During 2021, a year of presidential and congressional elections and the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the press suffered 105 attacks in the Peruvian capital, Lima, out of a total of 206 attacks throughout the country, according to the report of press freedom attacks by the National Association of Journalists of Peru (ANP, by its Spanish acronym).
Although the number of attacks on journalists nationwide decreased, compared to the 239 recorded by the ANP during 2020, the capital city experienced a record increase.
Nationwide, the three most frequent types of attacks against journalists were threats and harassment (61), physical and verbal aggression (58), and judicial intimidation (31). The organization also documented 15 cyberattacks, 15 cases of stigmatizing speech, 14 obstacles to information, nine job losses or layoffs, two arrests, and one robbery.
The main aggressors were individuals and groups from civil society and State officials, according to the report.
The president of the ANP, Zuliana Lainez, said in an interview with LatAm Journalism Review (LJR), that the three contexts that journalists in the country have had to cover during 2021 have been very complex. According to Lainez, these are: the pandemic; the tension between law enforcement and the press, due in part to restrictions during the first year of the pandemic; and the general elections at a time of social polarization.
The phenomenon of social polarization and disinformation that is exacerbated in the context of the pandemic is a global phenomenon that also affects Peruvians in their current political situation.
"We are living, at the regional and global level, social scenarios with significant tensions due to the actions of groups, many of them from the extreme right, who stigmatize the work of the press that is uncomfortable for them," said Lainez.
This is in addition to media concentration, which in the case of a particular media group reaches 80% in the country and significantly influences public opinion, Lainez said.
Lainez said the journalistic crisis that Peru experienced during the 2021 electoral year was the second most critical moment for journalism in Peru's recent history. The first moment, she argued, was when the Fujimori regime fell after the publication of the "Vladivideos" in 2000. Public's confidence in the press was greatly affected, and rebuilding it was very hard work, Lainez said.
In the vladivideos, as in the videos made by Vladimiro Montesinos, the then presidential adviser to Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), the owners of the then main Peruvian media were seen parading through the little room of the National Intelligence System (SIN) during the 1990s, and receiving large amounts of cash from Montesinos, in exchange for editorial favors from media that were positive for the government.
"And as was the case in [the context of] the 90s and it’s happening now, media owners’ behavior has been terrible."
In the 2021 elections, the editorials on presidential candidates appeared not only in the opinion columns, but were also included in the news section, Lainez said. In this sense, she pointed out, there was a symbiosis between the advance of ultra-conservative groups and the behavior of a concentrated press.
"It’s an attack on a basic principle of journalism, to break the balance of information," Lainez said.
The Ethics Court of the Peruvian Press Council determined in June 2021 that the main TV channels and newspapers in the country –of the largest media conglomerate– violated its guiding principles during the 2021 electoral coverage, "seriously affecting freedom of expression."
Another point that stands out in the report is the lack of a protection mechanism for journalists like the one in Mexico or Colombia. The only thing that exists in Peru, and that has been applied since 2021 through the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, is a mechanism for human rights defenders.
This mechanism includes journalists, leaders of indigenous communities, human rights activists, among others, in the protected group, as determined by the Ombudsman's Office in 2020. “It is a protocol that perhaps intends to follow in line with what’s in the region, the best known mechanisms in Latin America, ” Lainez said.
"For over five years we’ve been asking the different interior ministers who have passed through that office to sit down to speak, journalists and the National Police of Peru, in a timely manner, to seek a path of understanding," Lainez said. In 2019, ANP managed to talk with one of the ministers in charge and they agreed to schedule a first work meeting that never materialized, she added.
The protection mechanisms for journalists are a responsibility of the State, not only of the media, employers, and journalists themselves, the ANP points out in its report.
Another highlight of the report is that a majority of journalists attacked were men, with 115 cases, compared to 55 attacks on women journalists.
In newsrooms, "a macho culture still prevails," Lainez said, despite the fact that there is a large female population studying journalism, she added.
"Let us bear in mind that there is no longer a glass ceiling, there is a concrete ceiling. That is, women as heads of media outlets do not even reach 25% in Peru. The bosses, who most of the time are men, when it relates to social protest, they prioritize sending men to cover that,”Lainez said. She also noted that, in general, access to employment at the national level is also unfavorable in terms of gender.
2022 does not paint a more promising picture for the Peruvian press, as it will be another year of elections, this time for local and regional authorities.
“The polarization exists and continues to deepen. There is always the threat of a potential destitution of the President and the president, who harbors animosity against the concentrated press because of everything that happened during the campaign, is not helpful either when it comes to issues of transparency and access to information," Lainez said.