sets three-part plan to push for hemispheric press freedom sp.
IN AN AGE when instantaneous digital communications link the world ever more tightly, Miami Herald chairman and publisher David Lawrence Jr. called on the Inter American Press Association to take a stronger lead on free speech and set a blueprint for doing so.
Speaking at the organization's 51st general assembly, in Caracas, Venezuela, the incoming IAPA president said the prevalence of communications technology makes freedom of speech even more important for the hemisphere's 35 nations and nearly three quarters of a billion people, because in the end, "newfangled technologies matter less than our freedom to communicate. For all its wonders and advantages, technological revolution cannot make the means superior to the ends."
Lawrence held up Miami as a model of the entire hemisphere ? its promise and peril ? while conceding that even with its diversity as a crossroads of the Americas, Miami's troubles pale in comparison to problems elsewhere.
Too often, he said, "We take for granted the freedom that is so frequently at risk to the south of us."
With democracy ascendant in the region, Lawrence has been inspired on his journeys to contemplate the meaning of freedom ? and its fragility.
He has also realized that overcoming dictatorships "is just the first step in the democratization process. No democracy, even one more than two centuries old such as the United States', is guaranteed. We all must work at strengthening it, perfecting it, defending it from its enemies."
But why make the point in Venezuela? Or, as one newspaper executive wrote, "Why on earth would an organization that espouses civil rights and free press meet in a country which has so cynically demolished fundamental rights?"
On behalf of IAPA, which has made a point "to gather in the lion's den of demagoguery," Lawrence said "it is more courageous to carry the message of freedom directly to the places that need it the most than it is to shout the message from places where it is not threatened."
And he did not mince words in calling Venezuela such a lion's den, a nation of formerly durable democracies recently racked by failed coups, a president forced to resign in disgrace and suspension of constitutional guarantees. Any government action against the press, Lawrence notified Venezuelan president Raphael Caldera, "is a move against the people, their needs, their aspirations. Democracy can never be strengthened by weakening constitutional guarantees. Shackling journalists with self-defeating press laws undermines civil society and the rule of law."
Lawrence called on Venezuela to eliminate its recently enacted colegio laws, requiring journalists to be licensed, on the grounds such laws harken to the days when freedom of speech was a privilege allowed by government whim.
To be sure, the hemisphere has made great progress in the last three decades. When leaders of the Western Hemisphere met in Uruguay in 1967, there were 10 non-democratic nations in the region.
In contrast, only one, Cuba, was non-democratic when the Summit of the Americas met last year in Miami at a time when the hemisphere was largely at peace, instead of torn by conflict.
The summit last year started a process aimed at strengthening democracy, economic integration, free trade, sustainable development and environmental conservation ? and simultaneously eradicating poverty and discrimination.
For his part, Lawrence ? while not equating freedom of speech with the basic need for food, clothing and shelter ? nonetheless linked them, saying "no less fundamental is the right to speak up, with a government that is accountable to all its citizens."
The fact that press freedom is "absolutely essential to democracy," inspired Lawrence to express sweeping optimism about print journalism, declaring: "There will always be a demand for newspapers of substance."
"Our strength is that we gather and distribute, better than anyone, that which people who need reliable news most desire: accurate, timely, richly contextual information. To those who wonder if our day is passed, I say that our best days are ahead."
Lawrence touted IAPA's successes in the past year in fighting infringements of press freedom and in championing the Principles of Chapultepec, a kind of First Amendment for the hemisphere.
He also laid out a three-part blueprint for his year as IAPA president.
First, he vowed to defend press freedom everywhere in the hemisphere ? in word and deed ? with the help of a $484,000 grant from the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
It will be a big job, judging from last year's record of 22 dead journalists plus injuries to and threats against many more. To start, IAPA plans to study the causes and consequences of crimes against journalists in three nations.
Second, IAPA will press to expand membership in Brazil, the world's 10th largest economy.
Third, IAPA will try to raise its U.S. profile, the theory being, "We must do much to teach those accustomed to press freedom what fragile and unique privilege they enjoy."
As part of that effort, Lawrence announced that he and Edward Seaton, editor and publisher of the Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury, would lead a group of U.S. editors and publishers on a tour of Latin American nations.
The tour is an effort to unify the need for a free press throughout the region.
He called on newspapers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to educate readers and to dispel myths and stereotypes.
"If we aspire to form part of one vast community," Lawrence said, "we have to do our utmost as journalists and newspapers to establish meaningful links, to bring our peoples closer together."
?("If we aspire to form part of one vast community, we have to do our utmost as journalists and newspapers to establish meaningful links, to bring our peoples closer together.") [Caption]
?(? David Lawrence, chairman and publisher, Miami Herald, and incoming president, Inter American Press Association.) [Photo & Caption]
By: Editorial Staff Lawrence leads U.S. publishers, editors on Latin American tour;