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IFEX members in Latin America and the Caribbean outline key challenges to freedom of expression in the region

(IPYS/OLA/IFEX) - 25 March, 2010 - We, the undersigned organisations, members of the Regional Alliance of IFEX members in Latin America and the Caribbean, which met in Lima, Peru, between 23 and 25 March 2010 to analyze and address the situation of freedom of expression in the region, endorse the joint statement issued on 5 February 2010 by the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression in the world [1]. Furthermore, we express our concern that despite the democratic reforms that have been made in most countries in the region, the rights to freedom of expression and access to information are constantly violated as a result of the following direct and indirect attacks:

1. Illegitimate mechanisms of governmental control over the media that allow undue political interference. Political control is exercised via the discretionary granting of licenses or the regulation of broadcasting; through abuse in the distribution of State advertising to influence editorial lines; through the ownership or significant control of the media by political leaders or parties; as well as through procedures against independent media based on political motivations, including the defense of obsolete regulations - such as sedition laws or the requirement of "truthfulness" in the news – such policies are destined to criminalise the criticism of governments and public officials.

2. Criminal laws against defamation, such as contempt of court laws or those that criminalise libel and slander are often used to restrict freedom of expression. The abuse of such laws and the existence of excessively severe sanctions, such as imprisonment or suspended sentences, result in the loss of civil rights.

3. Violence against journalists remains a very serious threat to the freedom of expression; particularly against those journalists who cover social problems, including organised crime or drug trafficking; who criticise the authorities or others in positions of power; who cover violations of human rights or corruption; or who work in conflict zones. An increasing number of violent attacks on journalists remain unpunished and not enough resources are allocated to prevent them or to investigate them and seek justice when they do take place. This phenomenon often leads to journalists' self-censorship and therefore diminishes citizen access to information on matters of public interest.

4. Limits to the right to access information, despite having been widely acknowledged as a basic human right. Most of the region's States have not approved legislation to ensure full compliance.

5. Discrimination in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, against historically disadvantaged groups (women, indigenous people, among other vulnerable groups and other minorities) who are still struggling for their views to be taken into account and to be able to access information that is relevant to them. Among the principal violations are obstacles to the creation of media outlets for these populations, and the minimal representation of their members in the newsrooms of the major media, including public outlets.

6. Economic pressures that threaten the media's capacity to cover matters of public interest, due to the increasing concentration of media ownership, with serious consequences for the diversity of sources and content. The strains on the advertising market and other commercial pressures have lead the media to take cost-cutting measures that are detrimental to the coverage of local issues and to investigative journalism, and instead promote low-level intellectual entertainment. These factors increase the risk of only existing media outlets reaping the benefits of the transition to digital frequencies, thus preventing greater diversity and access to public interest media.

7. Lack of support for public and community-based stations, which can play an important social role, face increasingly frequent obstacles to public financing access and suffer the lack of specific legal recognition with appropriate criteria in fair and democratic conditions that guarantee their development and prevent discriminatory measures based on technical or sustainability based issues.

8. Using national security as a guise to restrict the freedom of expression, which has historically been used to impose unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression through overly broad definitions of what constitutes "apology" or "promotion" of terrorism or violence.

9. Governmental control of Internet use, to control or limit this outlet of free speech through the blocking of websites. Also, certain corporations that provide search, access, messaging and publishing services, among others, do not make enough efforts to respect the privacy rights of users to access the Internet without interference.

10. Restricted access to new information and communication technologies. Although most of the population still has limited or no access to the Internet, States in the region continue to maintain pricing structures that prevent the use of the Internet by the least privileged sectors and fail to extend connectivity to all their countries' territories, leaving rural users, in particular, with less information and diminished spaces for free expression.

With respect to the above, we hereby call on States to take concrete actions to guarantee the right to freedom of expression. If the conditions for freedoms expression are not created, the exercise of other human rights, and of democracy itself, remains in peril.

Lima, Perú 25 March, 2010.

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[1] See statement by the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations (UN) to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Freedom of the Media, the Special Rapporteur of the Organization of American States (OAS) for Freedom of Expression and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) here: http://www.ifex.org/international/2010/02/09/tenth-anniversary-joint-declaration-ten-key-challenges-to-freedom-of-express.pdf

Instituto Prensa y Sociedad
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión - OLA
ARTICLE 19
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Center for Journalism and Public Ethics
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala - CERIGUA
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social
Comité por la Libre Expresión - C-Libre
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP
Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC

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