American press get-together discusses press repression
The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) devoted the entire day to
its semi-annual "country-by-country reports" in which publishers and
editors from around the hemisphere describe the most recent advances --
or setbacks -- of press freedom in their nations. It wasn't a very positive picture.
IAPA Notebook: Soft Repression, A Chilling Moment Of Silence -- and Chavez Barks Back
CHICAGO Sunday, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) devoted the entire day to its semi-annual "country-by-country reports" in which publishers and editors from around the hemisphere describe the most recent advances -- or setbacks -- of press freedom in their nations.
It is never a pretty picture. And the litany of grievous sins against journalists and the society they serve that IAPA heard Sunday at the Intercontinental hotel in Miami was, if anything, more disheartening than usual.
This is how horrific is the unchecked violence narcotics traffickers are loosing on journalists in Mexico: the director of El Tiempo in Bogota, Colombia was moved to call the report "chilling" -- this from someone who has lost numerous colleagues to murder and exile at the hands of guerillas and right-wing death squads, and whose own brother was kidnapped for months by drug cartel boss Pablo Escobar.
In Mexico, not only were three journalists murdered at the hands of what almost certainly were drug traffickers, but three circulation workers were slaughtered on a highway just this month, presumably by a narcotics ring angry at the coverage by their newspaper, La Imparcial in the state of Oaxaca.
Country after country, though, had their own horror stories of self-censorship enforced by fear of violence, of government pressure exercised by unfair laws or frenzied mobs of supporters, and of journalists locked up for besmirching the "honor" of some notable by truthful reporting.
But it was good to be reminded now and again that oppression of the press can glove its iron hand in velvet, too. That's what Claudio Paolillo, director of the Montevideo weekly Busqueda, did with his report on the state of press freedom in Uruguay the last six months.
"In Uruguay there are no narcotics traffickers targeting journalists," he said. "There are no death threats from guerillas, nor reprisals from paramilitaries." There are no leaders spouting off at the press like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or his new acolytes such as Bolivian President Evo Morales or Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.
"However, the press is under a very subtle threat," Paolillo said.
Government advertising, an important source of newspaper income throughout Latin America, never goes to papers critical of the administration of Tabare Ramon Vazquez Rosas, he said. Paolillo played a video showing the director of the agency that doles out government ads as saying -- even as he professed his "profound" respect for freedom of the press -- that it "would be absurd to put (government) advertising next to a newspaper page or on a Web site" that "lied" about the administration.
The nation's vice president, Rodolfo Nin Novoa, was also shown suggesting in a backhanded way that the press was unpatriotic.
"This is not to say that attacking the government is attacking the nation, no, not at all," he said. But he goes on to say that "damage to the government is, in some instances, damage to the nation."
"Please take note of the soft tone," Paolillo said in introducing the clip.
Ruling party legislators have praised Chavez's hostile posture towards the press, even suggesting that his shutdown of Radio Caracas Television, an action condemned universally by press freedom advocates, was "something that could be applied to Uruguay," Paolillo reported.
It's the kind of soft authoritarianism that doesn't make for sensational headlines, but it should chill us nonetheless.
A MOMENT OF SILENCE HITS HOME
One of the saddest parts of any IAPA meeting is when, at the conclusion of the report on impunity, the names of journalists murdered because of their work during the last six months is read. All attendees stand in silence in their honor.
This time, a name from the United States was on that list. Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, the publisher of the Mexico City daily El Universal who heads IAPA's impunity committee, stumbled a little on the unfamiliar name, but it brought a shock of recognition to U.S. journalists that one of ours had been assassinated for his work, like the many killed covering narcotic traffickers in Mexico, or corrupt officials in Peru, or paramilitaries in Colombia.
Shot and killed in broad daylights on the streets of Oakland, California, where he was editor of the Oakland Post. He was on his way to breakfast on Aug. 2. His accused killer was a 19-year-old who worked in the Your Muslim Bakery business/sect that Bailey had been investigating.
CHAVEZ GOVERNMENT: US CENSOR? PERISH THE THOUGHT!
President Hugo Chavez's regime -- which last year didn't bother to wait to hear what IAPA had to say about the condition of press freedom in Venezuela -- wasted no time in reacting to the group's charges Saturday that the government is behind the sudden hotel cancellations that threaten plans to hold next March's mid-year meeting in the self-declared home of Bolivarian socialism.
In a Saturday press conference, IAPA leaders vowed to meet in Venezuela -- even if they had to camp out in journalists home -- and essentially dared the Chavez government to stop them coming by denying visas. http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/...
Venezuela's top government spokesman, Willian Lara, denied the government had pressured any hotel to back out of hosting the mid-year meeting. IAPA Executive Director Julio Munoz said Saturday that one hotel owner said he feared the property would be "confiscated" if he allowed the group to stay there.
"The only ones imposing censorship in Venezuela are the capitalists of the press, members of the Inter-American Society of Exploiters of Journalists (SIEP), that have converted their dailies, their radio newscasts, their television stations and their Internet sites into apparatuses of propaganda to harm the Bolivarian democracy with the systematic use of defamatory lies (and) vilification, injuring the nation without ceasing, as can be seen with the newest aggression," Lara said in a statement released by the Ministry of People's Power for Communication and Information.
The SIEP reference puns on SIP, the acronym for the association's name in Spanish, Sociedad Interamericano de Prensa.
DE MIAMI NO HAY OTRA
Judging by the questions he was getting from editors and publishers from the U.S. and Argentina, Roberto Rock, vice president and editorial director of El Universal in Mexico City, was trying Sunday without too much success to make IAPA delegates understand how a proposed federal election law would compromise press liberty.
"It's a little hard for a non-Mexican to understand," he said at one point. It recalled the wonderful Mexican phrase, "De Mexico, no hay otra." There's nothing like Mexico.
But maybe Miami comes close. In an America that can for all its diversity seem the same in El Monte, Calif. as East Rutherford, N.J., Miami is the kind of place where my wife Lyn and I could have lunch at a Salvadoran restaurant in the Little Havana neighborhood, then drive to an art fair held well outside the city at the Doral Park Country Club among the gated communities of that distant suburb -- and still be among the few couples conversing in English.
That certain feeling that Miami is somehow somewhere else even showed up in the odd sign posted by an escalator in the elegant Intercontinental where IAPA is meeting. The warning was nothing I'd seen anywhere else:
"Ladies, please lift your skirts clear of the escalator to avoid damage."
De Miami, no hay otra.