New York, October 25, 2000 --- In an apparent move to limit television coverage of anti-government demonstrations in Lima, the Peruvian Air Force has imposed flight restrictions that effectively bar news stations from flying helicopters over the capital.
On September 14, according to local press reports and sources contacted by CPJ, the government abruptly declared an expanded no-fly zone over downtown Lima. Previously, only the presidential palace and certain military zones were off limits, but the new no-fly zone covers most of Lima's historic district, where the demonstrations are taking place.
The new policy particularly affects the Lima-based cable news station Canal N, which was launched just over a year ago by the owners of the daily El Comercio. Canal N is one of only a few Peruvian media that have dared to criticize the government of President Alberto Fujimori.
"Given that President Fujimori has consistently misused the powers of his office to stifle the work of the press, we can only interpret the latest flight restrictions as an attempt to limit coverage of an embarrassing story," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.
Last July, Canal N acquired a helicopter for traffic reporting and other routine news coverage. The helicopter has also been used to film opposition demonstrations.
On July 24, the Defense Command of the Peruvian Air Force (FAP) banned all civilian aircraft flights below 9000 feet over Lima from July 25 to July 29. The FAP described the move as a safety measure designed to facilitate Air Force training flights before a July 29 military parade in Lima. The Peruvian opposition, however, viewed the measure as an attempt to ban aerial coverage of massive opposition rallies protesting President Fujimori's July 28 swearing-in to a controversial third term in office.
Canal N has questioned the timing of the latest restrictions and suggested they were intended to restrict press coverage of anti-government protests that followed the September downfall of powerful presidential advisor Vladimiro Montesinos.
Montesinos was Fujimori's chief of intelligence and right-hand man until last month, when he fled the country in disgrace after Canal N aired video footage that showed him apparently bribing a former opposition member who later switched to the ruling coalition. On September 16, President Fujimori announced the dismantling of the Montesinos-led National Intelligence Service (SIN), promised early presidential and parliamentary elections, and announced that he himself would not be a candidate.
This week, new demonstrations broke out in reaction to Montesinos' sudden return to Peru from exile in Panama.
In an October 18 letter that was sent to the presidential press office and quoted in El Comercio, Canal N director Gilberto Hume requested that the flight restrictions be lifted. "If these restrictions are maintained, it will confirm that the decision is based on political criteria, which is an attack against freedom of the press," Hume wrote.