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Attempts to silence independent press have increased, IAPA concludes during annual meeting

(IAPA/IFEX) - Lima, October 18, 2011 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) ended its 67th General Assembly today by describing the deplorable state of press freedom in the Americas where violations range from physical violence, the murder of journalists and the impunity of these crimes, lawsuits, arbitrary arrests, verbal abuse, and the manipulation of government advertising to laws or restrictive bills.

Journalists and editors from throughout the Western Hemisphere reviewed the state of press freedom between October 14-18, and reached the following Conclusions:

"Attempts to silence the independent press in the region have continued to become more and more intense throughout 2011. The most serious danger for journalists is physical violence, crime, and the impunity surrounding such acts. Some organized groups of drug traffickers resort to these methods without hesitating to commit homicide, which has meant that 21 professional journalists have lost their lives over the past six months as a direct result of their work. Those governments that have the same goal of silencing the press have applied illegal pressures through court battles, arbitrary arrests, verbal attacks, restrictive laws or simple manipulation of the allocation of government advertising. Even in countries where there is broad freedom of expression, threats exist in the form of a variety of legislative initiatives intended to reduce that freedom.

"The killing of journalists has reached its greatest rate in Honduras and Mexico: in each of these countries five professionals have lost their lives in the past six months. The crimes are a reflection of a climate of aggression and attacks, characterized by threats against communications professionals and the independent media intended to intimidate, and finally, silence them. In Veracruz, Mexico a number of journalists have had to leave the city due to the atmosphere of insecurity and danger in which they were living. Also, violent deaths of journalists have been reported in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru and the Dominican Republic. In all of these countries and others where similar crimes have been recorded before, shameless impunity has reigned for their perpetrators.

"Even in countries like Colombia, Mexico, and Paraguay, the statutes of limitations are running out for murders committed twenty years ago, without suspects or convictions, which means that those horrible crimes will remain unpunished forever. Naturally, this impunity is one of the most important factors in maintaining the tragic wave of aggression against press professionals that has been going on for decades.

"In many countries of the region, intolerant and authoritarian governments try to reach the same goal of muting the media. In Ecuador the President of the Republic brought a personal lawsuit demanding million dollar figures and he was able to get compliant judges appointed by the government, and whose appointments he had influenced, to grant decisions favorable to his aspirations. The first-instance court in the case specified that four persons must go to jail for three years and pay the head of government compensation of US$40 million. The numerous suits that have been launched since then against the media result in a climate of self-censorship. The same sort of atmosphere has emerged in Bolivia due to a law against racism that assigns responsibility to the media for opinions expressed by third parties, which has caused them to suppress citizen participation on their websites.

"In Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, and Panama, governments try to create a climate of hostility toward the media, with verbal aggression that in some cases emanates from the head of state. In those countries, and also in Nicaragua, Uruguay, and some Caribbean nations, authorities try to manipulate information and the opinions of the media by using the allocation of official advertising as a reward or punishment. In Argentina, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the governments have set up a parallel network of pro-government state media, which have gradually been joining the smear campaigns against the independent press.

"In Cuba there is no possibility at all of developing independent media. Only on the Internet, which reaches less than 2 per cent of the population, can journalists express themselves with any degree of freedom, but repression has been increasing. Over the past year, there have been more than two thousand short-term detentions, the highest figure in 30 years. Foreign correspondents also face increasing difficulties in renewing their work permits.

"Access to information is a key point for transparency of government agencies, as well as for the proper performance of journalists and the media. Although in some countries advances have been made in recent years, progress has stalled or legislative efforts have been postponed or delayed in Brazil and Costa Rica, and there have been some serious difficulties in getting access to public information in Canada, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

"In several countries, government leaders or the parliaments have proposed bills of law that, if passed, would seriously harm their citizens' freedom to express themselves. In Brazil, in some provinces of Canada, in Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador, parliaments are discussing various initiatives that will only succeed in restricting the free exercise of journalism.

"The Inter American Press Association declared 2011 as the Year of Freedom of Expression. As we approach the end of the year we find that obstacles and threats to freedom of the press have only increased in our hemisphere."

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