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Central American journalists come together to create a security and monitoring network (Interview)

Several Central American press organizations have come together to form a united front against the risks and threats journalists face in their respective countries, according to the news agency Notimex.

After meeting in Panama on Aug. 31, and Sept. 1, the presidents of the Panamanian National Union of Journalists, the Salvadoran Association of Journalists (APES in Spanish), and the Costa Rican Union of Journalists released the Panama Declaration. The Declaration recognizes the risks journalists face in the region and announces the creation of the Central American Journalists' Network, according to the organizations. Representatives from journalists' unions in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras were unable to attend the meeting for financial reasons but members from these countries will seek ways to support the new Central American network.

APES President José Luis Benítez spoke with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas about the Central American Journalists' Network's plans.

How did the idea come about to unite Central American press associations?
This initiative came together in response to recent aggressions against journalists by Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and other public officials. Also, concern over the attacks and killings of journalists and media workers in Honduras that has brought the situation to international attention. In light of these grave events came the idea to assemble the presidents from journalists' unions and associations across the region for the first time. More so, there is no network of organizations and unions of journalists in Central America.

How many journalists in the region does the Central American Journalists' Network represent?
At the moment, the Panamanian Union of Journalists, the Costa Rican Union of Journalists and the Salvadoran Association of Journalists attended this meeting. These organizations together represent some four thousand journalists in the region. Obviously, the intention is to expand the reach of the network to all the countries in the area and establish a network of solidarity for different actions.

Besides the Declaration, what other plans do you have to improve protection of journalists in the region?
Some of the actions we have discussed include monitoring agressions and attacks on journalists in each country, promoting training opportunities for journalists, collectively managing projects to fortify the network, and eventually building the capacity to dialogue and advocate with regional and international organizations.

What plans do you have to encourage presidents in the region to comply with their obligation to protect freedom of the press and expression in their respective countries?
For now, it's been proposed that each union or association develop direct actions with their own governments. However, the case of the Panamanian Union of Journalists demonstrates that there are few mechanisms to dialogue with the president to guarantee press freedom. In this case, it will be necessary to appeal to regional bodies like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations and Organization of American States' Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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