Investigative journalism plays a fundamental role in any democratic society, informing the public, bringing corruption cases to light, building a reality, and influencing public opinion.
However, during the last time, we have known regrettable facts that threaten freedom of press and expression, and what is even worse, against the integrity of many journalists.
Recently, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) reported that the situation of journalists in Latin America has worsened in the last six months, either to the increase of convictions, repression, imprisonment, physical violence, and even murder against people who exercise this profession.
For this reason, on April 19, the IAPA held a meeting to address the safety of communicators in the region, among other issues.
Among the most dangerous countries to practice, this profession is Mexico, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. 13 journalists were murdered in Latin America during the first months of the year, eight of them in Mexico, surpassing the figure of 2021 when seven journalists were murdered in that country.
Thus, Mexico is presented as the most dangerous country in Latin America to practice journalism, with “a high rate of impunity”. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador proposed that a debate be held to analyze the role of the media and social networks, since, according to him, they would be attacking his government, while denying the exercise of censorship, and pointing out that the murders of journalists are used by his opponents.
In Nicaragua, for example, three journalists of the newspaper La Prensa are imprisoned with sentences of up to 13 years in jail. This newspaper is one of the most critical of the government and one of the oldest with almost 100 years of existence. It was the last printed newspaper in Managua. Its manager, Juan Lorenzo Holmann, was sentenced in early April to nine years in prison after being convicted of money laundering, after being arrested seven months earlier. Since the proceedings against Holmann were opened, the building of the newspaper has been taken over by the National Police, and it exists only in digital format, it had to make cuts in its staff, and those who remain, are under anonymity, without signing the articles for security reasons. It should be noted that the Nicaraguan justice system is controlled by the government of Daniel Ortega.
In El Salvador, the Legislative Assembly approved a series of reforms to the Penal Code and the Law for the Prohibition of Gangs, cataloged as a “gag” by the press, which prohibits the media from publishing on topics related to gangs and street violence, which could generate panic in the population. Given this, the Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES) and the Cristosal Foundation, filed a complaint of unconstitutionality, since these reforms have flaws that give the government a wide margin to interpret the law and criminally prosecute journalists who fulfill their duty to inform.
For his part, Henry Constantin, editor of the newspaper La Hora de Cuba, who was arrested last year after the massive protests of July 11 against the dictatorship of Miguel Díaz-Canel, said at a meeting of the IAPA, that the number of independent journalists currently working in his country does not exceed 50 people: “It is a group in danger of extinction”. Constantin explained that what is currently distressing Cuban journalists the most is the new Penal Code, which will be approved -without public consultation- in the coming weeks or months, which speaks of enemy propaganda, increases the application of life imprisonment, and extends the use of the death penalty to four new crimes.
In the same meeting, the president and director of the newspaper El Nacional, Miguel Henrique Otero, referred to the situation in Venezuela, indicating that it is a country that has been turned off for freedom of expression. “Venezuelans find out what is happening through the state channel, and some remaining media outlets out there,” he said. And he added that, in addition, internet connection is limited and expensive. Otero also told about the newspaper he presides, El Nacional, whose headquarters in Caracas was recently seized by Chavista authorities following a lawsuit by Diosdado Cabello, deputy to the Venezuelan National Assembly and vice-president of the United Socialist Party.
The case of Bolivia is similar. The vice-president of the National Press Association, Jorge Carrasco, said that “the situation in the country is complicated and follows the trend in the region”. He warned that since the arrival of Luis Arce to power, restrictions and aggressions against journalists and media have increased. He exemplified the trial against former president Jeanine Áñez, where several media and journalists were excluded, under the pretext that they did not present their accreditations.
The work of journalism is vital for democracy and, therefore, we must protect freedom of the press and expression. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 report, which measures trust, points out that we are in a world trapped in a vicious cycle of mistrust, fueled by a growing lack of faith in the media and government. Through misinformation and division, these two institutions are feeding the cycle and exploiting it for commercial and political gain. Restoring this trust, and ensuring freedom to report, must be a priority for governments.