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CAPSULE REPORT: Press freedom in the Americas declining, says IAPA

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 16 March 2009 IAPA special report:

Climate of press freedom in the Americas worsens: IAPA issues biannual conclusions

ASUNCION, Paraguay (March 16, 2009). - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) wound up its Midyear Meeting today declaring that freedom of the press in the Americas deteriorated over the last six months in the face of several adverse factors including the murders of journalists and violence against them, campaigns to discredit the press, a climate of hostility by some governments towards news media and reporters and as a consequence of the US newspaper industry crisis.

The objective of the three-day meeting, attended by approximately 300 delegates, was to evaluate the state of press freedom in the Western Hemisphere. The following is the full text of the conclusions:

Press freedom in the hemisphere worsened in the last six months as the longstanding violent enemies of free expression claimed new journalist victims while populist governments following the lead of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stepped up their campaigns of abuse and ridicule of news organizations and individual reporters. Looming over these developments was a newspaper industry crisis in the United States that threatens to cripple its crucial role as a watchdog against government and private corruption.

Six journalists in the Americas were killed apparently because of their work in the last six months since the Inter American Press Association assembled in Madrid. One journalist was killed in Venezuela, and another in Paraguay.

But Mexico remained one of the most dangerous places for journalists, with the assassinations of four journalists and eight serious attacks on journalists or their workplaces. Even newspaper delivery trucks have been targeted by organized criminals intent on silencing the press. Unfortunately, it is working: self-censorship is a reality in the Mexican press. An IAPA initiative to make crimes against free speech a federal offense foundered in early March in the national Chamber of Deputies. Meanwhile, unpunished crimes such as the assassination four years ago of Alfredo Jimenez Mota, a journalist with the El Imparcial newspaper in Sonora, serve as a testimony to impunity. During its Mid Year Meeting, IAPA presented the case of Jimenez Mota to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the 24th case it has presented before this body. One bright spot in this doleful news of violence is that Colombia, once the world's most dangerous nations to practice journalism, again recorded not a single murder of a journalist.

More governments are not simply abusing the press; they are actively fanning the flames of hatred through rhetoric that has real-world consequences. In Venezuela, President Chavez continued his tireless work of official humiliation of the press, and there were violent attacks on Globovisión reporters in October and a tear gas bombing of the offices of the daily El Nuevo Pais, both by the government-sanctioned La Piedrita group. Chavez or his supporters recklessly characterized two newspaper publishers as assassination conspirators and even "military targets." This tactic has been enthusiastically taken up by other heads of state in the hemisphere, including Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, Oscar Arias in Costa Rica, Alvaro Colom in Guatemala, Lula da Silva in Brazil, and the Kirchner administration in Argentina.

To read the full report, see: http://www.sipiapa.com/v4/index.php?page=det_resolucion&asamblea=22&resid=322&idioma=us

For further information on the attempt to make crimes against journalists a federal offence, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/101327

For further information on the Jiménez Mota case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/101564

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