Freedom of Expression in Latin America

Information and communication technologies are constantly developing. At the beginning of the 20th century it was the radio that caused a revolution in the way we communicate, then came the TV, and today the internet has penetrated the globe.

Legal framework in rapid changing technology contexts is important for journalists as well as for the states themselves. Latin America lacks experts in this field, says Pedro-Albert Behrens from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. His Media Programme in Buenos Aires, Argentina, has created a course for politicians, journalists and members of think-tanks from all Latin America to get together and gain more knowledge concerning not only freedom of expression but also the right to access information.

“In Latin America we have laws that are almost a hundred years old and they don’t correspond to the needs of today’s modern world. We need to get these people together, so they can rethink the legal statutes of their countries”, says Behrens.

In this sense, to think about how traditional media is gaining power in the online world is crucial. “Concentration of media ownership is a very big problem in Latin America”, explains Adrian Uriarte, lecturer of Communication Studies at the University of Commerce in Managua, Nicaragua. “We can’t allow big media moguls to gain more power through digital channels”, he says.

Freedom of expression is in a good shape in Latin America. “There has been substantial progress in the past twenty years”, says Eduardo Ulibarri, former president of the committee of freedom of expression at the Interamerican Press Association (SIP). “We have good legal framework at the moment”, Laura Zommer, a tutor at the Center for Freedom of Expression Studies (CELE) at Palermo University, Argentina, points out. She says the big problem is the implementation of the existing laws. Furthermore, there are many countries, such as Honduras or Colombia, where murders of journalists remain unpunished. Ulibarri, who now is ambassador of Costa Rica to the United Nations, agrees with her on that point. “Impunity is one of the major obstacles to freedom of expression in Latin America. It is closely followed by the lack of training of media personnel.” He criticizes that media corporations often prefer to invest in fancy new equipment rather than focus on further qualifying their employees. “Many journalists put themselves in dangerous positions because nobody has told them how to react in certain circumstances”, the Costa Rican expert specifies. This is especially important in countries or regions, where the rule of law is weak. “And of course organized crime and drug-trafficking are big hurdles to freedom of expression”, Ulibarri adds. In Mexico alone five journalists have been killed in the past four weeks because of their reporting on drug-trafficking, according to Reporters without Borders, an NGO.

But freedom of expression and the right to access information not only concerns journalists. Ana Lucía Blás, of ASIES, a Guatemalan think-tank, says that civil society itself should get more involved. “The challenge is to create more awareness among Latin Americans that freedom of expression isn’t an exclusive right for the press but that it is a human right entitled to all citizens.”

Author: Josephine Landertinger Forero

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Article 19
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

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