Sunday, January 20, 2013

Press Freedom Gets More Defenders

The Inter-American Press Association at a meeting in Venezuela, whose president has not signed the declaration protecting press freedom.
Tomorrow, Colombian mayors and governors are to sign the Declaration of Chapultepec, which commits them to respect and defend freedom of the press.

Pres. Santos signed the declaration last year. It's no mystery why this rush to sign
Passers-by look at a newsstand in central Bogota.
this 1994 declaration, has only happened recently. After all, previous Colombian Pres. Alvaro Uribe had a sort of paranoia about the press, which he apparently often suspected of collaborating with guerrilla groups.

The declaration includes high principles of protection for the press, including bans on censorship, and a prohibition against punishment of journalists for publishing news, restrictions on press circulation and others.
If only freeing the press were so simple as signing a non-binding declaration. Dangers to journalists continue in Colombia - Jineth Bedoya, who in the year 2000 was kidnapped, beaten and raped while investigating the murders of prison inmates, continues receiving threats. But governments and big business also have more subtle weapons for controlling media coverage, such as providing or withholding advertising or access to news sources.

I haven't seen strong evidence of such pressures here in Colombia, but they may very well be taking place. (Laudatory news coverage of certain fossil fuel corporations, for example, makes one wonder whether the journalists are receiving more than their salaries for their efforts.) But several leftist government in the region, including Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Argentina, have used lawsuits, legalisms and bureaucratic mechanisms to intimidate and shut down the media.

Coincidently, these nations' presidents don't appear to have signed the declaration.

In a way, that's encouraging, since it suggests that the declaration does mean something.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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