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Regional media under siege in Latin America

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 14 Feb. 2012 - In a tiny town in Argentina's sparsely populated La Pampa province, a newspaper editor was assaulted on 19 January by the wife and son of the town's deputy mayor after publishing a piece critical of the municipal government.

A 26-year-old community newspaper in Porto Alegre, Brazil, with a circulation of five thousand was forced to close last week after a court ordered it to pay thousands of dollars in damages to the mother of the ex-governor of Rio Grande do Sul state. The paper had run a prize-winning story linking the governor's brother to a corruption ring.

Three journalists in Peru's southeastern Ayacucho region reported on 26 January that they had been stalked, threatened, and publicly defamed as murderers and terrorists after publishing a report alleging the misappropriation of millions of dollars in public funds by the regional governor.

On 18 January, as IPI previously reported, a radio journalist in Nagua, in the Dominican Republic, was convicted of libelling a lawyer and ordered by a judge to pay a fine of 1 million pesos - 5,000 times the maximum allowed by the country's media laws in defamation cases.

These incidents, far from being isolated, highlight one of the most significant obstacles to press freedom in Latin America: autocratic regional and local authorities who view investigative reporting as a threat to their otherwise unchecked power. Indeed, journalists and media outlets investigating local corruption often become the targets of violent crime.

Moreover, local and community newspapers often depend upon advertising space purchased by those same authorities, who may in turn take advantage of this dynamic to control content. As such, journalists investigating local corruption or links between local officials and organised crime can be forced into self-censorship.

This deeply troubling state of affairs, combined with the murderous reach of drug cartels and inefficiency and inaction on the part of national governments, has led to local and community journalists suffering disproportionately in Latin America's growing press freedom crisis - a point borne out by IPI statistics.


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