Americas

2012

Attacks on the Press   |   Venezuela

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Venezuela

President Hugo Chávez Frías’ administration continued its systematic campaign to stifle critical reporting through regulatory, judicial, and legislative avenues. The telecommunications regulator fined Globovisión, the country's sole critical television station, more than US$2 million for its coverage of deadly prison riots in June and July. The regulator invoked the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, one of the region’s most restrictive measures. Prosecutors brought criminal charges against two executives of a critical weekly concerning a satirical article and photo montage that depicted high-ranking female officials as playing roles in a “cabaret” directed by Chávez. The weekly was briefly shut, and one executive was imprisoned for nearly three months. The Chávez administration used its extensive state media operation to spread political propaganda and wage smear campaigns against its critics. Chávez’s announcement that Cuban doctors had found and removed a cancerous tumor fueled speculation about the country’s political future as the October 2012 presidential election approached. Official information about the president’s health was scarce and treated as if it were a state secret.

February 21, 2012 12:46 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   USA

Attacks on the Press in 2011: United States

A federal judge ruled in favor of reporter James Risen, who invoked his First Amendment rights to protect a confidential source. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other groups called the ruling an important victory for the press. The Department of Justice, which appealed the decision, continued to take an aggressive approach in filing criminal charges against people who leak classified information. U.S. journalist groups were also troubled that increasing numbers of case documents were being sealed by the Supreme Court. CPJ reported that the State Department fell short in its first year of implementing the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, which requires that press freedom issues be incorporated into the agency's annual country reports on human rights. WikiLeaks was in the headlines again when it disclosed thousands of classified, unredacted U.S. diplomatic cables. An Ethiopian journalist was forced to flee his country after he was cited in a cable. Police in five cities arrested reporters and photographers covering Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, often claiming the journalists did not have sufficient accreditation. At least three other journalists covering Occupy events were attacked by protesters or police officers.

February 21, 2012 12:45 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Peru

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Peru

Press freedom suffered notable setbacks in 2011. In the run-up to the presidential election in June, journalists reported an alarming rise in attacks and threats in response to campaign coverage. In northern Peru, one journalist was murdered in reprisal for his work, while two others were killed under unclear circumstances. Trial courts convicted four journalists under archaic criminal defamation laws, with one reporter imprisoned for more than six months until his conviction was overturned on appeal. President Ollanta Humala pledged upon assuming office in July to be a “defender of human rights, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression.” In July, Congress passed a bill that would eliminate jail terms for defamation, but by late year the president had not signed the measure into law.

February 21, 2012 12:44 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Mexico

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Mexico

Criminal groups exerted extraordinary pressure on the press as they extended their control over virtually every sector of society. Journalists were killed or disappeared, media outlets were bombed and threatened. Pervasive self-censorship was a devastating consequence of this environment. In an information vacuum, journalists and citizens increasingly used social media to inform their communities. The murder of a Nuevo Laredo reporter was the first case documented by CPJ worldwide in which a person was killed in direct relation to reporting done on social media. At least three journalists were granted political asylum in the United States and Canada, and several others sought refuge in other countries. Several major news organizations agreed on a professional code in which they set protocols for journalists at risk and pledged not to be propaganda tools for criminals. But President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa's administration failed to implement effective reforms. Despite efforts to rejuvenate the office of the special prosecutor for crimes against free expression, anti-press violence went virtually unpunished. The government's new journalist-protection program was widely seen as ineffective. And while the Chamber of Deputies passed a bill to federalize anti-press crimes, the legislation remained pending in late year.

February 21, 2012 12:43 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Honduras

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Honduras

The Honduran press continued to suffer the violent fallout of the 2009 coup that ousted Manuel Zelaya. Four broadcast journalists were murdered in 2011 under unclear circumstances. CPJ is investigating to determine whether the killings were work-related. A climate of violence and widespread impunity has made the country one of the most dangerous in the region. The government's stance on media killings has worsened the situation. Authorities have minimized crimes against journalists and been slow and negligent in pursuing the culprits. No progress was reported in solving the murders of three journalists killed in direct relation to their work in 2010, CPJ research shows. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission composed of Honduran and international representatives delivered its much-anticipated report on the military-led overthrow of Zelaya. The commission labeled the takeover a coup--a decision met with controversy in Honduras--but it also accused Zelaya of improperly ignoring a Supreme Court decision concerning presidential term limits. The report found major press freedom violations during the coup, including the torture of journalists and the takeover of media premises.

February 21, 2012 12:42 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Guatemala

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Guatemala

Journalists increasingly practiced self-censorship as Mexican drug cartels expanded their presence in Guatemala. In May, criminals in four provinces hung banners in public places, threatening journalists with harm if gang activities were covered. A television journalist in southern Escuintla province was killed under unclear circumstances after receiving several threats. While the rise of criminal groups posed a growing risk, journalists also faced danger for coverage of official corruption and domestic security issues. In the southwestern city of Quetzaltenango, a television journalist and his family escaped injury when their van came under gunfire. The reporter had received death threats related to his coverage of police corruption. A columnist in the western city of Panajachel was forced to relocate after receiving a series of intimidating text messages concerning her coverage of a citizen security committee. The local press group CERIGUA documented an increase in press freedom violations in the months leading up to the November presidential elections, as well as a number of assaults and threats against journalists on Election Day. Otto Pérez Molina, a retired general running on the conservative Patriotic Party ticket, defeated businessman Manuel Baldizón in a runoff. Facing a murder rate among the highest in the world, Pérez pledged a tough approach on crime.              

February 21, 2012 12:41 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Ecuador

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Ecuador

The press freedom climate continued its sharp decline under President Rafael Correa. In September, a CPJ special report concluded that Correa’s policies had transformed the country into one of the hemisphere’s most restrictive nations for the press. In March, Correa brought a criminal libel complaint against senior managers of El Universo, the country’s leading critical daily. The case, which centered on a biting opinion column that condemned Correa’s actions in a 2010 standoff with police, resulted in convictions, prison sentences, and multimillion-dollar fines against the managers. The managers were free on appeal in late year. Other government officials also used the nation’s archaic criminal defamation laws to try to silence journalists. The president made frequent use of cadenas, presidential addresses that pre-empt all private broadcast programming nationwide, to smear individual journalists and news outlets. Although cadenas have traditionally been used to deliver information in times of crisis, they have become a forum for political confrontation under Correa. The administration used other tactics to supplant independent voices with its own perspective, repeatedly ordering individual broadcasters to give over portions of their news programming to government “rebuttals.” In a May referendum, voters approved ballot measures that would allow the administration to regulate news content in vaguely defined areas and force media owners to divest other holdings.

February 21, 2012 12:41 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Cuba

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Cuba

Official repression in Cuba remained the most intense in the hemisphere. Although the last of the 29 independent journalists imprisoned in the 2003 Black Spring crackdown was released in April, the government's restrictive practices persisted. Official censorship was codified in law and closely enforced. The government persecuted critical journalists with arbitrary arrests, short-term detentions, beatings, smear campaigns, surveillance, and social sanctions. Despite the island nation's low Internet penetration, the battle for free expression was being waged almost entirely online. The government enlisted a legion of official bloggers to counteract a vibrant independent blogosphere. A fiber-optic cable project would enable the introduction of high-speed Internet. The launch of broadband service, which faced delays in 2011, would improve the island's government-approved Internet connections, but would not extend connectivity to the general public.

February 21, 2012 12:40 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Colombia

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Colombia

While lethal anti-press violence has slowed considerably in recent years, the press freedom landscape remains troubled. Journalists continue to be attacked and threatened with such frequency that some are compelled to flee to safer locations within Colombia or into exile. A journalist in Arboletes was murdered in June, although the motive was unclear. In this violent context, press groups feared the potential consequences of statements made by former President Álvaro Uribe, who described veteran reporters Juan Forero and Claudia Julieta Duque as “terrorist sympathizers” after they wrote critical stories about the Uribe administration in The Washington Post. The national intelligence agency’s illegal espionage against journalists and other critics, a legacy of the Uribe administration, continued to be the subject of investigation. But progress was slow, with cases pending against more than 20 defendants in late year. In a blow to press freedom, the Supreme Court in May upheld defamation provisions in the penal code.

February 21, 2012 12:39 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Brazil

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Brazil

In provincial areas where law enforcement is weak, reporters were vulnerable to attack for their coverage of corruption. In urban centers, journalists faced risks while covering organized crime and drug trafficking. Two journalists were killed in direct relation to their work in 2011, and CPJ was investigating the circumstances in four other killings. The uptick in deadly violence pushed Brazil back onto CPJ's 2011 Impunity Index, which highlights countries with unsolved journalist murders. Politicized judicial rulings continued to hinder coverage of sensitive issues. A censorship order against the daily O Estado de S. Paulo remained in place more than two years after it was first imposed, barring the paper from reporting on a corruption inquiry involving the family of Senate President José Sarney. In November, President Dilma Rousseff signed into law an access-to-information measure that regulated the classification of documents and imposed a maximum withholding period of 50 years for top secret files. The bill was lauded as an important step for government transparency and a helpful tool for journalists covering corruption.

February 21, 2012 12:38 AM ET

2012

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