital city Asuncion, although there were some incidents in other parts of the country.
Under the Cubas Grau government, on 8 February, some supporters of General Lino Oviedo who were demonstrating their support in favor of Radio Montercarlo, attacked Carolina Oddone, journalist with Radio Uno, and a photographer, who had come to the scene to cover the event.
The largest number of attacks against journalists occurred during the government of GonzÃ¡lez Macchi, as follows:
On 31 August, Fernado RuÃz DÃaz from Radio Uno and Beatriz Maldonado from Radio Cardinal were injured by bodyguards of the Minister of National Defense, Nelson ArgaÃ±a. The bodyguards also impeded the journalists from carrying out their professional work at the headquarters of the Colorado Party's Reconciliation Movement (Movimiento de Reconciliacion Colorada). This happened in the minister's presence, but he did not react.
On 3 September, police officers and bodyguards of Minister of the Interior Walter Bower, who were at the Medical Emergency Hospital, hit reporters in the face and destroyed the equipment of the cameramen who were covering an accident suffered by a high-ranking police chief. Injured were Miguel Angel Cazal, photographer for "El Popular"; Oscar Villalba and Emilio Mendez, cameraman and reporter respectively with Channel 4; Roberto Britos and Juan Ruiz Diaz, cameraman and reporter with Channel 13.
On 15 June, during the meeting of the Mercosur Presidents, Argentine president Carlos Menem's bodyguards pushed a reporter with Channel 9 in Asuncion, Elizabeth Palma, and impeded her work.
On 21 October, inhabitants of the Costa Sosa neighbourhood in the city of Luque physically attacked Miguel EspÃnola, a correspondent with the newspaper "Ultima Hora", and slashed the wheel of his vehicle. The incident occurred during the community's protest against the transfer of a jail for minors to the neighbourhood and as a reaction to the journalist's comment in the newspaper questioning their uncompromising position.
On 13 November, in the city of San Pedro de Ycuamandyyu, there was another attack against a journalist. Governor César Alvarenga hit Cristino Peralta, a reporter with the local radio station, and destroyed his photographic camera. At the time, Peralta was reporting on a judicial intervention at the governor's offices, during a demonstration calling for the governor's resignation for misappropriation of funds.
Early in the morning of 30 November, the worst aggression against press workers took place. A group of Colorado Party supporters who were drunk, attacked and injured eight press workers who were waiting in the street for negotiations between government authorities and union leaders to finish. The negotiations were being held in order to try to defer a strike by state employees. The aggressors also destroyed the journalists' equipment, such as photographic and video cameras. Attacked were Carlos Sosa, journalist, and Gustavo Quintana, photographer, with the newspaper "Ultima Hora"; Alberto Ledesma, journalist with "Noticias"; José Cardozo, journalist with "ABC Color"; Julio Lezcano and Nivaldo Villalba of Channel 4 Telefuturo; Juan RuÃz DÃaz of Channel 13 and Mario Bracho of Channel 9. Under patronage of the SPP, these workers filed a suit against the perpetrators of the attack, accusing them of committing crimes against people's lives, their security, integrity and goods.
Two officials of the Ministry of the Interior, who were accused of having taken part in the attack, later summoned a press conference in front of the SPP office to deny this charge. This was as seen as an act meant to provoke a confrontation with the SPP.
On the night of 7 December, bodyguards for President Luis GonzÃ¡lez Macchi's and for Minister of National Defense Nelson ArgaÃ±a, along with some members of the "Servants" of the Catholic Church, used force and blows to impede cameramen, photographers and journalists from reporting on the central mass in the Basilica of Caacupé. They also prevented them from interviewing the mentioned authorities at the end of the mass.
On 11 December, Gabriel Alfonso, correspondent with the newspaper "Noticias" in Ayolas, was attacked by Colonel Numan Arrechea while he was taking photographs of a police and legal investigation at the colonel's country property, that was searching for an illegal aviation runway.
On 13 December, a reporter with Cardinal Radio and Channel 13, Domingo Delvalle, was attacked by Alfonso Silguera, member of the Villeta Soccer League (Liga Villetana de Futbol). The attack occurred during the coverage of a heated discussion between the public and sports leaders, held after a soccer game in the city of Luque.
Obstacles Faced by Journalists:
In the last few months of 1999, there were a number of cases that point to journalists' difficulty in obtaining access to information. Almost all of them took place on military facilities and continued occuring for more than one year. The last known cases took place soon after Raul Cubas Grau assumed control of the country, in August 1998, and soon afterwards decreased as a result of press workers' lobbying against these restrictions. Some of the cases were the following:
On 28 October, at the request of Nelson ArgaÃ±a, Minister of National Defense, Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and President Luis GonzÃ¡lez Macchi re-enacted a resolution prohibiting active members of the armed forces from making any statements to the press regarding military issues, without the explicit authorization of their commander. This resolution was re-enacted after a high member of the military court spoke to the press about the situation of some officials who had been reinstated to the army by an administrative court.
On 24 November, journalists accredited to cover the president's daily activities were removed from the Presidential House's side entrance by military officers of the Presidential Guard. Visitors normally wait by this entrance before entering the residence. The guards did not provide any explanation whatsoever, and forced the journalists to wait outside under the midday sun.
On 12 November, in the city of Filadelfia, members of the Encuentro Nacional Party, from Boqueron, expelled three journalists from a meeting between members of the political party, its president, and Minister of Industry and Commerce Euclides Acevedo. The reform of the State was one of the topics on the agenda for the meeting. The journalists involved were Bernardo Coronel, correspondent with "Ultima Hora"; Pablo Almada from Radio PaÃ PukÃº and Marvin Duerksen, correspondent with "ABC Color".
On 25 November, a commander with the army's artillery prohibited journalists from entering the military unit's students' graduation ceremony, held in the city of ParaguarÃ. The students' relatives had no problems entering. Restrictions on the press are frequently placed by the army, which is known for keeping "secrets" from civilian society.
On 6 December, protocol officials and bodyguards assigned to the president of the Interamerican Development Bank (Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, BID), Enrique Inglesias, hindered the work of media workers who were covering a meeting held between Iglesias and political leaders.
On 13 December, air force troops prevented press workers from entering the military unit's facilities to report on a camp for boys scouts.
On 16 December, Minister of Foreign Affairs José Félix Fernandez Estigarribia summoned a press conference for all journalists accredited by the aforementioned ministry, but excluded journalist Pablo Guerrero, from "ABC Color". Some officials unofficially explained that he was left out because his newspaper criticised the national government's performance.
Defenders of Democracy:
Hundreds of journalists and media workers worked intensely from 23 to 28 March in order to provide the national and international audience with details of what was happening in the country after the murder of the vice president of the republic and the massacre of young people in front of the National Congress. In many cases, the journalists did not have even the minimum guarantees for their professional tasks, and were endangering their lives.
Journalists were behind the youth and rural people as the main protagonists of the Paraguayan March incident. Despite the violence of that time, journalists, photographers, cameramen and other press workers were broadcasting live from the square in front of the National Congress, and reported on everything that was happening, and gave evidence to condemn the attack planned against a defenseless pro-democracy crowd.
A Look At The Media
Libel and slander charges:
Main media companies and media managers were sued a number of times, and criminally charged four times during Cubas Grau's government. This precedent has continued during Gonzalez Macchi's reign.
On 3 February, a judicial action was initiated against Osvaldo Dominguez Dibb (director of the newspaper "La Nacion"), Alberto Vargas PeÃ±a (columnist with the same newspaper), Juan Carlos Bernabé (director of the radio station Nanawa) and Raul Melamed (broadcaster of a program on the radio station Montecarlo AM). The suit has been carried forward even after the fall of Cubas Grau's government, and a disciplinary arrest was applied to these men for reviling the judge's investiture. Only Melamed was not arrested, because he is currently a fugitive.
This judicial process was filed by members of the parliament, as a result of the journalists' favorable position towards the breaking of the State of Law, by supporting a plan aimed to destabilize the democracy spearheaded by some members of the Cubas Grau government, and led by former general Lino Oviedo.
The SPP's position in favor of the State of Law and the practice of responsible journalism, led to "ABC Color"'s attempt to undermine the union's moral authority in March, as well as the personal and professional image of former SPP Secretary-General Ignacio Martinez, who quit his job as a journalist with "ABC Color" on 17 April as a protest against his employer's intentions.
After Cubas Grau's government fell and GonzÃ¡lez Macchi assumed control, other judicial processes (for libel, slander and injury) have continued to be pursued against owners of media firms.
The director of "ABC Color", Aldo Zucolillo is currently facing the largest number of cases against him, two of them filed by individuals who hold high positions in the current government: Juan Carlos Galaverna, president of the National Congress, and Juan Ernesto Villamayor, secretary-general of the Presidency of the Republic. They denounced the director for having published an article that accused them of being responsible for the economic crimes perpetrated by the National Workers' Bank (Banco Nacional de Trabajadores (BNT).
The director is also facing two other cases for libel, slander and damages, filed against him on 24 June. One case was filed by Jotvino Urunaga, governor of the Alto ParanÃ¡ area, and was presented in late August, after the newspaper published statements that allegedly affected Urunaga's honor and good reputation. The other case, for libel and damages, was filed by a mother, after Zucolillo published a photograph of her son saying that he was a beggar.
The director of "ABC Color" was also sued for publishing the names and photographs of witnesses in the case of Vice-President Luis MarÃa ArgaÃ±a's assasination, information which the judge had wanted to maintain secret although he had not explicitly stated this. The director was further sued for publishing, in late August, tapes that were illegally recorded, thus violating a judicial order prohibiting publication of such material. The case involved politician Hermes Rafael Saguier in connection with alleged pressure put on a witness in the ArgaÃ±a assassination case.
Another suit for libel, slander and damages against the director of "ABC Color" and journalists working for the newspaper in the Ciudad del Este region, was filed in that city on 7 October by lawyer Julio César Garay. The case referred to two articles on the authorities' purchase of protection by individuals involved in illegal commercial activities.
In the same city, a Chinese citizen, Wu Wen Huan, filed a suit in October against the director of "ABC Color" for the alleged crime of serious damages, after the newspaper reported that Huan used the fake title of doctor ad honorem of the Este National University.
Osvaldo Dominguez Dibb, director of "La Nacion", was accused of defamation and slander in an action filed on 26 August by Claudio Luis Elias Weil. An article published in the newspaper alleged that Elias Weil was involved in drug trafficking to the U.S.A.
On 11 October, the director of the newspaper "Noticias", Eduardo Nicolas Bo, was sued by businessman Reinaldo Dominguez Dib for articles that allegedly damaged his honor and reputation. These articles referred to goings-on of the National Lottery, and stated that Dominguez Dibb adjudicated the lottery fraudulently.
Sentencing of Journalists:
On 16 September, Osvaldo Dominguez Dibb, director of "La Nacion", was sentenced to 20 months in jail. However, in the same sentence, this sanction was substituted for a fine of 227 million Guaranies. This was part of an action initiated on 20 August 1996, after a suit was filed by Carlos Dario Benegas Peralta, who claimed that he was a victim of fraud, extortion and blackmail, since he did not receive the prize when he won a draw organised by the newspaper.
On 20 September, Dominguez Dibb was also sentenced to pay a fine of 39 million Guaranies after being found guilty of a libel crime committed in 1997 against a member of the Supreme Court, Carlos FernÃ¡ndez Gadea, in an article entitled "Letter to the Paraguayan people" which stated that the crimes of corruption in the judicial courts were the responsibility of the Supreme Court.
On 18 September, a judge provisionally acquitted journalists Humberto Rubin, Rodolfo Scharer Peralta and Victor Benitez, in an action filed against them for the alleged crime of disclosing the results of electoral surveys before the allowed time during the 1996 elections. The judge came to this decision because the public ministry which requested the prosecution filed the action but did not pursue it.
Threats to Journalists:
On 19 November, during his morning program, the director of Radio ÃandutÃ, Humberto RubÃn, was threatened by a listener identified as (retired) Colonel Pedro FlorentÃn that he was going to be hit on the back. This episode was due to the comments made by RubÃn regarding military issues and the recent death of a retired captain.
The director of the newspaper "La Nacion", Osvaldo Dominguez Dibb, received a death threat on 9 December. This was likely due to a number of articles on alleged fraud committed by the Brazilian company Furnas while supplying electric power to Paraguay.
During this year, media companies also suffered material damages. During Cubas' government, those who did not support the breaking of the State of Law that was being encouraged by the Executive, suffered the most damages. On 23 February, there was an attempt to sabotage the power generator of the transmission plant of Radio Uno, in Chaco-Ã.
On 26 March, the night of the massacre of young people in front of the National Congress, vehicles of Channels 4 and 13 were damaged, the Catholic Church's Radio CÃ¡ritas vehicle was completely burnt, and a molotov cocktail was thrown in front of the "Ultima Hora" newspaper office.
On 31 March, after the GonzÃ¡lez Macchi government assumed power, a number of unidentified persons shot at a Radio ÃandutÃ vehicle. Fortunately, none of these shots damaged the vehicle or injured the occupants.
Furthermore, the house of the director of "ABC Color" suffered an attack. Previously, for a number of days from 8 to 12 June, a number of individuals dressed as civilians constantly surrounded the house. According to the police, this was part of the search that was being carried out to find Conrado Pappalardo, a member of Congress who was accused of being the mastermind behind Vice President ArgaÃ±a's assassination. Likewise, on 18 September, the regional editorial office of the "ABC Color" newspaper in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero was attacked with stones by unidentified persons. This attack damaged the walls of the building and the glass window of a parked vehicle.
On 25 August, a van was stolen from the newspaper "Noticias". On 27 August, a grenade was thrown into the parking lot of the Radio Montecarlo 970 AM. Fortunately nobody was hurt.
Early in the morning on 25 November, an attack with firearm shots was perpetrated against the building of the National Radio of Paraguay. There were no victims, only some damage to areas of the front part of the building. The perpetrators were not identified. This event occurred after the ending of a strike by government officials who called for the reinstatement of discharged union leaders and requested the director's resignation. The union denied having participated in the attack and remarked that they were simply trying to find solutions to their demands.
When there was an increase in the violence perpetrated by the supporters of the government of Cubas Grau and former General Lino Oviedo, some radio and television companies that criticised the government faced technical difficulties, especially interference.
Moments after the murder of the Vice-President, on 23 March, cellular telephones of the company Telecel failed to work for four hours, hindering the journalistic transmission of the events which took place after the murder. Radio Cardinal was also unable to broadcast for a number of hours because the service of electric power was interrupted.
On the night of 26 March, during the massacre of seven persons in front of the National Congress, there was interference in the transmission of the Cardinal, Primero de Marzo, ÃandutÃ and Radio Uno radio station broadcasts, and of the Channel 9 signal.
Later on, under the GonzÃ¡lez Macchi government, interference was again experienced by a number of media, without there having been any official investigative reports. Some of these cases were:
In the beginning of July, the Catholic radio PaÃ PukÃº, located in Teniente Irala - Chaco, experienced persistent interference of its transmissions for a number of days. This particularly occurred while the station broadcast from Alto Paraguay the local community's demonstrations demanding the dismissal of Governor Oscar Alvarenga and Member of Congress Tarcisio Sostoa, for alleged administrative irregularities and for supporting Lino Oviedo's political project.
The Corazon del Norte community radio station's broadcast, from the district of Lima, San Pedro department, experienced interference on the afternoon of 26 August. On this date, Monsignor Fernando Lugo, Senator Elba Recalde and some members of the community (who were making attempts at stopping the violence) were threatened. The interference was apparently caused by persons connected to the local Mafia.
All these attacks against media companies are likely a consequence of the incursion of some media owners into the political arena, or their increasing links to high ranking government officials, especially after the new government of GonzÃ¡lez Macchi.
On 16 July, the director of "La Nacion" newspaper created a new internal political movement within the Red Party, thus entering in a direct way the political arena. Furthermore, the former President of the Republic, Juan Carlos Wasmosy, owner of the Multimedia Group, was accused on 5 September by the president of the Liberal Party, Julio Cesar Franco, of having influenced the decision to dismiss former liberal chancellor Miguel Abdon Saguier through a campaign carried out by his companies.
Other incidents suggest that there is a very close relationship between the main authorities of the Executive and the director of "Noticias" newspaper, Eduardo Nicolas Bo, since members of the government use Mr. Bo's private airplane for official travel. In addition, the businessman attends meetings at the Government Palace.
The SPP's position:
Since the internal elections of the Red Party held in September 1997, the SPP has being pointing out its concerns over the effect that the incursion into the political arena of individuals related to the managerial sector of the media, could have. This incursion is in contradiction to the mediaâs goal of contributing to social well-being and may jeopardize the consolidation of democracy in our country.
The considerable number of actions against the media and its managerial sector lead us to questions such as: Are these attacks a reaction against the media for carrying out its role of overseeing those who are in power? Are these people trying to impede the free practice of journalism? Can this situation be seen as a consequence of the confrontation between those groups that have real power? Are more and more legal cases being filed against the press, in response to the business mediaâs lack of impartiality?
HARASSMENT OF ALTERNATIVE RADIOS:
A few months after GonzÃ¡lez Macchiâs government assumed power, the Association of Radio Owners from Paraguay (Asociacion de Propietarios de Radios del Paraguay - APRAP) had its long-time president Juan Carlos Bernabe removed, along with other supporters of Lino Oviedo. Bernabe is currently facing charges filed against him for having promoted violence under the Cubas Grau government.
The new members of the APRAP, along with the Paraguayan Association of Proprietors of Radios of the Interior (Asociacion Paraguaya de Propietarios de Radios del Interior - APRI), promoted a strong campaign in favor of the "moralization of Paraguayan radio". One aspect of the campaign focuses on the need for the official overseeing department, CONATEL, to close all illegal radio stations. Added to this listing, have been the almost 70 community radios that are already working in the country and which have been asking CONATEL since 1995 to grant them a frequency, also arguing for the enforcement of equal distribution of frequencies, which is guaranteed by the Constitution, the law of telecommunications and international agreements.
CONATEL seized the equipment of a number of community radios during Cubas Grau's government, and tried to close many others under GonzÃ¡lez Macchi's government. It is unlikely that CONATEL will recognize the right of organized civil society to have access to radio frequencies, taking into account that the electromagnetic space should be shared by everyone. Pressure by the private sector to monopolize the radio frequencies further intensified after the merger of two private companies. Rather than allowing this to happen, the State should distribute the frequencies among all sectors of the society that require a communication outlet.
STATE VIOLATION OF LABOUR RIGHTS:
In the working field of the journalistic sector, the State clearly violated labor laws, negatively affecting the quality of the work.
The most serious case of this kind involved Radio Encarnacion. The stationâs proprietor, the ANTELCO telephone company, failed to pay its workers any wages for 7 months, from January to July. Furthermore, ANTELCO demonstrated little interest in resolving the strike held in demand of the unpaid wages, or in reactivating the radio station whose equipment had become obsolete, denying as a result the continuity of a radio station that performed an important communication role in the ItapÃºa region. Instead, they chose to close the radio station, without reimbursing their employees for outstanding wages or compensation. The case was brought to court, but there will likely be a long process before a final sentence is pronounced.
On 1 October, leaders of a recently created workersâ union at Paraguayâs National Radio were fired, in violation of the Labour Law and stipulations made by the International Labour Organization (Organizacion Internacional de Trabajo - OIT) ratified by the Paraguayan state, which guarantee the freedom to organise a union. A number of journalists were further impeded from speaking on radio programmes, as a reprisal for having supported the unionâs creation. The individual responsible for these actions was the director of the National Radio, who acted under the auspices of the President of the Republic, as the radioâs overseer. Despite a number of protests, including by the SPP, the government's higher authorities failed to take action towards resolving the labour conflict.
In December, after more than two months of mobilizations by the workers, the Presidency of the Republic decided to resolve the conflict by reinstating the dismissed workers and allowing those who had been transferred to return to their radio programmes.
The fact that most of the threats and intimidations against journalists were experienced after the fall of the Cubas Grau government and under the GonzÃ¡lez Macchi government, indicates that in this country, as part of every democratic process, it is necessary for society to have a better understanding of the role of the press and social communicators and thus be able to face these kind of actions, which are intended at frightening and censoring journalists. Freedom of speech is the main tenet of each democratic system and some guarantees must be provided for journalists allowing them to inform the society without being intimidated.
Furthermore, the Executive, Legislative and Judicial powers need to demonstrate more interest and make a greater effort (on their own initiative) to investigate such incidents and sanction those who try to hinder the right to information, opinion and journalistsâ investigative work by threats, attacks and detentions. In the end, this will be of to all of civil society.
There is an ever increasing and urgent need for the installation of an Ombudsman, and the creation of an office independent from state authority that will be able to demand action and quickly respond to human rights violations, as refers to freedom of expression.
There is also an increasing need for journalistic companies to implement protection mechanisms for their employees, by providing them with life insurance and bullet-proof vests and by taking legal action to stop the intimidation of press workers. Concern for social communicatorsâ safety should be voiced, not only by the SPP, but also by those who operate media companies.
Other challenges faced by those working in the field of freedom of expression:
The media needs to recognise the need for an ethical regulation of information management. This type of code should be enacted, giving priority to societyâs interests and not to individual interests. Through the SPP, journalists have understood the importance of a Code of Ethics for the improvement in the quality of the product they offer to society.
In face of the current misinformation and manipulation of information, organized sectors of society should try to implement mechanisms that allow them to step out of their passive role in communication and take on an active role, whereby they can better oversee the media and also assume more importance in providing information. They would thus be contributing to media content that is more pluralistic, responsible, and impartial.
There is a need to democratise access to frequencies for radios and television. The State should work against the monopoly historically granted in favor of private sectors, in violation of national and international judicial norms, and allowing organized sectors of civilian society greater access to those frequencies.