Journalists at 10th Austin Forum call for solidarity in face of endemic violence in Latin America

The fifth panel of the 10th annual Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas, moderated by Mónica González, director of the Center for Journalistic Investigation (CIPER in Spanish) in Chile, discussed the "Endemic Violence Against Journalists and Media in Latin America" and the need for journalists to ally with NGOs, working in a long-term commitment. Also, the necessity for a greater solidarity amongt journalists was emphasized.

González started by calling for journalists to become more self-critical, to be honest and understanding of each other, in order to leave the "emergency situation we're living in Latin America." She said that "journalists that are killed today are being silenced in the most absolute and solitary manner of all."

The director of the Office for the Americas for Reporters Without Borders, Benoît Hervieu, presented five recommendations to overcome violence gainst journalists and impunity. The first is to "pay particular attention to journalists in conflict zones," he said, "and focus especially on the most vulnerable journalists that do not have the support of a formal media outlet." The second recommendation is to create a reference document to emphasize the mandate journalists are working in, in order to increase freedom of information. He also said that, in order to avoid harmful infiltration in the media -- including governmental infiltration -- journalists must develop a pluralistic approach to reporting. The third recommendation is to take into account criticism against the media, including funding and financing of it, so that there is a "real equilibrium of a more pluralistic environment," he said. The fourth recommendation was to offer specific training for the coverage of armed conflict or drug trafficking. The last suggestion was to promote a legal regime for the right to inform, through an inter-American cooperative initiative. "We need a greater deal of solidarity in our profession," said Hervieu.

Zuliana Lainez, representative of the International Federation of Journalists (FIP, in Spanish), also defended the need for cooperation between journalists. According to studies, she said, the places where violence against journalists is more prominent are also places where journalist organizations are weakest. "For the FIP, we understand that no one can have the liberty of a journalist if the journalist is working in an environment of fear and corruption," she said. Lainez pointed out that the concentration of media ownership and of public opinion are big threats to freedom of expression, as is the extermination of the labor union movement.

For Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the creation of a global impunity index has helped diminish crimes against journalists in some cases, but not in others. For example, in Russia, the initiative has helped create an international pressure from countries that are friendly to Russia and that do commerce with them, which has led the country to diminish its own impunity index. On the other hand, while in Brazil the impunity has dimished a lot and crimes have been increasingly solved and perpetuators brought to justice, the killings of journalists have not subsided. "We succeeded in raising international awareness and calling governments' attention, but not to make governments actually move against impunity," said Simon.

Ricardo Trotti focused on the role of the media in this endemic situation. According to the press freedom director of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), non-governmental organizations should help the media generate a general opinion in society, instead of having the leading role. "When something happens to a journalist, we have to talk about them like we talked about Whitney Houston, for example," he said, because then "we start breaking impunity and start justice, instead of reforming formal institutions within the countries."

This year's Austin Forum, May 20-22 in Austin, Texas, is themed "Safety and Protection for Journalists, Bloggers, and Citizen Journalists," and is organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Latin America and Media programs of the Open Society Foundations. More than just an annual conference, the Austin Forum is a network of organizations that focus on media development and training in Latin America and the Caribbean. Previous Forums have focused on such topics as Media Coverage of Migration in the Americas and Coverage of Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.