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September in the Americas: Despite attacks, death, and censorship, the fight continues for a freer continent

September: While the murder of journalists and attacks on the media continued, IFEX and its members worked to promote a safer work environment for journalists, freedom of expression and access to information.

Paper coffins, symbolising slain journalists, are seen lined up during a protest to demand justice for them in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 11 April 2016
Paper coffins, symbolising slain journalists, are seen lined up during a protest to demand justice for them in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 11 April 2016

REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

This is a translation of the original article in Spanish.

September followed 2017's dark path. The death of another journalist in Honduras and yet another in Mexico marked a perverse trend that governments are failing to address: impunity for the murder of journalists.

In Mexico, Juan Carlos Hernández, a stringer for the news web site La Bandera Noticias, was murdered on 5 September. Hernández, 29, was attacked by assailants who shot him as he was leaving his home. Local media reported that the web site had been threatened.

A week later, Honduran journalist Carlos Williams Flores was shot dead. Williams Flores hosted the program Sin pelos en la lengua, which reported on irregularities in the municipality.

When a journalist dies, the attack is not just on an individual, but on the entire system. Their colleagues, friends, or other people who hope to freely express themselves receive the message that doing so can run the risk of death. What's worse is when these crimes continue to go unpunished for years, encouraging the assailants to continue down this path, knowing there will be no consequences.

Mexico is ranked fourth on the list of countries in the world with the most crimes that go unpunished, and first in the Americas.

In Honduras, journalist Victor Manuel Pineda remains missing. Moreover, the country has taken a step backwards with its legal framework concerning freedom of expression. In the new penal code, an article in the second paragraph states, "s/he who repeatedly publicly disseminates fake news or rumors that frighten all or part of the population and as a result puts into danger the lives or well-being of people or property must be imprisoned for one to three years, unless the acts are penalized more severely in other provisions of this Code".

Mexico also implemented a new regulation restricting movement that violates freedom of expression.

In Ecuador, stigmatizing language, insults, and attempts to discredit journalists and activists, in addition to almost daily sanctions against the media, have decreased since Lenin Moreno took over, according to records from IFEX member Fundamedios.

So far in 2017, there have been 242 attacks, 113 of which were carried out during the last months Correa was in power. This decrease is encouraging, although so far no progress has been made in the much-needed legal reforms that will ensure that freedom of expression is safeguarded.

Venezuela is continuing along its path of censorship and attacks. Although popular demonstrations resulted in violent incidents, cases of pressure and attacks by the Maduro regime have not ceased. In fact, this month several radio stations were shut down, adding to the several dozens that were closed this year.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the shutdown of over 50 media outlets in Venezuela, under proceedings that did not conform to principles guaranteeing freedom of expression. It urged the Venezuelan government to immediately adopt necessary measures to ensure that both national and international media outlets can operate in the country with legal guarantees, and without being treated differently based on their editorial lines.

Some glimmers of hope

It has not all been bad news. As part of the International Day for the Universal Access to Information on 28 September, IFEX highlighted the research of one of its members, ARTICLE 19, whose objective was to use the Right to Access to Information to empower Indigenous communities, particularly women in those populations.

The project, called Transparencia Proactiva (Proactive Transparency), had very good results in the communities where it was carried out: in addition to achieving concrete actions such as providing health services to a village or removing corrupt officials, it also played an essential role in improving the position of women within their community, given that up until now, they had neither a voice nor a vote. Although much remains to be done, this was a positive development that they intend to replicate.

And in Colombia, on Friday, 9 September, a judge imposed a prison sentence of 47 years, 6 months, and 2 days on Juan Camilo Ortíz, known as "El Loco", for homicide, in connection with the murder of journalist Flor Alba Núñez on 10 September 2015 in Pitalito, Huila. FLIP acknowledges this development and the speed with which it took place as a significant step forward in the fight against impunity.

Digital security

Knowing that in the new era of journalism, one of the fundamental keys to preserving the safety of journalists has to do with the digital world, IFEX-ALC lhas aunched a continental campaign for digital security.

The development of the campaign followed a recent survey by IFEX-ALC that revealed a lack of knowledge and use of best practices in digital security. The IFEX-LAC network campaign aims to strengthen the ability of journalists to protect themselves through the strategic promotion of digital security tools and practices.

In brief

In Canada, people celebrated the announcement of the Minister of National Heritage, who revealed that the government had decided to reject new internet taxes, putting the web at the heart of the country's cultural future.

In Paraguay, a judge released a drug trafficker who had planned to assassinate journalist Cándido Figueredo. On the other hand, a positive aspect was that the Executive Branch vetoed Bill No. 5.883/2017, which regulated the activation of mobile telecommunications services.

There was a regional meeting of Andean countries to discuss challenges and opportunities to improve freedoms in the region.

In the Caribbean, the hurricanes proved to be the most effective censors of freedom of expression: several media outlets went off the air and others had to shut down.

In Uruguay, transparency among government institutions is increasing, but a number of significant cases of non-compliance persist.

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