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EVALUATION OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN THE SECOND QUARTER OF 2007: OFFICE OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER VIOLENCE AGAINST MEDIA AND ANTI-PLURALISM MEASURES

  October 29, 2007

Washington, D.C., October 29, 2007— The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding persistent violence against members of the media in an attempt to silence them. This has been reflected in the murders of at least five journalists and the disappearance of two reporters, as well as in dozens of assaults and threats made against journalists and media outlets between April 1 and June 30 of this year.

At least five members of the communications media were murdered during this period, for motives that might be linked to the exercise of their right to freedom of expression: television correspondent Amado Ramírez and journalist Saúl Martínez Ortega, both in Mexico; radio producer Mario López Sánchez, in Guatemala; reporter Luiz Carlos Barom Filho, in Brazil; and in Haiti, radio announcer and director Alix Joseph. Meanwhile, in Mexico reporter Gamaliel López Candanosa and cameraman Gerado Paredes Pérez have disappeared.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur urges the States to ensure that the aforementioned homicides and disappearances are investigated and motives are determined, including whether or not they were related to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. These human rights violations must not remain unpunished. The Office of the Special Rapporteur also urges the States to take the necessary measures to prevent the violation of the rights of those who have been assaulted or threatened; to adopt any protection measures that they may request; and to investigate these acts in order to bring to justice those who are responsible.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur calls special attention to the situation in Mexico, where two of the five journalists murdered lost their lives and another two reporters disappeared. In this regard, it urges the Mexican government to grant special priority to the serious situation of violence faced by journalists in that country.

On another matter, the Office of the Special Rapporteur expresses its concern over measures taken against pluralism, which is a fundamental element of freedom of expression and democracy. The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Ignacio J. Alvarez, indicated: “Pluralism requires that different opinions are able to be expressed through different communications media and that these can reach the greatest possible numbers of end users. Democracy requires the free debate of ideas and opinions, even when these are unwelcome or displease the government.” He added that “an informed opinionated public constitutes an important means for democratic control of governments.”

The States party to the American Convention on Human Rights must fulfill their international obligations in the area of freedom of expression, which include refraining from actions that could affect pluralism as well as adopting positive actions to guarantee it. One situation that affects pluralism is media ownership concentration and monopolies, whether public or private. In that respect, Special Rapporteur Ignacio J. Alvarez, noted: “It would be troubling if other countries of the region were to have the same situation that is currently taking place in Cuba, where there is a public monopoly of the communications media and an official policy of isolating its population from any nonofficial news source.”

The Office of the Rapporteur considers it important that States adopt measures such as putting into effect antimonopoly laws related to ownership and control of the communications media ; adopting legislation establishing an open, public and transparent process to assign radioelectric frequencies; and granting jurisdiction to independent bodies to adopt decisions on this issue.

In the period under examination, progress in regards to pluralism was seen in the region, such us the decision by Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice declaring unconstitutional provisions of the Radio and Television Law that affected pluralism, as well as the approval by Uruguay’s Chamber of Deputies of draft legislation that includes provisions to award frequencies through an open, transparent process, and advances related to community radios.

However, the Office of the Special Rapporteur notes with concern that under the pretext of fostering pluralism, government authority has been utilized in countries of the region to try to silence media who are critical of the government. Such a distorted and abusive use of government authority occurs through threats as well as through arbitrary and discriminatory decisions regarding the administration of television and radio frequencies, and also through more subtle means which nevertheless have the same purpose, such as the allocation of official advertising as a reward or punishment for the media outlet’s editorial stance; criminal and administrative measures taken against journalists and media outlets; verbal disparagement and incitement to violence against journalists; and discrimination in terms of access to information and to official sources.

This quarterly statement, based on the Office of the Special Rapporteur’s daily monitoring of the situation of freedom of expression in the region, seeks to highlight both concerns and positive developments in the area of freedom of expression, with the goal of helping to promote corrective measures that may be appropriate for freedom of thought and expression to have greater effect. Based on the information received in the second quarter of 2007, detailed in the annex to this press release, the Special Rapporteur underscores the following:




Argentina

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression notes that a court ordered the cessation of broadcasts by the Channel 7 local relay transmitter in the city of San Rafael, Mendoza. This was contrary to two presidential decrees allowing for the free and open delivery of public television across the entire country. During the period under consideration in this report, allegations were received regarding assaults and threats against journalists, which are of concern to the Office of the Special Rapporteur.

Bolivia

A presidential decree regulating the provision of telecommunications services in rural areas establishes that none of the three branches of governments may operate community radio broadcasting stations, nor may leaders or representatives at any level of political parties or voter groups, trade unions or chambers of commerce, priests, ministers or any church representatives of any faith, cult or sect. The same decree indicates that these community radio broadcasters should refrain from transmitting partisan or proselytizing messages of any kind.
Nevertheless, these provisions do not apply to some thirty recently created community radio stations because these fall under an exception for cultural and educational media, which appears to produce an inequality in legal treatment for these types of broadcasting stations.

Brazil

The Office of the Special Rapporteur again deplores the murder of the journalist Luiz Carlos Barbom Filho, in the city of Porto Ferreira, state of Sao Paulo, on May 5, 2007. Moreover, It urges the authorities to bring to light the facts about this crime, to determine whether it was linked to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. The Office of the Rapporteur has also received information indicating that on at least two occasions during the second quarter, courts handed down sentences that prohibited a media outlet from publishing an article and a network of communications media from quoting or referring to a high-level public official. The Office of the Special Rapporteur calls on the Brazilian State to put into effect the ban on prior censorship as set forth in Article 13.2 of the American Convention on Human Rights

Colombia

The Office of the Special Rapporteur expresses its concern regarding the number of assaults perpetrated against journalists in the course of their work which for the most part have been attributed to police or military personnel. On another matter, the Office of the Special Rapporteur finds it worrisome that reporters continue to receive threats for their investigative journalism to the point where some members of the media had to abandon their homes or consider leaving the country.

Cuba

One journalist was arrested and sentenced on the same day to four years in prison for “pre-criminal social danger,” a provision in the country’s Criminal Code under which a citizen can go to prison for the supposed threat that person represents to society, even if he or she has not committed a crime. Another journalist was freed on May 9, 2007, after having been arrested in July 2005 during an antigovernment demonstration. The Office of the Special Rapporteur reiterates its concern over the systematic, ongoing lack of respect for freedom of thought and expression in Cuba.

Ecuador

The Office of the Special Rapporteur expresses its concern regarding a so-called desacato complaint brought by the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, against the president of the editorial board of the newspaper La Hora, Francisco Vivanco Riofrío, over the publication of an editorial critical of the leader’s government. If the journalist is found guilty, he could spend six months to two years in prison. Furthermore, the president of Ecuador also expressed his support for reforming the law so that the press is regulated more stringently. The Office of the Rapporteur recalls that Principal 11 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression holds that these types of laws penalizing offensive expressions directed at public officials have the effect of restricting freedom of expression.

United States

Freelance journalist Josh Wolf was freed on April 3, 2007, after spending more than 200 days in prison for not wishing to reveal the identity of his sources. Additionally, a group of journalists was attacked by police agents while covering a demonstration in the city of Los Angeles, California, on May 1, 2007.

Guatemala

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression urges the State of Guatemala to investigate the murder of radio producer Mario López Sánchez, who was ambushed and riddled with bullets by three unknown individuals on May 3, 2007. It also urges the authorities to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice, and to determine if the reason for the murder was related to the victim’s journalistic activity.

Haiti

The Office of the Special Rapporteur once again repudiates the murder of the Radio Provinciale director and announcer Alix Joseph, who received at least 11 gunshot wounds on May 16, 2007. It urges the government of Haiti to conduct the appropriate investigations to determine the identity of those who are guilty as well as the reason this crime was committed.

Honduras

In May 2007, the president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, announced that all radio and television stations in the country must simultaneously transmit, per a determined schedule, reports by the government and interviews with public officials. These mandatory simultaneous broadcasts seek to “counteract media disinformation” about the government, according to the president.

Mexico

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression perceives as positive the June 2007 decision of the Supreme Court of Justice declaring unconstitutional articles of the Radio and Television Law that affected pluralism. It also notes as an extremely positive development the fact that the government has put into effect at the federal level the decriminalization of the crimes of defamation and slander, making Mexico’s legislation compatible with inter-American standards and serving as an example for the region.
However, the Office of the Rapporteur reiterates its alarm over the violence to which many members of the media have been subjected to in Mexico. It deplores the murders of journalists Amado Ramírez and Saúl Martínez Ortega, both of which took place in April, and emphasizes its special concern over the disappearance of reporter Gamaliel López and cameraman Gerardo Paredes, and urges the State to investigate their whereabouts. The Office of the Rapporteur expresses its concern regarding the constant attacks and threats that journalists and media outlets have received. In the second quarter, one journalist was shot and injured in June, and another asked for asylum in the United States after having been threatened several times over a journalistic investigation he had published. At least two newspapers received human heads along with threats, and the newspaper Cambio de Sonora decided to close temporarily after its newsroom was attacked twice with grenades.

Paraguay

The Office of the Special Rapporteur views as troubling the number of threats received by members of the media, some of which are alleged to have been made by State agents. As an example, two radio journalists reported that they were threatened by agents of the National Anti-Drug Secretariat and that their telephones were tapped.

Peru

The high number of assaults and threats against the media reported during the second quarter continue to concern the Office of the Rapporteur, as do the judicial proceedings underway against journalists for articles they have written. The Office of the Rapporteur would also like to call attention to the order that came from State officials to remove drawings by cartoonist Piero Quijano from an exhibition. It notes as a reminder that Principle 5 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression states that prior censorship or direct or indirect interference in or pressure on any type of expression, opinion or information transmitted by any means of oral, written, artistic, visual or electronic communication violates the right to freedom of expression and must be prohibited by law.

Dominican Republic

The Office of the Rapporteur perceives as positive the sentencing of those responsible for the murders of two journalists, one 32 years ago and the other in 2004. Still, the Office of the Rapporteur is concerned about reports of threats received by members of the media.

Uruguay

The approval by Uruguay’s Chamber of Deputies of draft legislation that includes provisions to award frequencies through an open, transparent process, as well as advances related to community radios, and is seen as a positive development by the Office of the Special Rapporteur. Nevertheless, it cautions with concern that the sentencing of journalist Gustavo Escanlar Patrone to three months in prison for slander was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Justice.

Venezuela

The government carried out its decision not to renew the concession of Radio Caracas Televisión to broadcast on public airwaves; in addition, on May 25, 2007, the Supreme Court of Justice, through a precautionary measure, granted a new public television channel the use of RCTV’s equipment without any payment whatsoever. Furthermore, on May 27, 2007, the TV concessions of the Venezolana de Televisión and Venevisión channels expired and were renewed by the government with no explanation of the reasons for the difference in treatment given to those stations and to RCTV. The Office of the Rapporteur also expresses its unease regarding different statements made by members of the media indicating that they have been subject to threats, assaults and prior censorship, and regarding legal processes against journalists that were initiated during the second quarter by public officials.


Sources:

The sources taken into account in the preparation of this document are cited in the attached chart. Where available, the direct link to the respective source has been included to facilitate access to more complete information.

States, civil society organizations, the academic sector and individuals are invited to present information to the Office of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of freedom of thought and expression, both as it relates to journalism as well as in other areas, by writing to cidh-expresion@oas.org.

Please direct questions and requests for interviews to the Office of the Rapporteur’s press and communications coordinator, Leticia Linn, (202) 458-3796 (llinn@oas.org).

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created in 1997 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. For more information on the Office of the Special Rapporteur: www.cidh.org/relatoria.

Reference: REL-182-07