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Murder, restrictive laws characterise state of press freedom in the Americas, says IAPA

(IAPA/IFEX) - ORANJESTAD, Aruba, March 22, 2010 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today wound up its half-yearly membership meeting concluding that the murder of 13 journalists and the increasing tendency to create laws and regulations that restrict freedom of expression and the right to inform and to be informed have been some of the violations identified in the Americas in recent months.

The four-day meeting held in the Aruban capital, had as its objective an evaluation of the state of freedom of the press in the Western Hemisphere.

The following is the full text of the meeting's Conclusions:

The murder of 13 journalists and a persistent tendency to enact restrictive laws in regard to the press in a number of countries in the hemisphere have characterized the last six months, since the IAPA's General Assembly in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in November.

This 2010 Midyear Meeting is being held at a time when in Cuba journalist Guillermo Fariñas, who is staging a hunger strike in demand for the release of 27 independent journalists, among other prisoners of conscience, who are still being held in Castro's prisons, is on the point of dying after a long period of misery, like that of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died a few weeks ago after a lengthy hunger strike, while the government of the Castro brothers has for more than a half century remained unscathed in the eyes of the world for its totalitarian governance.

On the very morning that the sessions were beginning the news arrived of another murder of a journalist in Colombia, in the Córdoba region, an area known to be one where paramilitary groups operate, as was reported during the meeting.

These are tragic events that once again demonstrate the riskiness of doing the job of those who seek to carry out their mission as journalists - that of reporting, investigating and shaping opinion, in a profession that tends to be hounded by those for whom freedom of expression is of no use. Harassment and persecution usually come from two sources - from those currently in power or the criminal element, drug traffickers and guerrillas. In the latter case the harassment tends to be rougher - threats, intimidation and murder. The governments on the other hand employ more varied and subtle weapons if they still care about keeping up appearances.

In the last six months 13 journalists have been murdered for doing their job, and numerous attacks and threats were reported by journalists. In Mexico seven newsmen were murdered, one in Brazil, three in Honduras and now two in Colombia.

Another very sad development has been the death of 31 journalists and injuries sustained by dozens of others in the earthquake that reduced Haiti to rubble, causing damage that has crippled the operation of newspapers and radio stations, as occurred in some parts of Chile following the earthquake and tsunami there.

In general there is an increasing tendency to enact and impose legislation and regulations restricting freedom of expression and the right to inform and to be informed, and there is ongoing harassment by governments such as those of Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador, following the example of Venezuela, with dozens of radio stations and on-air and cable television channels being shut down arbitrarily.

In a number of countries attempts persist to introduce legislation for the Internet, with the objective of taking criminal action against the media for publishing certain government documents of public interest, on the pretext that they are confidential, as has happened recently in a court decision in Spain.

Reports of the majority of the countries of the hemisphere show there has been a continual worsening of disagreements, warnings and verbal intimidation leveled against people of the press, editors and reporters attempting to practice their profession.

In Brazil it is already more than eight months that there has been censorship imposed by the courts on the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, prohibiting it from publishing information about federal police investigations into alleged unlawful activities of the son of former Brazilian president and current Senate president José Sarney.

There are several governments that continue to use placement of official advertising to reward or punish daily and weekly newspapers, radio stations and magazines, based on whether or not it can influence their editorial stance and news judgment, in this way widening their communication network with their own propaganda, as well parceling out certain news media to friends or, worse, directly confiscating them.

It has become usual for central government to seek through new laws to interfere with news media, as has already happened in several cases such as those in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela and others that are under way or have been announced, as in Uruguay, where there have been statements by the new president that the government cannot stand idly by and that the news media should not be left in the hands of the market, because, if so, the strong would take over everything.

In Argentina, the media law, voted for by the majority government party, has been ruled against five times by the courts, but the government goes on as if nothing has happened, continuing with explicit verbal attacks upon the independent press and pursuing its strategy to take over Papel Prensa, the newsprint production company whose majority shareholders are the newspapers Clarín and La Nación, and so control the newsprint market.

The IAPA meeting, faithful to the organization's objectives, made an intense and enlightening debate possible when the report on free speech and press freedom in Venezuela was read, by allowing the reporters, cameramen, officials and others sent by the Venezuelan government to participate in order to contradict the information and concepts related by the Venezuelan IAPA member. Venezuela and Cuba continue to be countries in which freedom of expression is being constantly violated, an ill that regrettably is spreading throughout the Americas.

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