THE PRESS: 2010
• Main Index
• In Latin America,
A Return of Censorship
• United States
• Other nations
In October, President Evo Morales signed a measure named the Law Against Racism and All Other Forms of Discrimination. Under Article 16 of the law, “any media outlet that endorses or publishes racist or discriminatory ideas will be liable to economic sanctions and the suspension of its operating license.” Article 23 stipulates that individual journalists and media owners seen as spreading such ideas face a prison sentence of one to five years and “will not be able to claim immunity or any other privilege.” CPJ sent a letter to the president expressing concern that vague language in the two articles could be used to punish legitimate journalism and may promote self-censorship in the press.
Canadian authorities interrogated, beat, and denied entry to journalists intending to cover the Olympic Games and the G-20 summit of world leaders. Police struck Jesse Rosenfeld, a contributor to London’s Guardian newspaper, in the stomach and back as they forced him to the ground in Toronto where he was covering a demonstration related to the G-20 summit. John Weston Osburn, a Salt Lake City freelance journalist with the U.S. news organization Indymedia, was interrogated and denied entry by Canadian border authorities on February 9 due to a past U.S. conviction for a misdemeanor, according to news reports. He was on his way to cover protests related to the Olympic Games. A second journalist, Martin Macias Jr., a contributor to the online news outlet Vocalo, was detained and questioned for two hours on February 6, before being turned away and put on a plane to Seattle, according to The Huffington Post. Macias was planning to attend a press conference by the Olympic Resistance Network, a group critical of the games.
Chilean police arrested freelance reporter Marcelo Garay Vergara in Santiago on September 11 as he left his house for an assignment, news reports said. Officers alleged that Garay did not comply with a court summons issued in a pending criminal case. The journalist told local reporters that he was never notified of the summons. In 2009, he was accused under the Chilean Penal Code of taking pictures on private property to illustrate an investigative report on the long-standing conflict between the Chilean government and the Mapuche, the country’s largest indigenous group, according to news accounts. The journalist was reportedly released a day after the arrest.
The Supreme Court struck down prison terms for defamation in a landmark decision made public in February 2010. The court issued the ruling in a case against José Luis Jiménez Robleto, a reporter with the San José-daily Diario Extra, who was charged with defamation after publishing a news story on alleged embezzlement. The journalist was sentenced in March 2004 to 50 days in prison based on the anachronistic 1902 press law. His conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court.
In September, the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Salvadoran Penal Code that exempted news outlets and journalists from criminal sanctions in defamation cases involving government officials. The Organization of American States’ special rapporteur for freedom of expression raised concerns over the court’s decision, saying the provisions were an important protection for freedom of expression.
Two unidentified assailants threatened investigative reporter Marvin del Cid Acevedo and stole two computers from his home, the journalist told CPJ. The assailants broke into del Cid’s home around 10:30 a.m. on June 25, stole the equipment, and left a message written on a mirror saying, “You will die.” Shortly before the attack, he had received several anonymous phone calls that aggressively questioned his reporting, he said. An investigative reporter for Guatemalan newspaper elPeriódico, del Cid had recently written about a local official, accusing him of involvement in human trafficking and influence-peddling. In another attack on September 28, unidentified individuals broke into the journalist’s home, stealing his computer and files related to his investigations, elPeriódico reported. The second attack took place shortly after del Cid had investigated stories on drug trafficking and government corruption, the paper said.
Veteran journalist Carlos Núñez López was jailed on June 26 on a 2008 defamation conviction. The charges against him stemmed from a 2005 story in the now-defunct newspaper La Crónica about environmental damage in the province of Bocas del Toro. A landowner alleged that his reputation had been damaged by the article. A court of appeals upheld a one-year prison term in 2008, but the journalist was never notified by his lawyers at the time, according to his current counsel, Luis Ferreyra. A court in Panama City turned the prison term into a nominal fine and released Núñez on July 14, the Panamanian daily La Prensa reported.
An appeals court convicted two TV journalists of criminal defamation and banned them from professional work for one year. The case stemmed from a 2005 story, aired by the national broadcaster TVN Canal 2, alleging that Panamanian immigration officials took part in human trafficking. Two officials named in the article filed charges against Sabrina Bacal, the station’s news director, and Justino González, the reporter on the story. In separate rulings early in the year, two lower courts dismissed the charges against the reporters, Bacal told CPJ. The appeals court also ordered them to pay a US$3,650 fine or be subjected to a one-year suspended prison term. Soon after the ruling was made public on October 4, President Ricardo Martinelli offered both reporters a full pardon, according to a government statement. The pardon went into effect on October 7.
Gabriel Bustamante, correspondent for the daily La Nación and a reporter with local radio FM Ayolas, was assaulted and beaten by a local official’s brothers, who demanded that he stop reporting on their relative, the reporter told CPJ. An individual identified as Francisco Vera broke into FM Ayolas on July 22 as the journalist was hosting his daily news show. The prosecutor’s office issued an arrest warrant for Vera, who was believed to have left the country after the attack, Bustamante said. Two days later, an armed individual identified as Valentín Vera threatened the journalist. Vera was reportedly arrested later that day. Both the gunman and the first attacker were brothers of Isidro Vera, an official at the government-owned power station Yaciretá. Bustamante had aired harsh critiques of Vera’s office before the attack.
Alejandro Carrascal Carrasco, editor of the Bagua-based newspaper Nor Oriente, was jailed on January 12 after a court in Utcubamba province sentenced him to one year in prison on defamation charges. Carrascal wrote a series of articles in 2005 alleging corruption in a local public school. Victor Feria, former director of the school, filed a defamation suit against the journalist, according to local news reports. On June 18, Peru’s Supreme Court overturned the Utcubamba court’s decision and freed the journalist.
A judge in San Lorenzo sentenced radio journalist Oswaldo Pereyra Moreno on June 9 to one year in prison on criminal defamation charges. Pereyra, a host for San Lorenzo-based Radio Macarena, broadcast a report in 2009 about an abortion allegedly given to an unnamed 14-year-old girl in a local pharmacy. The girl’s stepfather, who was named on the show, filed a complaint against the reporter, alleging that his reputation had been damaged. A court of appeals voided the lower court’s decision on procedural grounds and released Pereyra on July 7. Charges remained intact, however, and the case was pending in late year.