SAO PAULO – Violence and authoritarian governments are the biggest challenges to an independent press in Latin America, the Inter American Press Association said Tuesday at the end of its 68th General Assembly.
"Violence against the physical integrity of journalists and a growing intolerance of authoritarian governments constitute the primary problems that face the independent press today on the continent," a statement said at the conclusion of the meeting in Sao Paulo.
IAPA said 13 journalists were murdered over the past six months in Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and Ecuador, "for the simple fact that they were doing their work."
It accused the presidents of Venezuela, Argentina and Ecuador of "trying to silence" independent journalism in their countries "through regulatory legislation, discrimination in official advertising, and immense state-run and private media mechanisms used to slander and carry out dirty campaigns."
IAPA criticized Argentine President Cristina Fernandez for failing to appear at news conferences and said her plans to "advance against the audiovisual media of the Clarin group" are a threat to freedom of the press.
The Argentine government has said Grupo Clarin must sell off most of its broadcast stations by Dec. 7.
Clarin, one of the government's leading media critics owns 240 cable systems, 10 radio stations and four TV channels in addition to its flagship daily newspaper. It has challenged the 2009 media law's anti-monopoly clauses limiting the number of stations any one company can own as unconstitutional.
Jaime Mantilla, president of the Ecuadorean newspaper Hoy, was elected IAPA's new president.
"I am assuming the presidency at a time when the freedoms of our America are going through a dangerous moment," he said via a videoconference from Ecuador's capital, Quito.
Mantilla said many governments and groups in power want to "make the thoughts of free citizens uniform" and "terrorize and even eliminate anyone who denounces the abuses committed by those in power."
He said the "serious problems that my newspaper and my country are facing due to attacks by the government" led him to decide against attending the IAPA meeting.
Mantilla didn't provide detail on the problems or the attacks, but IAPA's statement said the Ecuadorean justice system "lacks impartiality and continues to attack media and journalists under a hostile discourse that produces self-censorship."
IAPA said high levels of violence against the press exist in Haiti, Venezuela, Honduras and Peru, while "fear-mongering" continues in Cuba where more than 500 dissidents were arrested in September.