OAS special rapporteur warns of backsliding press freedoms in the region

Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Catalina Botero came out against proposed reforms that would limit the power and function of the Inter-American Human Rights System and would affect the defense of freedom of expression in the region, according to the Guatemalan organization Cerigua.

Last June, the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela proposed decreasing funding for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and creating a code of conduct to regulate special rapporteurs, including consulting member countries before releasing reports or cautionary measures.

President and director of the Mexican newspaper El Universal, Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, warned that some Latin American governments sought to cripple the OAS' work, including the protection of freedom of expression, according to the newspaper El País de Uruguay.

"We can't turn our backs on this challenge that threatens us all. It's necessary that we all have a clear and strong position to confront this risk," Ealy said. The director also presides over the Group of American Newspapers (GDA in Spanish), which is comprised of the 11 most important newspaper in the continent.

Botero participated in the seminar Challenges of Accountability in Latin America and in a GDA meeting. Both events took place in Mexico City where Botero spoke about the threats to freedom of expression from organized crime and corruption in the region, according to the newspaper El Economista.

"The commission is studying [the proposals], the States are studying them, what I hope is that in the debate the governments return to the basics and do not allow a weakening of the Human Rights System," Botero said, according to the Mexican newspaper El Universal.

Botero also warned that freedom of expression is sliding backwards in Latin America with some governments using prison sentences to indirectly censor the press along with withholding government advertising dollars to punish critical and independent media. Furthermore, half the countries in Latin America do not have sunshine laws, according to the newspaper Diario de Coahuila.

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.