Largest ever Austin Forum ends with suggestions for practical measures for protecting journalists, fighting impunity

Beyond recognizing the serious crisis of safety and security for journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean, the 10th annual Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas, held May 20-22 in Austin, Texas, served as a platform to launch ideas about how to solve the problem of insecurity. The largest ever Forum, with more than 70 participants representing the Caribbean and most countries in the Americas, was themed "Safety and Protection for Journalists, Bloggers, and Citizen Journalists."

As the Forum came to a close, the precariousness of journalists' situations -- especially in particularly dangerous countries like Mexico, Honduras, and Brazil -- came to the forefront as former Veracruz reporter and photographer Miguel Angel Lopez Solana pleaded for help for his Mexican colleagues, and announced that he and his wife are seeking political asylum in the United States. His father and brother, also both journalists, along with his mother were killed by unidentified gunmen in 2011.

"We are living in terror," Lopez Salana told the other Forum participants.

Throughout the Forum, numerous practical measures to be undertaken emerged during panel discussions. For example, participants suggested a review of existing protective mechanisms and the creation of security protocols where they don’t exist; a better articulation between press freedom organizations to see what can be more effective than the traditional alerts denouncing attacks against the press -- such as the role social media can play; and the creation or strengthening of local organizations or networks of journalists that can be mobilized in emergency situations.

Participants also said concrete actions must be taken to make civil society aware of the security problems journalists are facing so that they can offer support and pressure governments to take action and reduce impunity. For example, participants highlighted the need to defend the work of the freedom of expression rapporteurs for the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), noting in particular the need to support OAS rapporteur Catalina Botero who is under attack from the Ecuadoran government. The campaign against Botero, and freedom of expression in general, has escalated in recent days. Participants of the Austin Forum talked about the urgent need to defend the Freedom of Expression’s Rapporteur’s Office and the Inter American Commission of Human Rights.

It also became clear during the Forum that journalists are in need of training on cyber security, as the meeting discussion indicated that most of the journalists present were unaware of the vulnerability of their digital activities, from email to cell phone communications.

What's more, participants highlighted the need for an increased awareness of how trauma and stress impact not only the journalist personally, but also the toll trauma can take on press freedom as journalists suffering from stress and trauma are silenced.

This Austin Forum 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.

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