Maria Moors Cabot Prizes Board condemns criminalization of independent journalism in Latin America

The board for the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes, the world's oldest international journalism awards given by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, condemned the criminalization of independent journalism in Latin America, according to a statement published May 13. 

The board specifically highlighted the cases of persecution against Gustavo Gorriti, from Peru; José Rubén Zamora, from Guatemala; and the Venezuelan investigative journalism organization Armando.info. 

Gorriti, journalist and founder of IDL Reporteros, a non-profit investigative journalism website in Peru, has been singled out for investigating alleged political corruption in Peru linked to Brazilian construction company Odebrecht 

The Peruvian journalist previously was awarded the Maria Moors Cabot Gold Medal in 1992 and has also served on the awards’ board. 

"Gorriti is the target of a smear campaign and a criminal investigation in Peru. His crime? To practice independent, public interest investigative journalism, exposing corrupt politicians. These same politicians are now making unfounded accusations and demanding that Gorriti reveal his sources, with the implicit threat of imprisonment if he does not," the Cabot Prize board said in the statement. "The Peruvian State should not allow its judicial system to be used against independent, investigative journalism.” 

The statement also called attention to Guatemalan journalist and owner of elPeriódico, José Rubén Zamora, who has been in prison for almost two years despite the fact that his conviction for money laundering was overturned and that numerous international organizations have pointed out violations in his case.

Zamora was a Cabot medalist in 1995. The prizes' board said in 2022 that his arrest appeared to be part of a pattern of deteriorating human rights conditions in Guatemala.

"International human rights and press freedom organizations have condemned [Zamora's case] as revenge for reporting on government corruption," according to the statement.

In addition to naming the two individual journalists, the board also highlighted the persecution against Venezuela’s Armando.info team, which was accused by that country's Attorney General of allegedly receiving bribes and being involved in a corruption scheme. The accusation comes just days before the PBS program Frontline is set to air a documentary co-produced by Armando.info about corruption and the cost of independent journalism in Venezuela.

Armando.info received a Cabot Special Citation in 2019. According to the prizes’ board, this accusation against the team is "clumsy, nonsensical" and the board, comprised of journalists and educators, stands in solidarity with all its medalists, concluding that "journalism is not a crime."