By: Robert U. Brown
Inter American Press Association board told about proposed
actions by many governments that would place limits on media sp.
FREEDOM OF THE press exists in the countries of this hemisphere, with the notable exception of Cuba, but there are many current and proposed actions by governments that would curtail freedom, according to reports presented to the midwinter board of directors’ meeting of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Approximately 250 members and guests attended the conference.
In its semiannual, country-by-country review of press freedom, IAPA found that the climate of violence prevailing in several countries has diminished, but not entirely.
In Colombia, not one journalist has been killed in the last six months. But in Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, there continues to be “murder with impunity,” IAPA was told.
A special report was issued by Jack Fuller, president and CEO of the Chicago Tribune, on a mission to Mexico to investigate the murder of three journalists last year in the state of Morelos. None of the murderers has been apprehended. The delegation concluded that both law enforcement and the press in Cuernavaca have displayed “a shocking indifference to the murders.”
The mission also looked into charges of harassment and discrimination by La Tribuna in Campeche against the governor. It concluded the difficulties resulted from a feud between the Arco family, owners of the newspaper, and the family of Governor Jorge Solomon Garcia Azar. The newspaper has been sharply critical of the governor and his administration, and the governor has used the weapon of state advertising to punish the paper.
Ricardo Trotti, coordinator of the IAPA Press Freedom Committee Program, made a special investigation into the murder two years ago of Jorge Carfio Nicolle, editor and founder of El Grafico. Twice a presidential candidate, Nicolle and three associates were assassinated by three masked assailants. Since then, Trotti reported, physical evidence from the scene of the crime has disappeared, as have photos of the autopsy and one of the suspected murder weapons. A police chief has been murdered, and other officials, including the public prosecutor, have been threatened.
“The official investigation into the case has been corrupted,” Trotti said. “There are quite a number of people who don’t want the masterminds of this multiple murder to be identified.”
A special report on obligatory licensing of journalists in Venezuela was given to the IAPA board. The new law regulating the practice of journalism was signed Dec. 23, 1994, by President Caldera, replacing a 1972 law. It establishes a jail sentence of six months for anyone who practices journalism illegally ? only university graduates may practice journalism ? and applies only to written media and working journalists, not to managers.
The Venezuelan Press Bloc is seeking repeal by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional. During discussion of this matter, it was noted IAPA has a long history of contesting these licensing laws, starting with Costa Rica.
Other methods of intimidation of the press protected by IAPA include the trend by government of penalizing criminal libel. Argentina is considering a bill to impose six years’ imprisonment, plus a fine of $200,000 for criminal libel. The law would require news media to take out $500,000 in libel insurance.
IAPA asked the Colombian Constitutional Court to reconsider its ruling that the press be responsible for statements made by fully identified third parties. Chile is considering a law that would give preferential hiring treatment to journalism school graduates.
A strike by newspaper vendors against La Reforma, Mexico City, and El Norte, Monterrey, brought to light similar strikes by vendors in both Arequipa and Lima, Peru, and Mendoza, Argentina.
In Mexico, the vendors are protesting the newspapers who sell their product through their own employees on days when the vendors refuse to work. The situation is similar in other cities. IAPA charged these tactics are impediments to free circulation of media.
IAPA delegates from Ecuador and Peru met privately to discuss the five-week armed conflict between their two countries and prepared a joint report.
After detailing the incidents in which journalists of one country were intimidated or detained in the country of the other, although no deaths were reported, the joint report concluded: “We are a people who, by our history, language and religion, must live together in the search for well-being and the eradication of poverty as a main objective.
“We, the media, have a part to play in meeting this challenge ? the commitment is more vital now that the conflict has gone from the use of force to the use of reason. Our mission, therefore, is to guide our leaders to put consolidation of development and peace above the fleeting interests of the moment. Let us journalists of Ecuador and Peru direct the power and patriotism of our pages toward that end and no other.”
The joint declaration by the editors of the two countries was warmly applauded by the IAPA board, in a special resolution calling for all newspapers of both places to “encourage a climate of understanding and harmony between the two countries.”