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November in the Americas: Humour in the face of harassment, condemnation in the face of impunity, and mobilisations in the face of violence

Students attend a demonstration against Brazil's president-elect Jair Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo, 30 October 2018; the sign reads #NotHim in reference to Bolsonaro
Students attend a demonstration against Brazil's president-elect Jair Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo, 30 October 2018; the sign reads #NotHim in reference to Bolsonaro

Cris Faga/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Brazil stole all the attention in November, partly due to a historic visit by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that took place between 5 and 12 November. The organisation's last visit took place in 1995.

With the conclusion of national elections, the IACHR had an opportunity to examine the human rights situation in the country, and its findings are worrisome. A press release by the organisation states: "Despite some progress, we encountered a country that has been unable to provide the solutions to the structural problem of extreme inequality and discrimination, notably racial and social discrimination, that it has long owed its citizens."

The IACHR's team of experts observed "serious human rights violations," such as "the increase in violence in the countryside and the city, the increase in murders of human rights defenders, especially those defending the land and the environment, the growing aggressions against defenders of minority human rights, and the country's risk of returning to the world hunger map."

The team also characterised the situation involving "attacks on freedom of expression, which affect the press, academics and social organisations" as "urgent."

Meanwhile, a report by Atlas Da Noticia, a project identifying and mapping news media, warned that one in every five citizens in Brazil lives in a "news desert": municipalities that do not have local newspapers and news sites or TV and radio stations. Forty million Brazilians are not served by local news media, with all the consequences this implies.

In the meantime, a Rio de Janeiro judge banned Globo TV, the main media outlet in the country, from continuing to report on an investigation into the assassination of Councillor Marielle Franco, who was shot to death. The judge contended that the information could alter the course of the investigation. Civil society organisations, such as ARTICLE 19 and Conectas, consider this action to be a "disproportionate" measure, constituting censorship.

IFEX's members in the country are not standing idly by. In November, ARTICLE 19 launched a project to raise awareness and monitor the 22 cases of journalist assassinations in Brazil in order to demonstrate the levels of impunity in the country.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, November was plagued with harassment and violence toward the media and journalists, crowning a year in which these types of actions have been on the rise.

On 23 November, demonstrators attacked journalists who were covering social unrest in Cauca. In addition, the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) expressed its deep concern over the repeated freedom of expression violations suffered by sports journalists in Colombia in 2018.

FLIP also signed a letter along with various other organisations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), condemning the serious harassment faced by Noticias Uno editor Cecilia Orozco after her media outlet circulated information of significant interest to Colombian citizens. The information involved the country's Attorney General, who moreover faced condemnation from a number of organisations after making several irresponsible remarks against the press in his speech during a Senate debate on 27 November.

In addition to tight monitoring and condemnation by civil society, mobilisations and activism activities worthy of celebration are taking place. For example, the Karisma foundation is in the third year of its "Alerta Machitroll" campaign: using an online tool that successfully seeks to combat harassment and misogyny on social media by employing humour and public censure. The initiative, which has gone beyond Colombia's borders and is now being used throughout the continent, is a success story that has very good prospects for the future and is destined to become a movement in its own right.

Aggressive actions and counter movements

In Argentina, alarms went off after Claudio Filippa, the mayor of the city of Puerto Iguazú in the province of Misiones, threatened a journalist by calling on single men to "abuse" her. The Foro de Periodismo Argentino (FOPEA) publicly condemned the mayor's statement.

Also in November, FOPEA denounced actions against journalists that took place during coverage of a football final between the Boca and River teams. The match was suspended due to violent incidents that had taken place earlier.

However, similar to Colombia, civil society is not just monitoring and condemning, but also coming up with proposals. Several organisations are calling for a National Cybersecurity Strategy to be developed in an open, inclusive and transparent manner. The organisations, among them IFEX member the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC), have delivered their request to the country's president.

The ADC is also investigating state use of Open Source Intelligence and Social Media Intelligence to better understand what governments are doing with the data users provide on the Internet. More information about this project can be found here.

In Mexico, there was yet another attempt to kill a journalist. Veracruz-based reporter Rodrigo Acuña is in serious condition after being shot several times at his home.

In response, ARTICLE 19 and its partner organisations activated their #RompeElMiedo (Break the Silence) network to monitor media coverage of the migrant caravan that originated in Honduras and was headed to the United States.

And in the United States, November was a month filled with tension in the greatly deteriorated relationship between the government and the free press after an incident during a White House press conference that resulted in well-known CNN journalist Jim Acosta's press pass being withdrawn. In due course, after a scandal erupted, the decision was reviewed and Acosta was allowed to continue attending White House press conferences.

President Donald Trump's administration, however, upon announcing the return of Acosta's press pass also announced a new regulation governing the conduct of journalists at White House press conferences, stating that failure to follow the new rules could result in revocation of press passes. The new rules have generated concern among civil society organisations.

In brief

Venezuela: Three United Nations rapporteurs issued an "urgent call" to the government of Venezuela in the case of Pedro Jaimes Criollo, a citizen who has been detained for six months for publishing presidential aircraft route information on his Twitter account.

In Uruguay, a local radio station was vandalised without any apparent theft-related motives.

Latest Tweet:

German freelancer Billy Six freed, leaves Venezuela after 4 months in prison @pressfreedom @acmediaworkers @pen_int

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