Licensing Of Journalists Debated p. 18

By: Robert U. Brown Inter American Press Association denounces the practice,
but head of the Venezuelan journalists association defends it sp.

THE INTER AMERICAN Press Association has embarked on a two-year program to investigate and analyze the causes and consequences of unpunished crimes against journalists in the hemisphere.
There were 17 journalists slain in Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala and one in Brazil during 1994 ? that adds up to 59 murdered in the last seven years ? and virtually every perpetrator of these crimes has gone unpunished.
At the association's 51st general assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, last week, newly elected IAPA president David Lawrence, publisher of the Miami Herald, announced the program will be conducted with the help of a special grant of $484,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
For several years, IAPA has denounced these crimes against journalists and has sent special missions to countries to study the issues and try to pressure authorities to investigate the murders.
Now, a special team of investigators will concentrate on the three critical countries and produce a specific set of recommendations. There will be follow-up conferences in the three countries.
Encouraged by its success in fighting efforts to license journalists through colegios, IAPA is renewing its efforts in that direction.
A major victory for a free press in the Americas was the Costa Rica Supreme Court's ruling that the obligatory licensing of journalists is unconstitutional.
This followed a ruling from the American Convention of Human Rights that the free practice of journalism is a universal right.
The Supreme Court said the colegio law "makes the practice of journalism a special privilege."
The Costa Rica victory followed a similar one in Santo Domingo, but in spite of these, efforts are being made to pass similar licensing laws in other countries. Venezuela has one which IAPA publicly attacked. One is proposed in Nicaragua.
In a panel discussion on the subject, Eduardo Orozco, president of the Venezuelan Colegio of Journalists, delivered the opening remarks with his defense of the system.
"Journalists require professional training and legal licensing," he said. "The law does not impede the right of expression. Only newspapers do that."
Luis Ortiz, attorney for the Bloque de Prensa Venezolano, which has asked the Supreme Court to nullify the law providing for licensing and its provisions for punishment for practicing journalism illegally, explained the case against it.
He said there is "a growing consensus throughout the hemisphere against these licensing laws" and he thought the Costa Rican and Dominican rulings will result in similar rulings elsewhere.
Ramon Tapia, attorney for the Dominican Republic, recited the history of the fight there since licensing was proposed in 1983. He gave credit for the challenge by journalists, led by German Ornes, publisher of El Caribe, whom he called "a paladin for freedom of expression."
Fernando Guier, now with the Costa Rican Supreme Court, was the attorney who defended Stephen Schmidt beginning in 1980 ? when he was working for the weekly Pico Times and was convicted of practicing journalism illegally without a license.
The first victory against the law was in the Inter American Court of Human Rights. Guier said the 15-year fight was not that long ? the fight has actually been going on for 400 years, since John Milton.
The final panelist was Rodolfo Piza, Costa Rican Supreme Court judge, who said "mandatory licensing imposes restrictions on an individual's rights."
At a public demonstration in the Plaza Candaleria, Caracas, immediately following the panel discussion, Orozco led a group of journalists in support of the law.
In welcoming more than 400 delegates and guests to the IAPA gathering, Venezuelan president Rafael Caldera said that shortly after beginning his second term of office in February 1994, his government was forced to suspend many economic and personal guarantees, but the only constitutional guarantee that remained untouched was freedom of information and opinion.
"For us, this represents a matter of great satisfaction, and I must say with all sincerity that the fact we are not supporters of legal dispositions to restrict freedom of the press or actions of any nature is due to our experience that the best corrective measure for errors committed by information organizations is freedom of the press itself," Caldera said.
Allen Neuharth, chairman of Freedom Forum, the largest media foundation in the U.S., said its mission is to foster free press, free speech and free spirit around the globe. It is establishing a presence in Latin America to assist in the development of free media and free press in Latin America.
Next year, it will open a headquarters in Latin America to coordinate those activities with an initial grant of $30,000 to IAPA to run training workshops for Latin American journalists at the American Press Institute in Reston, Va.
In its formal resolutions, IAPA called on the Cuban government to respond and reciprocate to the offer of the U.S. government to allow journalists from each country to establish bureaus in the other.
In addition to protesting the new law in Chile establishing licensing of journalism graduates, it protested an unprecedented broadening of the right of reply ? what could be called the right of omission ? which creates the possibility that any individual who feels that his or her opinion has been deliberately excluded could force publication of those views.
The Chilean law would also prohibit any publication from having more than 30% of the national circulation.
IAPA also noted that various governments, institutions and public enterprises in the hemisphere use official advertising as a tool to favor or punish media, ignoring technical and efficiency criteria in the expenditure of public funds, and condemned this discriminatory manipulation as an act of corruption and an attack on freedom of the press.
In a discussion of the resolution on Cuba, it was noted that after 36 years of total repression of press freedom there, a group of independent journalists has been organized to provide information on Cuba.
IAPA expressed solidarity with the independent journalists groups of Cuba, three of which have asked for membership in IAPA: the Bureau of Independent Cuban Journalists, Cubapress and Havanapress. Their applications were referred to the membership committee, which reported an addition of 19 new members this year.
David Lawrence of the Miami Herald was elected IAPA president, succeeding Raul Kraiselburd of El Dia, La Plata, Argentina. Luis Gabriel Cano, El Espectador, Bogota, Colombia, was elevated to first vice president. Oliver Clark, the Gleaner, Kingston, Jamaica, was elected second vice president.
Tony Pederson, Houston Chronicle, was named treasurer and Hector Davalos, Novedades de Acapulco, was named secretary. Andres Garcia Gamboa, Novedades de Quintana Roo, Cancun, Mexico, was named chairman of the executive committee, succeeding Roberto Suarez of El Nuevo Herald, Miami.
The next mid-year board meeting of IAPA will be held in Costa Rica, March 23-26.
The 52nd general assembly will be held at the Ritz Carlton Huntington, Pasadena, Calif., Oct. 5-9.


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