International journalist groups call on governments to revise laws that restrict press freedom

Just as journalistic organizations in Ecuador and Paraguay are complaining about the use of laws against the press aimed at silencing journalistis, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) released a statement expressing concern about the "deterioration of freedom of expression and press freedom on the American continent," reported La Prensa.

Considering that "some Latin American governments have passed laws that restrict freedom of expression and the right to receive information, as well as the freedom and independence of news media," and that "the enemies of press freedom – organized crime and authoritarian governments – are taking actions to control information and restrict news media," IAPA called on governments to adopt specific laws aimed at fighting impunity. IAPA said governments should not "pass legislation that restricts press freedom," and "as a matter of urgency," governments should "review and abolish laws that restrict the work of journalists."

The Paraguayan Journalists Forum (FOPEP in Spanish) decried the increase in lawsuits against journalists, arguing that such lawsuits threaten a free press and the right to information, according to ABC. "Charges of defamation and slander have become a kind of 'legal cudgel' or tool to intimidate the workers of the press, trying to stop or silence their reporting and research."

FOPEP highlighted the cases of journalists from the newspaper ABC Color, such as Jorge Torres, sued after denouncing irregularities in the management of funds in a governmental office; Sandra López, sued by a businesswoman after publishing articles about "doubtful" payments received by her husband's company; and Omar Acosta, who is being sued by a police officer accused of subjecting detainees to torture, according to FOPEP.

In Ecuador, meanwhile, the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of Media (Fundamedios) at the end of May filed a complaint alleging the unconstitutionality of contempt laws and other related regulations that hold journalists responsible for offending public officials. The use of such laws by officials in Ecuador has been constantly criticized by human rights and press freedom groups.

César Ricaurte, director of Fundamedios, said that since 2008, the organization has received reports of 358 incidents of physical and verbal aggression against journalists. Ricaurte noted that half of the cases that occurred in 2011 have been at the hands of government and public safety officials.

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.