Report highlights press freedom issues in Latin America

by Juliana Ferre
Aug 1, 2019 in Digital and Physical Safety

Press freedoms around the world are under attack, and the situation in Latin America is no different. As journalists carry out their reporting, especially on issues like corruption, and abuses of power and resources, they are often subjected to threats to their safety and well-being, by both state and non-state actors.

Voces del Sur (“Voices from the South”), a network of civil society organizations focusing on freedom of expression, spent the last two years developing guidelines to track and publicize press freedom violations in Latin America. Their research, which examined eight countries — Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela — culminated in an independent report they released last spring, intended to “advocate for press freedoms and freedom of expression in the region.” 

In July, three leaders from Voces del Sur discussed their report’s findings during an event hosted by the National Endowment for Democracy. 

One leader, Matt Potter, the director of Democracy, Governance and Human Rights at the Pan American Development Foundation, noted the need to more readily engage civil society. “If donors and governments are more aware of the process I think they will realize it is a really useful mechanism and framework to use,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dagmar Thiel, the director of Fundamedios US, pointed to the importance of getting citizens to care about press freedoms. “If freedom of expression is not appreciated by society, the mechanisms of these reports don’t have value. That is why citizen participation is so important,” Thiel said.

Voces del Sur used one of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals as the framework for their analysis. To this end, they designed 12 indicators that can be used to report incidents against journalists, including murder, kidnappings, aggression and attacks, and abuse of state power, among others. Their final report is intended to serve as a complementary assessment to official government studies on the issue.

Results gathered by Voces del Sur

Authoritarian state policies were the primary threat to journalists, and freedom of expression overall, in Latin America, the report finds. In Venezuela, for example, press freedoms and freedom of expression are in a “critical” situation, the report explains. Journalists constantly face travel restrictions and the state has censored or blocked the majority of media outlets, among other infringements. 

Of the 196 reported incidents in Venezuela in 2018, 122 were perpetrated by state officials. Only Nicaragua had more incidents, with 234. Both are among “the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists,” the report notes.

Overall in 2018, Voces del Sur documented 732 reported incidents across the eight countries they examined. More than half — 404 — were perpetrated by the state. The report also highlights 44 instances of gender-based discrimination. They note, however, that this number is low due to current monitoring practices that don’t consider gender-based violence to be a threat. 

The most commonly reported offenses were “aggression and attack” type incidents, both regionally and within each country. 

Voces del Sur also documented six murders, eight kidnappings, and two tortures of journalists. 

Report recommendations 

The report also offers some tips on how journalists can help promote press freedom in Latin America — and around the world: 

  1. Improve how to identify and track incidents. Incident reporting must be “detailed and rigorous” in order to clearly differentiate between the various types of harassment — for example, distinguishing between judicial persecution and financial asphyxiation.
  2. Research and understand your audience in order to create loyalty. In doing so, you generate not just financial support for your news outlet, but a higher willingness for readers to rally to your defense should you or your outlet be the target of attacks.
  3. Improve the monitoring of gender-based discrimination and violence. Such incidents likely aren’t properly measured in this report due to ingrained bias in the industry — so much so they “may be rendered invisible.” The report further urges employers to implement stronger gender policies and mechanisms.

To watch the full panel discussion click here.

Main image CC-licensed by Unsplash via armin djuhic.