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IAPA concerned at recent spike in the number of direct and indirect censorship cases

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami (September 4, 2009) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) announced today that in response to grave complaints it has received from a number of countries regarding attacks, threats and legal restrictions on the press, it will discuss and evaluate the occurrences of direct and indirect censorship during two successive events to be held in Caracas and Buenos Aires.

At its Emergency Forum on Freedom of Expression, scheduled for September 18 in the Venezuelan capital, the IAPA and more than 15 world and regional organizations dedicated to freedom of the press will deliberate violations of the free practice of journalism as a lead up to the General Assembly the organization will hold in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 6-10.

IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, declared that in light of the complaints received "we are extremely concerned at the growing level in recent weeks of harassment and violence, in various countries, that is made even worse by damage done to our democratic systems which require a free and unfettered press."

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, added, "Our presence in Venezuela will also show support and solidarity with the journalists and news media there who are demonstrating that free information is essential for democracy through their resolve to work despite the adverse climate."

In recent days the IAPA has received numerous complaints about attacks, aggressive actions and threats to media and journalists in Brazil, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela, as well as controversies surrounding communication laws in Argentina and Ecuador.

In Argentina, the federal government sent Congress a bill for a Law on Audiovisual Communication Services, on August 27, that has sparked heated political debate both for its content, which would introduce clauses seen as contrary to press freedom, as well as for the pressure underway to have the proposed legislation passed before December 10 when the makeup of Congress is due to change and the current governing party will be left at a disadvantage. While there is consensus that a new law is required to regulate media concentration issues and seek greater plurality and diversity, criticism centers on the fact that the government headed by President Cristina Kirchner could use it to punish independent media that it regards as "opposition."

In Ecuador, within an adverse climate towards the press generated by the central government, debate is under way on several bills for a communication law that must be passed by Oct. 14th, and that could interfere with or negatively influence media outlets' editorial content or positions.

With regard to attacks upon the press, the complaints refer to the following developments: In Brazil, on August 27 the broadcast equipment of Diario FM radio station in Marilia, São Paulo state, was destroyed. In Honduras, where reports continue of restrictions on press freedom following the June 28 coup d'etat, on August 31 assailants set fire to a transmitter of Radio América in Olanchito, Yoro province - the third assault on this radio station. In addition, on August 23 there were attacks on the transmission towers of Radio Globo in Tegucigalpa and Canal 11 television station in Francisco Morazán province. In Ecuador, on August 26 a demonstration was staged outside the daily El Universo in Guayaquil, amid shouted insults and attempts at intimidation, to protest the contents of an investigative report based on official information denouncing delays in payment of state credits to small businesses. The newspaper reported that the demonstration may have been organized by the office of the president of the National Financial Corporation (CFN), the agency accused of the wrongdoing.

In direct attacks and threats to journalists, the following incidents were reported: In Ecuador, several threats were made against Carlos Proaño of Radio Visión in Quito, as apparent payback for his investigations into corruption in a public agency. In Honduras, two photographers from the newspaper El Tiempo were attacked in recent weeks in separate incidents in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. In Mexico, on August 30 the home of Guillermo Soto Bejarano, editor of the Oaxaca weekly Nuevo Milenio, was shot at. And, in Venezuela, reporter Daniella Morrel and cameraman José Angel Colmenares of RCTV Internacional television were beaten up on August 26 by police officers while they were covering a protest demonstration in a rural area bordering Mérida and Trujillo states.

Also raising concern and controversy in Ecuador are threats made by President Rafael Correa on August 29 to shut down television station Teleamazonas for airing an audiotape about constitutional reform that a third party had secretly recorded in the President's office.

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