Press group: Latam governments moving in on press

AP News
Posted: Nov 08, 2009 12:13 PM

Latin American governments are increasingly intervening in the news business, creating and favoring official media, regulating content and distribution and using other legal methods to silence their critics, a newspaper group said Sunday.

Some governments are imposing limits on ownership, such as Argentina's new law against media monopolies that will force Grupo Clarin to sell off many of its outlets. Others, including Ecuador and Colombia, are trying to punish media that violate vaguely written ethics standards. And many steer lucrative official publicity to reward friends and put perceived enemies at a competitive disadvantage.

The Inter American Press Association, which includes 1,380 publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere, discussed what it called a host of threats to freedom of expression emerging across the region.

"What we're seeing happen from one country to the next is that they're approving laws to silence the press," said Gonzalo Marroquin, publisher of Prensa Libre of Guatemala.

He warned of similar efforts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and Colombia, "because governments that want to stay in power need to control the news media."

The region's news media also are increasingly threatened by murders, kidnappings and other physical violence _ 16 journalists were killed in the past six months alone, including eight in Mexico, said Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News and president of the IAPA's freedom of expression committee.

Some governments encourage this violence with rhetoric attacking the credibility of their critics, or by turning a blind eye when ruling-party supporters attack reporters or newsrooms, he said, adding that many journalists have quit the profession or censor themselves to survive.