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Attacks on journalists and media outlets have intensified, says IAPA

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 30 March 2008 IAPA press release:

IAPA issues conclusions on press freedom in the Americas
Midyear Meeting notes sharpening attacks on journalists and the media

Caracas (March 30, 2008) - The Midyear Meeting of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), which came to a close today, noted the serious adversities that continue to threaten press freedom and freedom of speech in the Americas.

At the conclusion of the gathering, held March 28-30 in Caracas, the IAPA underscored its concern over the continued threats, assaults, acts of intimidation, and killings to which journalists and media outlets are subjected in various countries in the region.

Below is the complete text of the conclusions issued by the Midyear Meeting:

Freedom of the press in the Americas has suffered a troubling decline in the last six months, as seen in court cases and judicial rulings against the media, as well as in increasing violence against journalists.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez and several of his ministers continued their hostile attitude toward independent newspapers and journalists. Radio Caracas Televisión was shut down last year, and more recently the threats against Globovisión have been stepped up.

At the Midyear Meeting of the Inter American Press Association, held March 28-30 in Caracas, members participated in a wide-ranging debate featuring a variety of views on freedom of the press in the region. Unfortunately, all efforts by the IAPA to open up channels of communication with the government of Venezuela were unfruitful, not only at this meeting but in prior attempts and missions.

Five journalists were killed during the past six months: three in Mexico, one in Argentina and another in Honduras. More than 30 were attacked in Peru, and 32 were threatened in Colombia. The transfer of power in Cuba from Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl did not improve the status of the 25 journalists still in prison or the adverse working conditions of independent journalists. The Midyear Meeting also expressed concern over the impunity surrounding crimes against journalists, especially in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, among other countries.

Paraguay, headed by President Nicanor Duarte Frutos, was the country which saw the greatest increase in reports of verbal attacks on the media during the past six months. Attacks aimed at undermining the credibility of the press were also noted in Uruguay, Venezuela, Honduras, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Argentina.

The recent increase in state-owned media outlets in the region is clear evidence of new efforts by various governments to control information. In Venezuela, the government has taken control of several radio and TV stations. In Guyana, the government currently monopolises the radio frequencies. In Bolivia, allegedly with backing from Venezuela and Iran, the government has created chains of state-owned radio and TV stations.

There were legal improvements with new laws allowing the public to gain access to official information. Nicaragua and Honduras issued regulations and Chile has approved similar initiatives. In Guatemala, a presidential decree released classified information about the military.

In terms of constitutional reforms, Bolivia unfortunately insisted that its new Constitution include a clause requiring that all information be truthful and responsible. On the other hand, Brazil and Ecuador have pursued positive initiatives. Ecuador's Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the mandatory licensing of journalists. In Brazil, a Supreme Court justice declared various press law articles unconstitutional.

In the judicial arena, judges in Brazil allowed prior restraint against 16 newspapers and one website, blocking the distribution of information. Also in Brazil, several dozen lawsuits were filed against media outlets and journalists by an evangelical church seeking compensation for damages because of published reports on the church's finances and the vandalism of religious images by one of its followers.

In another troublesome development, the governments of Guyana, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela discriminated against newspapers because of their editorial policies by punishing or rewarding them through the placement of government advertising. Nevertheless, for the first time in Argentina, a provincial government, following a Supreme Court ruling, established a procedure to allocate advertising in a nondiscriminatory manner.

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