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IPI alarmed by press freedom developments in the Caribbean and Latin America

(IPI/IFEX) - Port-of-Spain, Friday, 24 June 2011 - The International Press Institute (IPI) today, in a statement marking its entry into a strategic partnership agreement with the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), expressed alarm over press freedom developments in the Caribbean in the first half of 2011.

Although no journalists have died in the region as a result of their work since 2008, journalists in the Dominican Republic faced a wave of aggression, with the country's Journalism Guild recording more than 30 incidents against media workers this year.

The press freedom situation also remained dire in Haiti, which in January marked the one-year anniversary of a devastating earthquake. Cuba released the last of 29 journalists detained during the 2003 "Black Spring" crackdown, but continued to foster a repressive media environment.

Self-censorship based on fear of violent reprisal by criminal gangs or other powerful interests continued to be a problem, while journalists in former colonies faced the threat of jail and debilitating fines and legal costs under archaic laws criminalizing defamation. Hit by the global financial crisis and rising food costs, the region also found itself caught amidst continued tensions between the United States and Venezuela.

IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: "Press freedom issues in the Caribbean are sometimes obscured by a focus on other parts of the world in which journalists are killed in higher numbers. It is important to underscore that there are very real press freedom concerns in the Caribbean, notably the widespread prevalence of criminal defamation laws, which can fuel self-censorship, and which must be abolished."

Bethel McKenzie was in Trinidad and Tobago to announce the partnership agreement with ACM, and to acknowledge the group's efforts in bringing IPI's 2012 World Congress and 61st General Assembly to the island national. Several hundred publishers, editors and senior journalists from around the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and North America will gather in Port-of-Spain from 23-27 June to debate and discuss a range of issues concerning journalistic practices in the world.

The Dominican Republic and Haiti have been the most dangerous countries for journalists in the Caribbean in the first six months of 2011. IPI applauded in February when Dominican Republic authorities brought criminal charges against police who allegedly plotted to murder lawyer and TV host Jordi Veras last year. However, IPI condemned the criminal prosecution of TV presenter José Agustín "Gajo" Silvestre de los Santos, who faces charges for allegedly insulting and defaming prosecutor José Polanco Ramírez by accusing him of links to drug traffickers.

In Haiti, which held a presidential election in March but postponed general elections, an arson attack in April attributed to armed supporters of a legislative candidate destroyed the offices and equipment of community radio station Tèt Ansanm Karis, leaving the north-eastern city of Caricel without a radio station. Earlier that month, Pradel Henriquez, the director-general of state-owned Télévision Nationale d'Haïti (TNH), filed a criminal defamation action against three TNH journalists who said they were fired for being critical of then-President-Elect Michel Martelly.

Cuba saw many of the journalists detained during the "Black Spring" crackdown forced into exile following their release. Authorities accused IPI World Press Freedom Hero Yoani Sanchez of engaging in cyberwarfare against her country through her Generacion Y blog, and they arrested a string of journalists before the island's Communist Party Congress.

The Caribbean did see some positive developments, including the creation in Bermuda of a new self-regulatory, independent media council, which began work in February. It was created after a bill proposing statutory regulation was withdrawn following an outcry from local media and international press freedom organizations, including IPI. In Jamaica, the country's information minister, Daryl Vaz, said that he expected a proposal to abolish criminal libel to go to Cabinet this month, and that drafting instructions would be given to the chief parliamentary counsel once recommendations were approved.

Across the rest of the Americas, at least 15 journalists were killed in the first six months of the year, according to IPI's Death Watch, depressing hopes that this year's total would drop significantly from the highs of 31 and 28 seen respectively last year and in 2009.

The number of deaths in the Americas this year – particularly in Latin America, which has seen killings in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia – made the region the second most dangerous place for journalists outside of the Middle East and North Africa. Mexico continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with at least five murdered so far this year in attacks attributed to narco-traffickers.

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