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Latin America’s growing press freedom troubles

Posted on Saturday, 05.03.14

IN MY OPINION
Andres Oppenheimer: Latin America’s growing press freedom troubles
BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER

A new report on press freedoms worldwide contains a chilling figure:
Only 2 percent of Latin Americans live in countries with a free press.
But I wonder whether the report paints an accurate picture of what’s
going on in the region.

Before we get into that, let’s look at the main conclusions of the
“Freedom of the Press 2014: A global survey of media independence”
report by Freedom House, one of the oldest and most influential human
rights advocacy groups in Washington, D.C.

According to the report, global press freedom has fallen to its lowest
level in more than a decade, mainly because of a major regression in
Egypt, Libya and Jordan, and less dramatic but significant setbacks
throughout the world.

Even in the United States, one of the few countries in the Americas that
Freedom House still classifies as “Free,” there has been a shift for the
worse. Government snooping practices revealed by former contractor
Edward Snowden and the targeted surveillance of the phones of Associated
Press journalists are serious reasons for concern, the report says.

In the new report, the United States has a score of 21 on a scale of 1
to 100, going from the freest ones (1) to the most repressive (100). The
only three Latin American countries that make the category of “Free” are
Costa Rica (18), Uruguay (26) and Suriname (28).

Among Latin America’s “Partly Free” countries, Chile ranks 31st, only
one position away from the group rated as “Free,” Peru ranks 44th and
Panama 50th. Brazil ranks 45th, because of attacks on journalists, legal
actions against bloggers and government actions to remove content from
Internet companies, and Argentina, ranked 51st, remains “a country of
concern” in part because of the government’s ongoing verbal attacks on
critical journalists.

Among the Latin American countries rated “Not Free” are Ecuador (62),
where the government passed laws to silence the media, and Honduras (64)
and Mexico (61), where drug trafficking and organized crime violence is
keeping much of the media muzzled, the report says.

Further along the list, indicating that they are even less free, are
Venezuela (78), where the government has bought the last remaining
critical media outlets, such as the Globovisión, through government
cronies, and Cuba (90), one of the world’s most repressive countries, it
says.

But I wonder whether the Freedom House report paints an accurate picture
of media freedoms in Latin America.

Is it fair to put Cuba, where non-government media are officially
banned, in the same “Not Free” category as Mexico? Or to put Brazil’s
national media, which expose government corruption on a daily basis,
with Brazilian state media and local media that are often silenced by
governors or mayors?

If you go Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, or Mexico City, it’s really difficult
to believe that these countries live in a non-free media environment. In
fact, in many of these places, you see vibrant independent media that in
many cases are doing a better job in exposing government and corporate
abuses than the increasingly frivolous U.S. media.

If you go to Brazil, you will find big headlines in the national media
about a Petrobras national oil company’s financial scandal that is
tainting President Dilma Rousseff’s office. Brazil’s national media —
especially Veja magazine and dailies such as Folha de Sao Paulo and O
Estado de Sao Paulo — have also exposed the mensalao scandal of bribes
paid by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government to
legislators, which has resulted in prison sentences to key former Lula
aides.

In Argentina, despite President Cristina Fernández de Kircher’s efforts
to silence the media, television anchorman Jorge Lanata has denounced
massive corruption in Kirchner government contracts with businessman
Lazaro Baez, while the daily La Nación’s investigative reporter Hugo
Alconada Mon has revealed scores of shady government deals, including
one in which Vice President Amado Boudou, in a previous government job,
pardoned millions in back taxes to a company he later allegedly acquired.

My opinion: The Freedom House index is a worthy effort, but it mixes
apples and oranges. You can’t put countries that suffer from government
censorship in the same basket with others where drug gangs and organized
crime try to silence the media. They are two different problems that are
sometimes intertwined, but that most often require different solutions.

Having said that, it’s fair to say that Latin America has a growing
freedom of the press problem. The number of Latin Americans with easy
access to independent journalism is probably much higher than 2 percent,
but it’s undeniably lower than a decade ago.

Source: Andres Oppenheimer: Latin America’s growing press freedom
troubles – Andres Oppenheimer – MiamiHerald.com –
http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/05/03/4094593/andres-oppenheimer-latin-americas.html

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