By: Editorial Staff THE FOLLOWING IS the concluding portion of the Inter American Press Association Freedom of the Press Committee's report after a country-by-country analysis of press conditions in the Western Hemisphere. sp.
A surprising degree of violence and legal action against the press has occurred over the last year in the Americas, despite the presence of democratic governments in most of the hemisphere's nations. It is clear that democracy alone is no guarantee of free expression for either the press or individuals. There have been at least 19 assassinations of journalists during the past year: 11 in Colombia, five in Mexico, one in the United States, one in Argentina, one in Guatemala. In many of these cases, the murders were committed by armed men employing military hardware. The response of police to the investigations of these murders has often been indifferent, and many of these murders have led to no charges. The security of working journalists, who are also subject to regular threats and intimidation in many countries, remains a serious constraint on the practice of a free press in the hemisphere. In some countries, the facilities of newspapers and other publications are coming under attack by guerrillas and drug dealers and other unidentified groups. Bombings, arson and physical destruction is used to intimidate and interrupt production of publications. These attacks are most frequent in Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Nic-aragua and Guatemala. It is imperative that public authorities create secure working conditions for journalists by effective enforcement of the criminal laws. The rhetoric supporting free speech and freedom of the press is substantially undermined in countries where physical violence remains a powerful force for repression. Despite commitments to freedom of expression and a free press, some countries continue to propose aggressive laws to limit these freedoms in practice. These laws range from Chile's efforts to create additional educational requirements for journalists to Canada's new laws prohibiting publication of certain forms of news during election campaigns. Through electoral codes, some countries unreasonably limit political advertising in periods leading up to voting days (among them, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Bolivia and potentially the Dominican Republic). Chile is also considering a labor law that would create a "right of conscience" for journalists that would effectively deny editors the control and responsibility for publication. In Canada, there has been a remarkable rash of lower court actions barring the press from reporting on important court cases, including those focusing on freedom of expression itself. Worse, Canadian courts have even banned the reporting of the existence of these bans. This practice stands as the most striking new affront to freedom of the press in the last year. In contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a law in Puerto Rico that would have barred journalists from covering the activities of certain courts. The unsuccessful "self coup" in Guatemala led to brief censorship of the press. While thankfully short-lived, it stood as a reminder of how fragile the democratic fabric remains in many countries. All this said, there are two black holes in the map of free expression in the Western Hemisphere. They are Cuba and Haiti. Freedom of expression for citizens and freedom of the press cannot be said to exist in these countries. Citizens do not have the right to uncensored reports from their own journalists and are forced to rely on foreign broadcasts for news of their own societies and the world at large. Journalists are regularly arrested, abused and even expelled from these countries if they dare to report facts and opinions contrary to those of the regimes. Furthermore, Cuba does not generally allow foreign journalists to visit and cover events there in person, although some journalists are evading these restrictions in practice. The best laws in relation to the press are no laws. This does not mean that the press is above the general law of the land, but that particular laws should not be drawn for the press alone. The press, like the citizen, has preexisting inalienable rights to freedom of thought and expression. Many countries, including Canada, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, have been making or considering changes to their constitutions. This opens the possibility of fundamental advances in recognizing freedom of expression. In the drafting or amending of constitutions, there is only one requirement in regard to the press: that the constitution formally acknowledge the inherent right of citizens and the press to free expression and state that no laws of any legislature can prevail that offend such rights. It is important to emphasize that the rights of free thought and expression are not created by law ? they exist a priori. The constitutions of democratic countries should explicitly recognize this fact by prohibiting legal attacks on free expression by legislatures. The press should develop standards and procedures of its own to ensure accurate and fair reporting and commentary. No government tribunals or government-supported organs should supervise the activities of the press, which stands equal to the citizen in its independence of thought and expression.