Hundreds of print media directors and journalists gathered this week in
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez used the occasion for his government to organize another one of its counter gatherings. The parallel summit organized by the Venezuelan embassy was reportedly held to discuss “media monopolies and the unification of public opinion” in Latin America, with participants coming from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, and Honduras. There is really nothing new or surprising about Chávez’ action. This is the president who, when the group met in
The IAPA has routinely condemned Chávez’ treatment of independent media, and the 65th annual General Assembly that began November 6 was no exception. Conclusions drawn from five days of meetings included concern that he has exported an extreme ideology that “threatens press freedoms across the region.”
But Chávez was not the primary concern expressed at the IAPA General Assembly. The highest number of journalist deaths in the
The “dual summits” in
U.N. Rapporteur for freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, from
This year’s IAPA meeting also took place at a time of great journalistic transformation. While the Internet should facilitate freedom of expression and provide a peaceful outlet for debate, the temptation for government censorship seems to be growing in the region as more people go online.
When Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg recorded a video directly blaming his death on the government days before his murdered body was found last May, a small but active social media community kept the story going, resulting in near political crisis for President Álvaro Colom. Over the summer, Internet users in
Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez has brought stories from Cuba to an international audience. Yet on November 6, Sanchez was detained and beaten along with another Cuban blogger, and state security guards are thought to be responsible.
On the surface, the calls being heard throughout the hemisphere to break up media monopolies and include more voices should be welcomed. The opportunities made possible by increased Internet access should support this plurality of opinions.
But if old-school media monopolies are to be replaced by governments controlling what voices are heard, and those who commit acts of violence against journalists or bloggers are in any way allowed to operate with impunity, countries in the region must reconsider the future of their information and media landscapes.
*Caroline Stauffer is a guest blogger to americasquarterly.org. She is a Masters student at Columbia University’s