By: M.L. STEIN
JOURNALISM IS STILL an unsafe profession in many Latin American and Caribbean nations, but there are a few signs of improvement, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) reported at its 52nd General Assembly.
In its semiannual country-by-country report at the gathering in Pasadena, the association’s committee on press freedom noted that in Colombia, for example, guerilla groups increased their attacks and intimidation of the media, but there were no such assaults by drug traffickers.
And, the draft report continued, for only the second time in 15 years, no journalist was killed in that country in the last six months because of his or her work.
However, in Bogot?, two men on a motorcycle attempted to murder Univision TV news correspondent Raul Benoit, who was saved by his bodyguards. He had received death threats for his reports on the Cali drug cartel contributing to political campaigns.
And, for the first time in several years, no journalist was murdered in Mexico, although press freedom was threatened by kidnappings, judicial demands and physical attacks against media employees, the committee said. On June 20, provincial government authorities raided the daily Momento in Zacatecas following the paper’s coverage of a protest by local teachers.
In Barbados, the press hailed Parliament’s new law to protect journalists, and, in Paraguay, a court threw out a libel suit calling for the jailing of an editor and two reporters at the newspaper ABC Color. In other press gains, a Bolivian opinion poll found that journalists were held in higher esteem than the government or the Catholic church.
In opening remarks, IAPA President David Lawrence Jr., publisher of the Miami Herald, suggested that the atmosphere for press freedom is helped by the fact that of the 35 nations in the Western Hemisphere, all claim democracy, with the exception of Cuba.
“Some are strong, some fragile, but all are at risk because democracy is always at risk,” he added. In the past seven years, Lawrence said, 160 journalists have been murdered in the Americas and more than a thousand others hurt or threatened.
With the help of a $1.3 million grant from the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, IAPA plans to launch a five-year plan to strengthen press freedom throughout the Americas.
Although they may be spared physical harm, scores of journalists “in ways sometimes subtle yet powerful, have been intimidated,” Lawrence said.
Indeed, the committee report contains numerous examples of reporters, editors and publishers being harassed or put in fear of jail by actions of governments and courts.
In Venezuela, journalists can be imprisoned for not having a license to perform their jobs. A new telecommunications law from El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly requires radio and TV stations to join in a nationwide hookup when so ordered by the government. On June 12, the editor of the San Salvador newspaper Co-Latino was arrested on libel charges, brought by a police officer after the paper ran a story about alleged police corruption.
The Gleaner, Jamaica’s oldest newspaper, was ordered to pay $2.3 million, plus costs, to the former tourism minister, who sued the daily over an AP story alleging he had received kickbacks from a U.S. advertising agency. The judgment is on appeal, but the committee said the newspaper would be “in a grave position to meet such a liability.”
The Guatemalan press was victimized by death and governmental interference. In April, journalist Jose Yantuche died from a beating by unidentified assailants, and a colleague, Julio Rene Lemus, was shot and killed. In the same month, the governing arm of Congress decreed that journalists need prior permission from the president or vice president of Congress to gain access to records of official proceedings.
President Clinton’s signing of the Communications Decency Act was deemed disturbing in the U.S. report, although an appeals court has ruled that the law violates the First Amendment. The measure would ban the distribution to children of “indecent” material on the Internet. Also worrisome to the committee was CIA director John M. Deutch’s statement that in “rare” situations he would consider using journalists as spies.
Canada was cited for legislation banning opinion poll information during the 72 hours before an election and a rule allowing courts to ban publication of names of assault victims if they ask for anonymity. In recent months, the prohibition has been used to bring several civil cases against the media.
“Information is still a crime in Cuba,” said the report’s presenter, Roberto Fabricio, news editor of El Nuevo Herald, Knight-Ridder’s Spanish-language daily in Miami.
Fabricio, a Cuban ?migr?, said media restrictions were loosened slightly last year, but 1996 has brought “fierce repression against independent journalists and their struggling press agencies.”
The independent journalists, he explained in an interview, write for foreign publications such as the Nuevo Herald. Several of them have been forced into exile, and others have been subjected to “systemized repression” that includes random beatings; searches of their homes; confiscations of files; arrests and long interrogations; kidnappings in which victims are transported to remote areas and left to walk miles at night to get home.
He said government agents harass journalists by hooking up an electronic device that causes their phones to ring every two minutes day and night. Some freelance journalists have been warned their work can lead to an eight-year prison sentence, according to Fabricio.
Even visiting journalists face dangers. Rodrigo Alonso, a reporter for a Spanish-language TV network in Miami, was kidnapped, assaulted and robbed on a trip to Havana, he reported. In captivity, he was questioned about why he was in Cuba, Alonso added.
Nevertheless, Fabricio said, independent Cuban journalists manage to get some of their stories out.
“And they are writing without being paid ? at least not immediately,” the Miami editor said. “Because trade with Cuba is embargoed by the U.S., we can’t send them a check or even open an account for them in a bank here since they can’t draw it out.”
The Nuevo Herald, Fabricio disclosed, waits to find someone heading for Cuba “and we give him cash in American dollars to carry to the reporter.”
Also relying on independent journalists for news from Cuba is Carta de Cuba, a magazine published in Puerto Rico.
“It’s not easy,” Mario Yndalecio Garcia, a Carta director, said. “We get the information by telephone and they often jam the line,” he said of government agents. Some copies of the magazine are smuggled in to Cuba “but I can’t tell you how,” Yndalecio said.
A Puerto Rico-based wire service, Havana Press, also relies on Cuba’s independent journalists. “It’s a tough life for them,” said Sergio Ramos, the agency’s legal counsel. “These men and women face reprisals at any time. Their lives are in jeopardy every day.”
Danilo Arbilla, chairman of IAPA’s press freedom committee, characterized the report as containing mixed news.
“We would very much like to be the bearer of only good news, but this is the way things are. This is the reality, and this is our task.”
A final report with possible minor changes was expected to be adopted at the close of the assembly.
Inter American Press Association gathering hears report of increased attacks on the media cooperation.
“The terms agreed to by the Plain Dealer and unions underscore the value of union-management cooperation. The contracts are eloquent testimony to the mutually respectful and mature relationships we have with the unions and to an excellent employment-management environment here at the Plain Dealer,” Machaskee said in a statement.
Certainly much has changed since the early 1980s, when the unions were suspicious of the paper in the wake of the 1982 closing of the rival Cleveland Press. Some mechanical unions sued the Plain Dealer over that closing and the Newspaper Guild came close to a strike in 1984.
Relations warmed over the decade, however, and by 1991, all the unions agreed to what was then also considered an extraordinarily long contract term: five years.
Indeed, virtually all of the difficult issues involving the production unions were settled in those contracts, which were negotiated as the paper was building its new $200 million production plant.
“We sat down and retooled, frankly, each contract for the mechanical unions on things like introducing new technology and eliminating nonproductive practices and categories . . . . Equally important was getting rid of all the, let us say, archaic language in the contracts,” human resources chief Calaiacovo said.
At the time, the Plain Dealer bought out the job of 225 production workers, paying $122,000 apiece, Calaiacovo said. The 1991 contracts also facilitated the newspaper’s move from a corner drop distribution system that used youth carriers to a network of depots serving an all-adult carrier force.
As a result, Calaiacovo said, the paper felt comfortable extending the pacts well into the next century.
Wage and fringe benefit improvements in the contracts total $180 per week for the first six years, the newspaper said.
Top minimum for reporters was increased to $964.71 per week under the first raise, retroactive to March, Guild president Peery said. The package includes increases in pension and hospitalization, he added.
In addition to the Guild and Teamsters Local 743, bargaining unit employees are also represented at the Plain Dealer by Pressmen’s Local 5 and the Cleveland Graphic Communications International Union Local 546.
disagree with the connotations of the motto.
Obscenity cases, with their shocking content, often provide humor. Thus in 1966, in Mishkin vs. New York, a dissenting Justice Hugo Black indicated his disgust with “saddling this court with the irksome and inevitably unpopular and unwholesome task of finally deciding by a case-by-case, sight-by-sight personal judgment of the members of this court what pornography (whatever that means) is too hard core for people to see or read.”
Just two years earlier, Justice Potter Stewart had agreed that the art film, Les Amants, was not obscene.
He could not cite a definition of obscenity but said, “But I know it when I see it.”
Obscenity cases contain bizarre facts. A 1976 Detroit zoning case involved an adult establishment, the Pussy Cat, which was a corner gas station converted into a mini theater.
A 1966 Supreme Court decision noted that promotions for the quarterly Eros had been mailed from cities with sexual connotations such as Intercourse and Blue Ball Penn ? and Middlesex, N.J.
Embarrassing facts provide the comic relief in many speech decisions:
u An Oakland, Calif., columnist reported that the first female student body president of a community college was previously a man who had experienced a sex change at Stanford Hospital. He wrote about Tony Ann, formerly Antonio: “I suspect that female classmates in PE97 may wish to make other showering arrangements.”
u In discussing a college student expelled for distributing an underground newspaper, a Supreme Court footnote reported that she was in her sixth year of a journalism master’s degree and that her last semester she was enrolled in one journalism and three ceramics credits.
u In 1991, a Texas court dismissed a privacy suit by a high school soccer player. A newspaper photograph showed the player and an opponent chasing a ball. Unfortunately, according to the appeals court, “The picture further shows genitalia which happened to be exposed at the exact moment that the photograph was taken.”
u The same year as the Pentagon Papers decision, the Supreme Court reversed a prior restraint of demonstrators who were exposing a racist Realtor in Chicago.
To embarrass the Realtor, the demonstrators distributed pamphlets to parisheners on the way to his church.
u Florida police officers objected to TV coverage of their trial for burglarizing a Miami Beach restaurant. The trial included testimony of an amateur radio operator who recorded conversations of the two off-duty officers during the burglary over their official walkie-talkie radios.
u In the early 1970s, the Reader’s Digest convinced a federal court to dismiss a privacy case by a convicted truck hijacker whose misadventure was described in a magazine anecdote. As reported in the article, the two cons “stole a ‘valuable looking’ truck in Danville, Ky., and then fought a gun battle with the local police, only to learn that they had hijacked four bowling-pin spotters.”
Embarrassing information also dominates libel decisions. In libel cases in Ohio: a cartoonist portrayed a county commissioner as a skunk, witch, rat and liar; a restaurant review said that fish tasted like ski boots and that beer-boiled shrimp was barely worth peeling; a basketball team president was called rude, abrasive, obnoxious, stupid, a buffoon, a nincompoop, an obscenity, a gutless liar, an unmitigated liar, and a pathological liar.
The origin of some speech cases provides amusement. In FCC vs. Pacific Foundation, the Supreme Court decided that a radio station could be punished for playing George Carlin’s satiric monologue, “Filthy Words,” at a time when children were likely listeners. The case was prompted by a complaint from a man who was traveling with his son at 2 p.m. when he overheard the sketch on his car radio.
You have to wonder shouldn’t the son have been in preschool or school? Couldn’t the father have switched stations after the first offensive word? And which of Carlin’s “Filthy Words” would be new to a kindergartner?
?(“Some are strong, some fragile, but all are at risk because democracy is always at risk.”) [Caption]
?( ? IAPA president David Lawrence Jr., publisher of the Miami Herald )[Photo & Caption]