IAPA launches competition for media seeking digital solutions, among other new initiatives to combat impunity and improve press freedom

With three new initiatives, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) seeks to innovate its work focused on combating impunity in crimes against journalists, monitoring the state of freedom of expression and of the press in the region and supporting its partner media in the digital transformation of the journalism industry.

With "Immortal Pencils" the organization seeks to raise awareness about the high levels of impunity in crimes against journalists. A mission that has been part of the organization for 25 years, as Ricardo Trotti, executive director of the IAPA, explained to LatAm Journalism Review (LJR).

“Immortal Pencils is based on an idea of the IAPA to combat impunity that surrounds crimes against journalists, a concern of this institution for the last 25 years when the first project Crimes Without Punishment Against Journalists was created. At that time, what the IAPA did was investigate crimes that went unpunished, and those investigations […] over the years we came to present to the [Inter-American Commission on Human Rights] more than 30 crimes against journalists,” Trotti said. “We have succeeded with many issues in all countries, from the escalation of penalties for criminals to the federalization of crimes in countries like Mexico, also the creation of special prosecutors to investigate crimes against journalists.”

Immortal Pencils from IAPA

Immortal Pencils from IAPA

The other part of this work, according to Trotti, is to raise awareness in both the international community and the general public. For this reason, with the help of the agency Zubi Advertising, they created the recent campaign that began by identifying three emblematic cases of murders of journalists in the region. These were the killings of Irma Flaquer, from Guatemala; Carlos Lajud Catalán, from Colombia; and Alfredo Jiménez Mota, from Mexico.

With the journalists' relatives, they searched for objects that had belonged to the reporters so that a Miami laboratory could extract their DNA. Later, a pencil factory in El Salvador incorporated the journalists' DNA in the pencil lead. On the side of each pencil, you can see in whose memory it was created.

"I am very proud that my son is taken into account after so many years, after 15 years because here the local and national media seem to have already forgotten him," José Alfredo Jiménez, Alfredo's father, told LJR. “Every year we remember him, every April 2 the same journalists, his colleagues, made a monument as a reminder for each year to commemorate his disappearance. It is the only event that is held in memory of my son. Now that Ricardo [Trotti] told me what they wanted to do, I felt very proud that his journalistic career is internationally known, that he is remembered by means of a pencil that bears his DNA.”

Jiménez recalled that although his son never received death threats, he did receive warnings from people allegedly linked to organized crime. Alfredo Jiménez disappeared at dawn on April 2, 2005 and although his case has been investigated at the federal level, there has been no major progress, not even any detainees, Jiménez explained.

“This I would say is the campaign with the greatest impact,” Trotti said. “We have hundreds and hundreds that we are going to send to governments, the idea is to present them to governments where we want to exert pressure, for changes so that there is justice. Also intergovernmental organizations such as the OAS, the IDB, UNESCO, a little so that there is awareness of the issue. And we believe that these pencils that have a very strong and impactful symbolism can help.”

Trotti highlighted that the presidents of the Dominican Republic and Panama signed the Declarations of Chapultepec and Salta with these pencils at the IAPA’s last Assembly.

The campaign, which also consists of visuals, has been reproduced in various print media in the region, and there will also be billboards in at least eight U.S. cities.

According to Trotti, they hope to further promote their Immortal Pencils campaign for Nov. 2 – International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

An index to achieve change

For the IAPA, measuring freedom of expression and of the press in the region has always been an objective and part of its mission. In fact, the organization publishes quarterly reports produced by the regional rapporteurs or vice presidents it has in each country.

However, with the Chapultepec Index, the IAPA seeks “to have a different appreciation. I would say a little more scientific and academic about how freedoms of expression and of the press are affected by the public powers in each of the countries. And according to various dimensions,” Trotti said.

The four dimensions that are measured are “informed citizens and freedom of expression,” “violence and impunity,” “media control” and “exercise of journalism.”

Chapultepec Index IAPA

The first Chapultepec Index was launched during the IAPA General Assembly.

“What we are dealing with with the Chapultepec Index, although the easiest reading is always to see an index, a country ranking, in reality what the IAPA wants is for each country to be able to look at itself as if it were a mirror, and therefore there is SWOT [Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats] analysis in each of the countries about the things, the opportunities they have to improve the situation of freedom of the press and expression, and the weaknesses they have and how to overcome them are pointed out,” Trotti said.

“The idea is that in the coming years, when we develop the index, a country can measure itself and compare itself over the years. That is the main objective. And obviously with the idea that there are public policy reforms so that the situation of press freedom improves.”

To develop the index, the IAPA chose the Andrés Bello Catholic University of Venezuela as its partner, but it also has the support of Grupo Sura and Fundación Bolívar – both from Colombia – as well as Edward and Karen Seaton from the United States. The tool to create the index was worked on for a year and a half, and the first measurements were published during the recent Assembly. For this first index, the four dimensions were evaluated in 22 countries of the American continent from May 2019 to April 2020.

“Practically what remains in evidence is the strong prevalence of the executive branch against press freedom in all countries, in most countries," Trotti said.

For now the project has a duration of three years, but they hope to be able to maintain the index. “We will continue as long as we have the support of these companies. I think everyone is going to agree that this is a very good tool for building democracy,” Trotti added.

A challenge to boost the newspaper industry

Aware of the challenges faced by media to keep up with the digital transformation of the journalism industry, the organization will soon launch the IAPA-Rockstar Challenge that seeks to connect media outlets’ problems with the world of startups that can offer technological solutions.

“Rockstar is the company we have chosen to unite these two worlds of media and startups so that they can work together seeking solutions and providing new technological tools to media so that they can have greater tools for their digital transformation, which is a bit of the challenge for media at this time,” Trotti said.

Rockstar is a project accelerator and incubator created in the Netherlands that is expert in challenges of this type. However, they had not worked on media-related issues so far, Trotti explained.

Currently, Rockstar Colombia analyzes the problems that were submitted by IAPA partner media in order to contact those technology startups and investors from Latin America who have the solutions and who wish to work with media.

Trotti estimates that the call will be officially launched next month and 12 projects will be chosen that seek to respond to some of the most common problems faced by media such as content monetization, advertising, digital subscriptions, new forms of management, among others. The chosen projects will spend a period of six months with these startups receiving mentoring as well as suggestions of connections with possible partners, investors, among others.

"Some new projects are expected to be installed by April," Trotti said. "And in the course of these six months, the idea is that everything will be made public so that media can find ways and technological solutions to problems." Trotti added that the chosen media must agree to publish the solutions so that they benefit the entire industry and not just one particular outlet.

All kinds of media – radio, print, digital natives, television – will be able to participate. However, the IAPA would like to help "small and medium-sized media that have the greatest problems and those that sometimes need more resources because they do not even have the financial resources to be able to work on these issues," according to Trotti.

"[The competition is] focused on detecting the needs of those media that are most vulnerable in economic, technological matters, etc. and that are sometimes more local media than large media that may have national distribution," he added.

The three initiatives were launched during the 76th IAPA General Assembly that took place virtually from Oct. 21 to 23.