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Press freedom still facing serious setbacks, says IAPA

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is an IAPA press release:

IAPA finds press freedom still facing serious setbacks
But sees some progress in impunity issue, confirms it plans to hold its next meeting in Venezuela

MIAMI, Florida (October 18, 2007) - In winding up its 63rd General Assembly here, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) concluded that "the exercise of press freedom, freedom of information and free speech in many countries in the hemisphere continues facing serious obstacles," among which it mentioned violence, harassment by governments and legal actions against journalists and news media.

Also in its conclusions, issued following a review of the state of freedom of the press in the Americas in the last six months, the organization mentioned as positive developments the efforts noted in a number of countries to combat impunity surrounding crimes against journalists and to decriminalize libel.

The IAPA meeting was held October 12-16 at Miami's InterContinental Hotel and attracted more than 600 attendees, among them newspaper editors and publishers, reporters, news media executives, representatives of international press organizations and journalism students. In the conclusions adopted by the General Assembly the IAPA confirmed its intention to hold its next Midyear Meeting, scheduled for March 28-31, 2008, in Venezuela.

During the Miami meeting a total of 21 resolutions were adopted, among them those on developments in Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, United States and Venezuela, issues concerning access to the Internet and constitutional reforms. The resolutions, together with the country-by-country reports, are available on the IAPA's Web site, http://www.sipiapa.org

Following is the full text of the Conclusions:

The exercise of press freedom, freedom of information and free speech in many countries in the Western Hemisphere remains challenged. Journalists continue being victims of physical and psychological violence, harassment by governments and a wide range of legal actions.

Over the last six months the aggressions and attacks upon the media took the lives of nine journalists and three newsvendors. Two reporters were kidnapped in May and their whereabouts remain unknown. This dramatic situation even exists in the United States, where a journalist was reported murdered in the San Francisco Bay, California, area.

Assaults such as these have forced journalists in the region to reduce coverage and even stop reporting on events involving criminal gangs and corruption in government, giving rise to an increase in self-censorship. Two newspapers in Mexico - following several attacks - were compelled to shut down because they could not guarantee the safety of their staffs. Also, in Mexico, the high number of crimes that continues to go unsolved reflects the increase in impunity surrounding crimes against journalists and the news media.

IAPA efforts to put an end to impunity reaped positive results with historic convictions in Brazil and Peru of the masterminds behind two murders of journalists.

Venezuela continued to lead with the largest number of transgressions over the last six months. On May 27 President Hugo Chávez shut down RCTV's on-air broadcasts and confiscated its 48 repeater stations and transmission equipment, which was then used by the government to create a new state-run television channel. The government is also committed to setting up official radio stations and providing financial aid to the governments of both Bolivia and Ecuador for the same purpose.

The situation in Cuba remains alarming after 48 years of dictatorship with no signs of a transition towards democracy. A total of 27 independent journalists continue imprisoned, a number of them seriously ill. Others are prevented from leaving the country despite having been issued humanitarian visas by neighboring countries.

Constitutional reforms announced in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela threaten to curtail individual freedoms and rights, especially press freedom and freedom of expression.

Nevertheless, it is important to underscore the fact that Mexico has brought about the decriminalization of libel, thus becoming the second country in Latin America to do so, after El Salvador.

The governments of Argentina, Aruba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Venezuela are using official advertising to put pressure on the news media. In this regard, the Argentine Supreme Court, in an emblematic decision, prohibited government discrimination against media the arbitrarily withdrawal or reduction of official advertising. This is a judicial initiative that the IAPA hopes can be adopted in other countries in the hemisphere.

Similarly, the IAPA welcomes the recent trend in the region to pass laws in favor of access to public information.

Finally, following the attempts by the Chávez government to prevent the IAPA from holding its Midyear Meeting in Venezuela, the General Assembly was emphatic in its directives that, if it is at all possible, the meeting will be held there as a demonstration of unrestricted support for press freedom and democracy.

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