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'SOFT' CENSORSHIP INDICTED IN SEVEN COUNTRIES

Rampant government interference threatens editorial independence and access to news in seven Latin American countries, according to a report published by the Justice Initiative of the Open Society Institute (OSI) and Argentina's Association for Civil Rights (ADC). "The Price of Silence: The Growing Threat of Soft Censorship in Latin America", released 11 August 2008, catalogues abuses in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Peru and Uruguay.

Latin American governments have long used violence and legal harassment to silence outspoken journalists. The report uncovers a less obvious but growing trend of officials using regulatory powers and financial incentives such as advertising and direct payments to reward or punish news coverage.

"Millions of dollars are tossed around by government officials trying to buy favorable coverage -- a situation made worse by low salaries and lack of job security for many journalists," said co-author Darian Pavli of OSI. "This 'soft' censorship can chill entire newsrooms and yet remains invisible to the public," said Roberto Saba, ADC's executive director.

The 200-page report documents various types of interference, including direct government payments to journalists in Colombia and Peru; local authorities in Chile dictating what journalists can write about; and a high-ranking official in Costa Rica attempting to use advertising contracts to influence a protracted political battle.

"Too many governments in Latin America tend to treat the media like a newsletter," said Maria Teresa Rondero, chair of the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FLIP), which wrote the Colombia chapter. Other country-specific research was conducted by Pro Acceso (Chile), the Institute of Press and Freedom of Expression (Costa Rica), the Press and Society Institute (Peru), the Uruguayan Press Association, and local researchers in Honduras.

Executive summaries and the full report, in English and Spanish, are online at: http://www.justiceinitiative.org/db/resource2?res_id=104124
IPS story: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=43571
(20 August 2008)

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