By: M.L. Stein
Inter American Press Association endorses plan to invite
leaders of all Western Hemisphere nations to sign the
free-speech declaration written a week earlier in Mexico City sp.
SUPPORT FOR A declaration approved in Mexico City last month, which calls for universal freedom of expression, gained momentum at the midyear meeting of the Inter American Press Association in Guatemala City in late March.
The IAPA endorsed a plan to invite all leaders of governments in the Western Hemisphere to sign the document, which had been endorsed by nearly 70 delegates to the Hemispheric Conference on Freedom of Expression held just before the Guatemala conclave.
Media organizations also were urged to push for recognition of the document.
Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Guatemalan president Ramiro de Leon Carpio were the first heads of state to sign the declaration pounded out at the historic Chapultepec Castle.
Also at Guatemala City, the IAPA’s board adopted resolutions demanding that various governments, including the United States, cease imposing measures that muzzle the press, harm journalists or impinge on the free flow of information in any form.
The IAPA noted that since its General Assembly in Bariloche, Argentina, last year, at least five journalists have been killed in the course of their work: two in Guatemala, two in Colombia and one in Brazil.
“Murders and many other attacks on journalists are frequently done with impunity,” the organization stated. “Government and police authorities habitually fail to bring to justice those responsible for these terrible crimes.”
Countries singled out for the severest criticism included Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay and Haiti.
The United States was cited in connection with a complaint by the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, based in Washington, that the Clinton administration has been slow in releasing public information despite the president’s early promise to make information readily available.
The IAPA noted, as an example, that the Wall Street Journal sought information seven months ago about the death of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster and has received nothing.
One resolution declared flatly, “There is no press freedom in Haiti and public opinion has no possibility of receiving reliable information from the existing media.”
It asked for “respect and protection” for journalists in the country and called for international public opinion to help establish a democratic government there.
Declaring that “several clearly identified journalists” were shot by the Mexican army during the Indian rebellion in the state of Chiapas, the IAPA asked the Mexican government to provide guarantees of safety to correspondents covering that conflict. The resolution further said several Mexican publishers have complained that state government officials have curtailed distribution of newspapers that criticized them.
In Argentina, it was stated, journalists continue to work in an “atmosphere of insecurity” despite an IAPA plea in November that such conditions be lifted. The IAPA also said the slaying of reporter Mario Bonino last year remains unsolved.
Attempted intimidation of the Peruvian press has been achieved through the law of Habeas Data, which allows for the “right of rectification,” it was reported. The resolution contends that the measure creates censorship and has been used against a television commentator and editors of four newspapers.
Uruguay, the IAPA pointed out, stifles competition and limits press freedom by placing official advertising with favored newspapers. Allocation of advertising should be on the basis of technical criteria, the resolution said.
Canada was rapped for excluding the press from certain legal proceedings; Chile, for a National Congress bill that would require a university degree to practice journalism; Cuba, for its “absolute control” of the media ? a perennial IAPA complaint; El Salvador, for seemingly allowing attacks against the Diario de Hoy, San Salvador, by the former guerrilla group FMLN; and Guatemala, for “outrages against journalists” by “secret power groups.”
A general resolution committed the IAPA to oppose laws or regulations limiting the “absolute freedom of the press and citizens” to express opinions and choices during elections.
Another action denounced “subtle censorship,” by which political parties, especially during election campaigns, pressure the media and individual journalists.
A resolution aimed particularly at Colombia and Peru said anti-terrorist laws have been used to jail journalists carrying out their duties. Such laws were termed a “pretext to restrict press freedom” and the countries were ask to stop imposing them in this manner.
Also criticized were mandatory licensing requirements and registration of journalists, both of which are being attempted in Costa Rica, Honduras, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama and Vene-zuela, according to the IAPA.
Venezuela, it was stated, is considering further restrictions for its mandatory licensing program, giving such power to the National Journalists Colegio, thereby “ceding control over ownership of news media to people other than their legitimate owners.”
?( Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (shown above in an earlier photo signing the North American Free Trade Agreement) and Guatemalan president Ramiro de Leon Carpio were the first heads of state to sign the free-speech declaration pounded out at the historic Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City last month) [Photo & Caption]