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2008 a year of contrasts for the press and freedom of expression, says IAPA president

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 29 December 2008 IAPA press release:

Year-End Message of the President of the Inter American Press Association, Enrique Santos Calderón Editor of El Tiempo, Bogotá, Colombia

Miami (December 29, 2008).- 2008 was a year of contrasts in the view of the Inter American Press Association. At the same time that we condemned violence and harassment as the main infringements on journalists and the news media, we also praised the passage of constructive legislation and this organization's ongoing commitment to the promotion of the principles of press freedom and free speech that should prevail in a democracy.

The most serious manifestation of violence this year left 13 journalists dead, most at the hands of organized crime. Nine murders took place in Mexico, the remaining ones in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Venezuela. Cases of aggravation and threats were registered in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Another example of violence to be cited here is the imprisonment of 26 journalists in Cuba, many of them suffering from serious ill health.

We also censure the decline in relations between the press and certain governments in the Americas, where even the most senior officials have come out publicly against journalists and the news media that they see as enemies. We have seen this in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Likewise, we repudiate the manipulated placement of official advertising as a tool to reward or - in the majority of cases - punish publications for their editorial stances.

In Honduras, the creation of a news oversight council was considered - a subtle way for the government to observe, analyze and review or control the information put out by the media. The Argentine government made a similar attempt early this year but backed down after a series of public debates on the issue.

2008 will also be remembered for the economic crisis in the United States, considered the worst in 80 years, that dealt a severe blow to the country's news media. Circulation of most newspapers declined and thousands of press workers lost their jobs. Despite downturns, members continue to actively participate in IAPA activities as demonstrated by the recent General Assembly in Madrid, Spain, where attendance exceeded even the most optimistic forecasts.

On a positive note, laws on access to public information were passed in Chile, Guatemala and Uruguay. In Nicaragua the access law entered into force following the establishment of governing regulations. The IAPA upholds its traditional mission of urging countries that have enacted laws to make certain they are implemented and that campaigns are conducted to raise public awareness of the laws and how to apply them.

We end the year by launching a ground-breaking public service campaign created to educate citizens on the importance of freedom of expression in a democratic society. The campaign, titled "One word can make a thousand changes in your life and you have the right to say the next one", will be supported by IAPA members, who have been asked to publish the ads in their newspapers.

2008 also witnessed the adoption of the document "IAPA Aspirations"; a paper debated and developed by the organization over the last three years to meet the need for a definition of the way the press should handle its responsibilities in the democratic societies of the 21st century.

The IAPA continued the training and seminars program which has benefited numerous journalists throughout our hemisphere. 59 journalists also attended two courses we offered on reporting in at-risk and hazardous environments.

This organization, which I have had the honor of serving as its elected president since October, has continued and will persist during the upcoming year in its constant vigilance over the fundamental rights of press freedom and free speech. We will not cease raising our voice in alarm when merited but we will also propose alternatives and offer our organizational strength to members of the press and news media of the Americas.

Our 2009 agenda begins with preparations for an international mission to Nicaragua in late January. In March, we will hold our Midyear Meeting in Asunción, Paraguay. In November, Buenos Aires, Argentina, will be the venue for the General Assembly.

We will pursue with pride and honor our commitment to the IAPA objectives of defending freedom of the press, the dignity, rights and responsibilities of the news media, the protection of journalistic interests, the promotion and exchange of ideas and information that contribute to the technical and professional development of the press, and to encourage high levels of professionalism and business conduct.

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