Freedom of Expression

Press Release R 47/14


R 47/14




Washington D.C., May 3, 2014. – On the twenty-first anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) pays tribute to the valuable work of the men and women who practice journalism every day in our region. In addition, it urges the States of the Americas to take prompt and effective measures for the protection of journalists and media workers and to create an environment that enables the free, plural, and uninhibited exercise of freedom of expression and of the press.


As recognized in the regional instruments for the protection of human rights and the defense of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of the press are essential requirements for the healthy and robust development of any democratic system. In this respect, the States have the obligation to ensure that journalists are free to investigate and question the actions of government authorities or economic sectors and to disseminate their thoughts and ideas, in any format or on any technological platform, without censorship or arbitrary restrictions.


At the end of the 20th century, many American States underwent notable democratic transformations that brought with them important guarantees in defense of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Nevertheless, in some of our countries, journalists today face serious and illegitimate restrictions that prevent or disproportionately hinder the performance of their work. These restrictions not only jeopardize the freedom, safety, or even lives of the journalists directly affected but also diminish the rights of society as a whole, which is deprived of valuable information on matters of major public relevance. As noted in the Annual Report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, most of the attacks on the press in our region are against journalists who are investigating cases of organized crime and corruption, human rights violations (especially in the context of social protests) and, most recently, the exploitation of natural resources.


The scores of violations documented in the report are unacceptable and must be remedied promptly. To this end, the Office of the Special Rapporteur finds it necessary on this twenty-first anniversary of World Press Freedom Day to remind the States of the region of the importance of implementing the various recommendations that provide the essential roadmap for making the right to a truly free press real and effective.


Regarding violence against journalists and media outlets:


·        Adopt adequate preventive mechanisms in order to avert violence against media workers, including the public condemnation of all acts of aggression, omitting any statement that may increase the risk for journalists; the respect for journalists’ right to keep their sources of information; the training of public officials, particularly police and security forces, and, if necessary, the adoption of operation manuals or guidelines on the respect for the right of freedom of expression, determining appropriate sanctions proportionate to the damage done; as well as the development of accurate statistics on violence against journalists.


·        Adopt the measures necessary to guarantee the security of those who are at special risk by virtue of exercising their right to freedom of expression, whether the threats come from state agents or private individuals. Measures or protection programs must be suitable and sufficient for its purpose, in accordance with the views expressed in that report.


·        Carry out serious, impartial, and effective investigations into the murders, attacks, threats, and acts of intimidation committed against journalists and media workers, in accordance with this report. This entails the creation of specialized units and special investigative protocols, as well as the identification and exhaustion of all possible case theories related to the professional work of the victim.


·        Bring to trial, before impartial and independent tribunals, all those responsible for the murders, attacks, threats, and acts of intimidation based on the exercise of freedom of expression, remove legal obstacles to the investigation and punishment of these crimes, and provide the victims and their family members ample participation during the investigation and prosecution, as well as adequate compensation, and eliminate gender barriers that obstruct access to justice.


·        Adopt the necessary measures so that media workers in situations of risk who have been displaced or exiled can return to their homes in conditions of safety. If these persons cannot return, the States must adopt measures so that they can stay in their chosen place in conditions of dignity, with security measures, and with the necessary economic support to maintain their work and their family lives.


·        Adopt special measures to protect journalists who are reporting on situations of armed conflict and social unrest, and guarantee that they are not detained, threatened, attacked or have their rights limited in any way for the exercise of their profession; that their work materials and tools are not destroyed nor confiscated by the authorities, according to what was laid out in this report; and create special protocols to protect the press in circumstances of social unrest.


·        Adopt specific, adequate and effective measures to prevent attacks and other forms of violence perpetrated against women journalists, and prosecute and punish those responsible. States must adopt effective measures to encourage reporting of cases of violence against women journalists and combat the impunity that characterizes those crimes.


Regarding criminalization of expression and proportionality of subsequent liability:


·        Promote the repeal of contempt (desacato) laws, whatever their form, given that these norms are contrary to the American Convention and restrict public debate, an essential element of the practice of democracy.


·        Promote the modification of laws on criminal defamation with the objective of eliminating the use of criminal proceedings to protect honor and reputation when information is disseminated about issues of public interest, about public officials, or about candidates for public office. Protecting the privacy or the honor and reputation of public officials or persons who have voluntarily become involved in issues of public interest, should be guaranteed only through civil law.


·        Promote the inclusion of inter-American standards in civil legislation so that civil proceedings against individuals who have made statements about public officials or about matters of public interest apply the standard of actual malice, in accordance with principle 10 of the Declaration of Principles, and are proportionate and reasonable.


·        Promote the modification of ambiguous or imprecise criminal laws that disproportionally limit the right to freedom of expression, such as those aimed at protecting the honor of ideas or institutions, with the aim of eliminating the use of criminal proceedings to inhibit free democratic debate about all issues of public interest.


·        Establish clear regulations that guarantee the legitimate exercise of social protest and that impede the application of disproportionate restrictions that can be used to inhibit or suppress expressions that are critical or dissenting.


Regarding statements of high-level State authorities:


·        Encourage democratic debate through public declarations, practices, and policies that promote tolerance and respect of all individuals, under equal conditions, whatever their thoughts or ideas.


·        Exhort the authorities to refrain from making public statements or using state media outlets to carry out public campaigns that can encourage violence against individuals because of their opinions. In particular, avoid statements that could stigmatize journalists, media outlets, and human rights defenders.


Regarding prior censorship:


·        Eliminate any norm that enables prior censorship by any state organ, and also any prior condition that may imply censorship of freedom of expression, such as prior requirements of truthfulness, timeliness, or impartiality of information.


Regarding discriminatory distribution of government advertising:


·        Abstain from using public power to punish or reward media and journalists in relation to their editorial stance or coverage of certain information, whether through the discriminatory and arbitrary assignment of government advertising or other indirect means aimed at impeding communication and the circulation of ideas and opinions.


·        Regulate these matters in accordance with the current inter-American standards on freedom of expression.


Regarding Internet:


·        Abstain from applying regulatory approaches to the Internet that have been developed for other communications media – such as telephony or radio and television – and design an alternative regulatory framework specifically for this medium, addressing its particularities, pursuant to currently-in-effect international standards in the field of freedom of expression.


·        Encourage self-regulation as an effective tool to deal with defamatory expressions that could be disseminated on the Internet.


·        Protect the actors who participate as Internet intermediaries and provide technical services from any responsibility for contents generated by third parties and which are disseminated through these services, pursuant to international standards on the matter.


·        Promote universal Internet access to guarantee universal and effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression through this medium.


Regarding surveillance programs and confidential sources:


·        Review their legislation to establish limits on the power to oversee private communications, their necessity and proportionality, pursuant to the public’s universal rights and the principles of international law that have been taken up in this report.


·        Ensure that the public can have access to information on programs for surveillance of private communications, their scope and the existing controls to guarantee that they cannot be used arbitrarily. In any case, States must establish independent control mechanisms to ensure the transparency and accountability of these programs.


·        Abstain from punishing journalists, members of the media or members of civil society who have access to and disseminate reserved information about this type of surveillance programs, considering it to be of public interest. Confidential sources and materials associated with dissemination of reserved information must be protected by law.


·        Establish regulations to guarantee that a person associated with the State, who, having the legal obligation to maintain the confidentiality of certain information, merely makes public that which they reasonably consider to be of notable public interest ("whistleblower") will not be the target of legal, administrative or labor sanctions as long as they have acted in good faith, pursuant to international standards on the matter.


Regarding progress on access to information:


·        Continue promulgating laws that permit effective access to information and complementary norms that guarantee its adequate implementation, in conformity with the international standards in this area.


·        Guarantee effectively, both de jure and de facto, the right of habeas data of all persons, this being an essential element of freedom of expression and the democratic system.


·        Encourage the effective and efficient implementation of norms on access to information, adequately training public employees and informing the citizenry in order to eradicate the culture of secrecy and provide citizens the tools to effectively monitor state activities, public administration and the prevention of corruption, all essential to the democratic process.


Regarding allocation of radio frequencies:


·        Ensure the existence of transparent, public, and equitable criteria for the allocation of radio frequencies and the new digital dividend. These criteria must take into account the concentration of ownership or control of communications media, and assign the administration of the radio electric spectrum to an organ independent from political and economic interests, subject to due process and judicial oversight.


·        Promote effective policies and practices that permit access to information and the equal participation of all sectors of society so that their needs, opinions, and interests will be contemplated in the design and adoption of public policy decisions. Additionally, adopt legislative and other measures that are necessary to guarantee pluralism, including laws that prevent the existence of public or private monopolies.


·        Legislate in the area of community radio broadcasting, in a manner that will produce an equitable division of the spectrum and the digital dividend to community radio stations and channels. The allocation of these frequencies must take into account democratic criteria that guarantee equal opportunities to all individuals in the access and operation of these media in conditions of equality, without disproportionate or unreasonable restrictions, and in conformity with Principle 12 of the Declaration of Principles and the "Joint Declaration on Diversity in Broadcasting." (2007)


·        Launch regional efforts to regulate the State's authority to control and supervise the allocation of public goods or resources related directly or indirectly with the exercise of freedom of expression. On this point, the task is to adjust institutional frameworks with two central objectives: first, to eliminate the possibility that State authority is used to reward or punish media outlets according to their editorial positions, and second, to foster pluralism and diversity in the public debate.


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