Freedom of Expression

Press release R112/21

On World Press Freedom Day, the Office of the Special Rapporteur presents its 2020 Annual Report and reaffirms its commitment to support journalism in the hemisphere.


May 3rd, 2021

Washington D.C. - On World Press Freedom Day, the Office of the Special Rapporteur salutes journalists from the Americas and reaffirms its commitment to support journalism for the centrality it has in democratic systems in the continent. The Office of the Special Rapporteur takes this opportunity to present its 2020 annual report that compiles the most relevant facts related to the situation of the right to freedom of expression in the hemisphere. Its purpose is to establish a constructive dialogue with OAS Member States that makes visible the progress reported, but also the problems and challenges faced during the period.

The COVID-19 pandemic ratified the importance of access to quality information and the essential role of journalism as work and as a method for democratic coexistence. As UNESCO recently pointed out, in times of crisis like this, information can be a matter of life and death.

Faced with the growing phenomenon of the "infodemic" that the World Health Organization warned about, which makes it difficult for people to find reliable sources and trustworthy guidance when they need it, professional journalism and particularly that which has striven for the quality of information has made an essential contribution to public understanding of an unprecedented global pandemic. Current times demand that democracies have a diverse and plural journalism offer, in constant processes of professionalization and search for excellence. Likewise, the Office of the Special Rapporteur invites the States to pay attention and provide resources for digital literacy and educational measures that contribute to an autonomous, independent, and responsible use of the contents.

The 2020 annual report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur highlights how the pandemic affected and put journalism at risk in the Americas, aggravating pre-existing challenges and problems. Many journalists and press workers lost their lives in the exercise of their profession due to COVID-19 and, in some countries, reporters lost their jobs. The pandemic also accentuated the conditions of informal employment for media workers. The economic crisis of the media in the months of quarantine triggered drastic labor measures, such as dismissals of journalists, total closure of media, or suspension of print editions. The pandemic also represented a threat to the editorial independence of the media because it increased vulnerability to economic pressures or the use of "rewards and punishments" systems, both by governments and advertisers.

Throughout 2020 some authoritarian tendencies increased in the region, which coincide with a critical moment for journalism for both security and economic sustainability reasons. Some of the countries of the hemisphere have been the scene of constant harassment and persecution by police and parapolice personnel against communicators and social leaders, who have even been literally locked in their homes by police officers that prevent them from going out to the streets to report what happens in the country. This violence deployed by the State against the press is not only physical but also legal and symbolic, and confirms the fear of the State authority of truth and dissent.

The independent press, recording and disseminating diverse facts and opinions, in contexts of serious deterioration of democratic institutions and intensification of repression, is an irreplaceable input. Journalism is designed to be exercised in accordance with democracy and human rights, as much as democracy must seek to be accompanied by professional journalism. For this Office, recovering and expanding the capacity of professional journalism is a central task of our time.

Behind these authoritarian biases that appear, serious patterns of violence and impunity for crimes against the press exist and persist in the Americas. At least 19 reporters were murdered during 2020 for reasons allegedly linked to journalism, a figure that remains within the growing trend of the last decade. In addition, threats and intimidation and stigmatizing speeches by public leaders against journalists are of special concern to the Office of the Special Rapporteur, especially those who investigate issues of high public interest such as corruption or irregularities in the management of public funds in the context of the pandemic. This type of accusation fosters a climate of hostility towards the press and contributes to self-censorship.

Additionally, the Office of the Special Rapporteur continued to receive information on a trend in the region in the use of various technologies to monitor those who demonstrate through social networks, especially affecting journalists. In addition, there was information on the activation of judicial mechanisms to violate the reserve of journalistic sources and the protection of sources and whistleblowers.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur recognizes that there is resilience in journalism in the Americas in this regard, the President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has highlighted that "Independent journalism builds memory which, like all journalists and media workers in the region, is resistant to censorship and stands up to attacks. And said memory constitutes a fundamental base for the democratization and justice demanded by todays applicable international standards". The continent and its challenges in terms of Human Rights require special protections for the work of the press.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur thanks the States, civil society organizations, and the media for the information provided during 2020, which has contributed to this annual report, the twenty-second annual report that this Office has prepared since its creation in 1997. It also aspires that this document can be useful for all those actors who seek to analyze and deepen the different regional problems on freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

To access the full 2020 Annual Report, click here.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with the aim of encouraging the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given its fundamental role in consolidating and developing the democratic system.