IAPA mid-year meeting recognizes strides and setbacks for freedom of expression in the Americas

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  • April 12, 2016

By Giovana Sanchez

The mid-year meeting of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), which took place from April 8 to 11 in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, concluded discussions renewing its support for press freedom and condemning the continuing violence suffered by journalists on the continent.

The meeting brought together more than 280 directors of media outlets and journalists from the Americas. As a result of the reunion, the association produced a final text that mentions advances related to impunity and press freedom in Argentina (interruption of the attacks on the independent press), Cuba (improvement of treatment with international press), Paraguay (extradition of the suspect in the murder of journalist Pablo Medina) and the Dominican Republic (partial elimination of criminal defamation).

The text also highlights the challenges in combating impunity and continuing violence against journalists, especially in the six countries that account for the killings of 12 journalists since the IAPA's 71st General Assembly in October 2015. In that time, four journalists have been killed in Mexico, another four in Brazil, one in Colombia, one in El Salvador, one Venezuela and one in Guatemala.

The association added that in Mexico, there is an “alarming increase in violence against women journalists (84 cases [in 2015, according to Article 19 Mexico]) ranging from bullying and sexual harassment to vilification on social networks.”

The IAPA adopted separate resolutions condemning the murders and demanded that the relevant governments take actions to investigate and prosecute the crimes.

The final text also mentions cases of "censorship, restrictions, arrests and threats against the media, its owners or its journalists" in countries like Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador and Mexico. Police actions, pressure and threats from drug trafficking were also cited in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador and Paraguay.

At the meeting, Danilo Medina, President of the Dominican Republic, signed the Declaration of Chapultepec, promising to comply with freedom of expression and the press, according to El Nacional.

Adopted in 1994, the Declaration of Chapultepec emphasizes principles deemed necessary for freedom of expression and the press in order to uphold democratic society.

Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation and former publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, received the 2016 Grand Prize named for the Declaration. [Disclaimer: The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas receives funds from the Knight Foundation.]

Ibargüen has been involved with the IAPA since he began as publisher at The Herald. He also launched the first campaign at the IAPA against impunity in crimes against journalists.

Ibargüen told attendees that the when the Declaration of Chapultepec was signed, people could not foresee "that there would emerge a new and different war against journalism, the journalist and free expression, a war whose protagonists are not from the government but are commercial interests like the drug trafficker or idealogues that terrorists often are, and in which the goal is not to silence the journalist but to use their murder as a weapon in a propaganda war, using current media and technology to spread their atrocities without necessity or any state or the press," ElSalvador.com reported.

In the face of these threats, he urged attendees to fight for freedom of expression, find a sustainable business model and remain united, according to the news site.

Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, also spoke about the importance of collective effort in the fight for freedom of expression on the continent.

"The history of freedom of expression and pluralism in Latin America is not linear. It is a story of acceleration and braking," Almagro said. "All of us: international organizations like the OAS, civil society, governments, people protesting in the streets or on social networks, journalists on this continent who sadly risk their lives on a daily basis, media owners; we all have a role to play to ensure that freedom of expression and pluralism prevail over private interests.”​

The IAPA holds general meetings twice a year. The association's annual meeting, The 72nd General Assembly, is planned for Oct. 13 to 17, 2016 in Mexico City.

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.