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Latin Nations Just Say No: Leaders Reject 'Truthful Information' Doctrine

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Latin Nations Just Say No: Leaders Reject 'Truthful Information' Doctrine

Article excerpt

In a big victory for free press advocates, Latin American nations formally rejected the so-called "right to truthful information" concept at the Ibero-American Summit held in Venezuela, Nov. 7-9.

Instead, the heads of 22 Spanish and Portuguese-speaking nations meeting on Margarita Island adopted a resolution that forcefully reaffirmed "the fundamental right of persons to receive free and true information, without censorship or restrictions"

By voting for an unfettered press, the Latin democracies rejected a doctrine pushed in recent months by their host, Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera. At the summit, Caldera lobbied vigorously in favor of the idea -- even after it had been formally rejected. He argued that the press must be required to report "truthful" information that aids the development of democracy and does not "distract" citizens with stories that are either frivolous, mean-spirited or destructive of democratic institutions.

To many in democratizing Latin America, that sounded like a slight reworking of the New World Information and Communications Order that authoritarian governments failed to push through UNESCO in the 1980s.

In the run-up to the summit. Caldera made impressive progress in winning legitimacy for the concept. In September, for instance, a meeting of education ministers from Spanish-speaking nations not only approved the general idea of a "truthful information" right -- but suggested that laws against the press should be passed to enforce it.

The Inter American Press Association was particularly alarmed and in recent weeks lobbied publicly and privately to combat Caldera's efforts to win the Ibero-American Summit's support. At its annual meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, last month, the IAPA formally condemned the truthful information "right" as a threat to free speech and democracy. WA delegates said it amounted to an open invitation for authoritarian governments to censor critical press coverage.

At one time, IAPA was going to send a delegation to the Venezuelan summit, but at the last minute decided that its campaign had been so successful the move was not really needed, WA executive director Julio E. Munoz said.

The final declaration "can only be pleasing to the IAPA," Munoz said.

But still there remains clear support for the "truthful information" concept among some heads of states. …

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