Citing the example of Brazilian reporters exposing a massive
corruption scheme carried out by President Fernando Collor de Mello, Simon
noted that many Latin American countries have a strong history of independent
and critical media. Despite this, however, journalists in the region are
increasingly vulnerable to both government repression and violence. Simon also highlighted CPJ's concern about the press freedom environment in a number of countries,
Simon's full testimony is below.
Testimony before the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
Committee on Foreign Affairs
United States House of Representatives
Submitted by Joel Simon
Committee to Protect Journalists
June 16, 2010
Press Freedom in the Americas
I would like to commend Chairman Engel and the members of
the House Subcommittee on the
I originally joined CPJ in 1998 as the
What I have seen during more than a decade at CPJ is that
while democracy has become firmly entrenched in much of
A decade ago, the Latin American region was experiencing a
rapid expansion of press freedom including a series of “Watergate”-style
reports that rocked governments in several countries. Through their aggressive
reporting on a massive corruption scheme carried out by President Fernando
Collor de Mello, Brazilian journalists helped bring down a government. In
Governments in many parts of the region responded not by putting in place institutional safeguards to protect the media’s watchdog role, but rather by taking note of the growing power of the media and finding new strategies to retain the upper hand.
Today, we are going to hear from witnesses from two
CPJ published a report last July outlining the way in which
President Daniel Ortega of
While in some countries in the region journalists face
government harassment, in others the problem is government neglect.
In October 2006,
CPJ is calling on the Mexican government to enact laws making it a federal offense to use violence to limit the right to freedom of expression. President Calderón told us in a meeting in June 2008 that he would support a federal approach, but so far legislation has not been enacted.
In fact, impunity is a terrible threat to press freedom, not
Yet, even as the violence against the press has diminished
Finally, I would like to talk about
Efforts by the
A consistent and principled position in defense of press
freedom and freedom of expression is rooted in
Press freedom issues by country
- Mexico has become one of world’s most dangerous countries for the press. More than 30 reporters and media support workers have been killed or disappeared since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006, CPJ research shows.
- Besides those who were murdered or have vanished, dozens of journalists have been attacked, kidnapped, or forced into exile in connection with their coverage of crime and corruption.
- Reporters covering the drug trade are often targeted by powerful criminal drug cartels, which are frequently working in complicity with corrupt officials. Collusion between authorities and drug gangs is so pervasive that it undermines justice and creates the perception that the system is controlled by the criminal groups.
- CPJ has documented an increasing number of assaults committed by federal forces since the federal government deployed thousands of troops and federal police to combat organized crime in December 2006.
- Lethal violence is producing a devastating effect on the media as scores of reporters and media are increasingly indulging in self-censorship in vast areas of the country.
- Violence by organized crime has decimated investigative journalism. Reporting on basic information about criminal activities also place journalists at direct risk.
- Impunity is the norm in crimes against the press. Mexico’s overburdened criminal justice system has failed to prosecute more than 90 percent of press freedom-related crimes, CPJ research shows, perpetuating a climate of fear and intimidation in which unsolved attacks become the norm.
- The failure to prosecute journalists’ murders has made Mexico the ninth worst country in the world on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of the population. Mexico’s low ranking puts it among conflict-ravaged countries as Iraq and Somalia.
- CPJ and other international and domestic press groups believe that the federal government must intervene more forcefully to address this national problem, and assume its responsibility for guaranteeing the right of free expression enshrined in articles 6 and 7 of the Mexican Constitution.
- Illegal espionage is one of the most serious threats against press freedom in Colombia. Since 2004, national intelligence agents have subjected journalists, politicians, judges, and human rights defenders to illegal phone tapping, e-mail interception, and surveillance, CPJ research shows.
- The unlawful spying, which stretched into late 2009, was carried out by the national intelligence agency, known as DAS, which operates under direct supervision of the Colombian president.
- Officials have spied on critical journalists sand international human rights groups, including CPJ. Thousands of e-mails and telephone conversations were intercepted. The country’s most prominent journalists were among those monitored.
- Journalists are since taking steps to prevent their phones calls are not intercepted or their emails hacked. Sensitive issues are not discussed on telephone conversations or emails.
- Confidential sources, which are becoming more reluctant to talk to the press, are endangered as a result of illegal spying.
- Illegal spying is not restricted only to Colombia. It also a represents a challenge to press freedom in countries like Argentina and Venezuela.
- While lethal violence against the press has subsided in the last five years, four journalists have been killed since 2009, at least two of them in direct reprisal for their work. Provincial journalists continue to face harassment from all sides of Colombia’s five-decade-long civil conflict.
- The Venezuelan government is engaged in a systematic campaign of harassment against critical media outlets in an attempt to stifle dissent and control the flow of information.
- In the past few months, President Hugo Chávez Frías and his government have intensified their years-long crackdown on the private media, according to CPJ research.
- Guillermo Zuloaga, president of the private television network Globovisión, was arrested in late March after being accused of spreading false news and offending Chávez in remarks made during a meeting of the Inter American Press Association. He was released a few hours later, but has been barred from leaving Venezuela and, if convicted, could be sentenced to five years in jail under archaic provisions of the country’s penal code. On June 11, authorities issued an arrest warrant for Zuloaga and his son, based on a usury and conspiracy accusation.
- In January, Venezuelan regulators ordered cable and satellite operators to stop carrying RCTV International, one of the country’s best known broadcasters, alleging that the broadcaster violated a requirement to air President Hugo Chávez’s speeches. RCTV has been operating as a paid subscription channel since July 16, 2007, after the government pulled the station from public airwaves in May of that year.
- Arbitrary decisions stripped more than 30 private radio stations of their licenses in late 2009.
- Globovisión, known for its harsh criticism of the Venezuelan government, has been the target of continued government harassment. Venezuelan regulators have opened five investigations against the private broadcaster that could end with the revocation of its license.
- In August 2009, a group of more than 30 armed pro-government militants stormed the premises of Globovisión and set off tear gas and injured a police and two employees.
- Journalists and free press advocates who express viewpoints that oppose the government have been the target of unfounded accusations of media terrorism, incitement of violence, and working for a foreign power to discredit Venezuela.
- With 22 reporters and editors in jail, Cuba is the third-worst jailer of journalists in the world after Iran and China. These imprisoned journalists are often held in inhumane conditions, deprived of wholesome food and adequate medical care. Their health is worsening, and their families are harassed by authorities, CPJ research shows.
- Most of the jailed journalists were imprisoned on March 18-20, 2003, when Cuban state agents arrested 75 dissidents, including 29 journalists, in a roundup known as the Black Spring. Within weeks, authorities held summary trials and sentenced these journalists to prison terms of up to 28 years on vague antistate charges connected to their reporting.
- Over the past seven years, Cuba has freed a small number of journalists in exchange for international political concessions, but it has released none since February 2008, CPJ research shows.
- A lively blogging culture has emerged on the island in the last three years, despite Havana’s attempts to control the Internet. Some bloggers are examining controversial subjects considered off-limits by the mainstream media, like official corruption and human rights abuses, a risky enterprise considering that the majority of imprisoned Cuban journalists were targeted for work distributed online.
- In a country where the government has complete control of the media, independent journalists working for foreign-based news Web sites are routinely threatened and harassed by security police. Laws and regulations restricting Internet access continue to be among the most repressive in the world.