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Press Freedoms are Not Only Under Threat South of the Border

LatinaLista — Last week in Cartagena de indias, Colombia, the Inter American Press Association held their mid-year meeting where they reviewed the status of press freedoms throughout North and South America.

The news isn’t good.

Western Hemisphere

Some of the countries, like Cuba, Venezuela and Mexico, we know journalists and news media are under physical and mortal attack. In other countries like Panama, the United States and Chile, there exists much more subtle threats against press freedoms.

Thanks to the current Administration, by the example set by President Bush, the media is something to be disdained and constantly put in our place.


Because we dare to make officials explain themselves when they would rather hide behind “Executive Privilege.”

President Bush at a press conference

Grant it, the United States is not alone in treating the press in such a manner but the U.S. should be farther along in applying democratic principles when dealing with the press rather than taking notes from south of the border.

Maybe it’s because it’s the Information Age and media is so accessible 24/7 that it makes government officials feel like they’ve lost control like the old days during the “Cold War.”

Or maybe they just have more to hide.

Below are some highlights of the Inter American Press Association’s review of countries and their press freedoms:

Cuba:Journalism in Cuba is undergoing a period of extreme stress and government control. The absence of Fidel Castro from power for almost eight months has not changed in the least the totalitarian framework imposed on the media and news practices for 48 years. The interim ruler, Castro’s younger brother Raul, is intensifying the repression against independent journalists, attempting to silence accredited foreign correspondents and persecuting citizens who decide to seek alternative sources of news and entertainment.

Venezuela:Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s drive to suppress press freedom, which is enshrined in Article 57 and 58 of the Constitution, is continuing with ever more serious and defiant threats and incidents.

At this point, the president, who controls all branches of the government, moves directly to close media outlets, as in the case of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), the most important channel in the country. Also, an administrative court imposed a fine of 1.5 billion bolivars on the television station just a week ago.

MexicoJournalism in Mexico continues to be a highly risky activity. Thirty-one journalists were murdered during the Vicente Fox administration. In fact, the National Human Rights Commission has described the period as “journalism’s six dark years.” And the situation doesn’t appear to be any better under the new administration, at least not since its inauguration in early December 2006.

Between October 2006 and February 2007, seven journalists were murdered, two others disappeared, and eight complaints of threats have been filed with the authorities and nongovernmental organizations. Organized crime and abuses by the powers that be are still the main threats, and these crimes remain unpunished.

United StatesDespite intensified lobbying from advocates of press freedom and some prominent legislators, the United States has yet to enact a federal shield law. Reporters still face the possibility in federal cases of having to go to jail for refusing to identify their confidential news sources.

While there are 31 states in the United States with shield law protections and four with some limited protections for journalists, 17 states have no form of shield law….A number of other recent cases also revived calls for a federal shield law. In one, American blogger and videographer Joshua Wolf was jailed on contempt of court charges stemming from his refusal to turn over to a grand jury investigation video footage of a July 8, 2005 clash between police officers and protestors in San Francisco in which a police car was damaged. Wolf was jailed on August 1 last year, released a month later but shortly afterwards returned to prison after losing his appeal, and has now been behind bars for defying a subpoena relating to his work longer than any other journalist in the history of the United States.

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