By: Robert U. Brown Three presidents address a near-record crowd at the Inter American Press Association general assembly in Argentina sp.
THE INCREASING MEMBERSHIP of the Inter American Press Association, the beauty of San Carlos de Bariloche in the Argentine Andes during springtime and the lure of the presidents of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay on the program combined to draw 568 members and guests to the 49th general assembly Nov. 14-18. This attendance was exceeded only by that at the assembly in Washington in 1969. The traditional country-by-country review of the press' status in the hemisphere found that although democracy prevails in all but two countries (Cuba and Haiti), there are continued assaults on the free press by governments as well as assassinations of journalists ? 19 in the past year. A. Roy Megarry, chairman emeritus of the Toronto Globe and Mail, was elected IAPA president despite his absence from the conference because of illness. He succeeds Alejandro Junco de la Vega of El Norte, Monterrey, Mexico. Raul Kraiselburd of El Dia, La Plata, Argentina, who was one of the organizing hosts for the meeting in Bariloche, was elevated from second to first vice president. David Lawrence of the Miami Herald was elected second vice president. According to custom, he will proceed up the ladder and become IAPA president in 1995. The three leaders of the South American countries told those attending of their dedication to freedom of the press although with some suggested qualifications. Argentina's Carol Menem said, "To speak of the press is to speak of freedom." He said he supports a free press without censorship and he will eliminate any provision that would impede the free exercise of free speech and press. Menem said his first action as president was to privatize television, radio and other media. He would eliminate the right of reply, he said, as well as eliminate the crime of "lack of respect" from the penal code. The IAPA must continue to fight for a free press everywhere, he added, because "there is no gratification in freedom if others don't have it." Menem warned the press, however, to avoid monopoly practices and urged the pursuit of ethics and responsibility. Paraguay's president, Juan Carlos Wasmosy, echoed his neighbor in saying he accepts freedom of the press as a condition of democracy. His mission for the New Paraguay after 37 years of dictatorship is freedom, he said, but he still is working to eliminate elements of totalitarianism in his country. He urged an expansion of voices to avoid press monopolies and repeated the call for responsibility and ethics. Uruguay's president, Luis Lacalle, said, "Complete freedom of information and thought is the constitutional obligation of our country. "We have as much freedom as we have responsibility," Lacalle said. Conflicts between news sources and messengers are not new, he said, but he urged an improvement in relations between government and the press to strengthen an understanding of the democratic system. This requires special care, he added. In resolutions adopted the day after the three presidents spoke, the IAPA noted that Articles 14 and 32 of the Argentine constitution represent an "absolute guarantee of freedom of the press" and urged that they be preserved in any constitutional reform. The organization also pointed out that the Argentine government has denounced media criticism "on the baseless charge that the media is dominated by monopolies." Argentina has more than 100 dailies and at least that many weeklies, the IAPA said. With respect to Paraguay, an IAPA resolution noted that Wasmosy has proposed centralization of all state information in a Social Communication Secretariat, which would limit the press' access to official information. Also, it noted that the Chamber of Deputies was considering a press law. The IAPA opposes both moves. Another resolution opposed attempts by the Canadian government to prohibit paid advertising during political campaigns except by registered parties. The IAPA also opposed a prohibition on publication of public opinion polls within 72 hours before the polls close. A resolution noted that the Chilean government introduced a freedom of information bill that created a "conscience clause," which would deny editors control of reporters and grant the exclusive right to practice journalism to graduate journalists. The IAPA vigorously opposes both proposals. In a separate resolution, the IAPA once again condemned countries that require journalists to belong to "colegios," or professional organizations, in order to work. Such requirements remain despite the Inter American Court of Human Rights' ruling that such licensing is incompatible with free expression. The IAPA also protested the lack of action by the state government of Chihuahua, Mexico, to protect the rights of Vanguardia owners, whose paper was confiscated and closed by its workers. In a final resolution, the IAPA joined the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEJ) in its protest to the Council of Europe of press restrictions recently recommended for that 32-nation group (E&P, Nov. 6, p. 6).