Fighting impunity with solidarity, unity, and a symbol

We will not make significant advances in the battle against crimes against journalists and the impunity surrounding them without the creation of a sense of unity and solidarity among a country’s news media and journalists. Nor will the cause advance without a strategy by international press freedom organizations to provide support for those two values.

CPJ’s 2010
Impunity Index

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Beyond the numbers

It is essential that the battle to stop journalists’ murders and end impunity have a common cause and group identity that will serve as a symbol of unification, such as has occurred in other social causes—the fight against AIDS, breast cancer, or global warming, among others.

In my 15 years working at the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) and on its Impunity Project, which was launched in 1995, I have experienced a great deal of frustration and despair. Not only because of all the violence and the 385 murders of journalists IAPA counts across Latin America in the last two decades, intensified by the absence of justice in these cases, but also because of the lack of training and professionalism and the negligence of some media outlets and journalists. Journalists in Latin America are lacking the protection, solidarity, and unity that exists among many journalists and the media in some countries. All of this weakens the profession’s defenses.

I see legislators, judges, and other state authorities as being relatively open to the influence and pressure of international groups. However, national public opinion can exert the greatest pressure on a government when it is exercised efficiently by a strong news media and press associations that are able to “sell” an idea. There are numerous examples of institutional strength and leadership in our countries for causes on behalf of freedom of the press: the Foundation for the Press Freedom (FLIP) and Andiarios in Colombia, the Association of Argentine Press Companies (ADEPA) and the Forum of Argentine Journalism (FOPEA) in Argentina, Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPyS) and the Peruvian Press Council in Peru, to name just a few groups.

I believe that in countries where this unity, solidarity, and corporate sense are lacking, as in Mexico, little is accomplished despite the huge efforts made and resources invested. Mexico is a country where a great deal can be done, but there are no strong press institutions or a corporate sense on the part of the leading media outlets that unites the will of all.

Nor is it a question of eliminating international influence and support. The need will always remain for the diverse and independent perspectives of international associations that contribute by monitoring, investigating, training, mounting awareness campaigns, creating solidarity, and placing problems before supra-governmental bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. All this is needed and complementary.

My experience in Mexico with the IAPA, after more than a dozen regional meetings among editors, publishers and reporters, and many forums and training seminars, plus constant monitoring and investigating, has proven to me that conditions are present to achieve the major goals. In the media and among journalists, there is awareness of the weaknesses and the strengths of the profession, both on the labor front with salaries and ethics. There is also awareness of the shortcomings of the government in the administration of justice, combating crime, and protecting freedom of expression. That is the diagnosis.

But what is needed now more than a diagnosis is a common strategy of loyalty to the profession and public awareness of the need to safeguard freedom of expression. We need to seek concrete alternatives when confronted by self-censorship and organized crime.

Beyond the national or regional efforts, and in an attempt to round out an idea at this 2010 Global Impunity Summit organized by the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York, I propose that we seek consensus on the creation of a symbol that helps us all identify ourselves with the cause of this battle. As an idea and starting point, I propose for consideration the creation of a white lapel ribbon with black type that contains the letters of various alphabets, with an “at” sign denoting the universality and plurality of our struggle.

Ricardo Trotti is press freedom director and Press Institute director of the Inter-American Press Association.