Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Press Freedom in Latin America: A Survey

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Press Freedom in Latin America: A Survey

Article excerpt

Here's a country-by-country look at recent developments affecting press freedom in Latin America, based on the reports issued by the Inter American Press Association at its midyear meeting in Cancun, Mexico:


Free-press advocates cheered when a court on Feb. 2 imposed sentences of life imprisonment on the murderer and five principal accomplices convicted of the 1997 killing of Noticias photographer Jose Luis Cabezas. But the conviction has not stopped other acts of intimidation, the latest a death threat to Frank Varise, a reporter for the Buenos Aires newspaper La Naci-n who has been investigating alleged police involvement with an organized crime gang specializing in cattle rustling.


Police and military security personnel have been involved in several incidents of physical assaults on news photographers. Reporters on Correio Popular, a daily in Campinas, near Sao Paulo, have stopped using bylines because of threats by drug traffickers. Congress, meanwhile, is giving serious consideration to two wide-ranging gag laws. One, proposed by the government, would prohibit police, prosecutors, judges, and others from providing any information about "investigations, actions, or trials" during legal proceedings. Another, pushed by the judicial branch, would amend the constitution to ban prosecutors and judges from providing information about court cases.


The nation remains among the most dangerous in the world for working journalists. The grim statistics continued growing even as IAPA was issuing its report: a body found in an unmarked grave was identified March 14 as radio reporter Maria Helena Salina, who had been missing for a week while covering violence in the northwestern corner of the country. She became the 150th journalist killed in Colombia during the past 20 years.


Harassment, intimidation, and jailing have worsened since the beginning of the year. IAPA said Cuba has added a new tool of repression: "A sort of de facto house arrest that has been applied to more than 10 reporters just as they were about to cover events potentially uncomfortable for the government."


A campaign-finance law passed in late February permits the Electoral Supreme Court to fine and even close down for six months any news organization that does not report within 30 days of an election the amount of money parties have spent on political advertising.


A Mexican businessman who has helped new President Alfonso Portillo with some $2.5 million in free advertising on his four TV stations and 21 radio outlets is leading a "smear campaign" against independent newspapers, especially the nation's biggest, Prensa Libre.


No significant press violations have been reported during the recent period of political calm, but President Ren? Preval disappointed an IAPA delegation when he balked at signing the Declaration of Chapultepec.


Authorities appear to be dragging their feet in recent murder cases. And protests from IAPA and Mexican newspapers, most notably the Reforma group, convinced the government to back off its plan to designate the state-owned news agency Notimex as the exclusive distributor of public- sector advertising. …

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