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Freedom of the press under scrutiny
Latinamerica Press
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UNESCO alerts on the growing media concentration while journalists are victims of attacks.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched on May 3, in the framework of World Press Freedom Day, the report titled “Concentration of Media Ownership and Freedom of Expression: Global Standards and Implications for the Americas”, in which it calls the attention to the consequences that the monopoly of the communication media has over the right to information.

“At one level, it is intuitively obvious that undue concentration of ownership of the media is harmful to freedom of expression,” the report says. “If one or two individuals control the media, they control the modern equivalent of the public square, the place where social discussion and debate takes place.”

“This clearly undermines both democracy and freedom of expression.  In other words, undue concentration of media ownership limits the free flow of information and ideas in society, to the detriment of everyone. Furthermore, it also undermines basic principles of competition, which are essential for the success of any market,” adds.

While in most Latin American countries there are norms that regulate the media monopoly, the media owners consider that these norms restrict their economic and commercial rights.

UNESCO explained that this type of regulations are based not only in the need to prevent the abuse of those who occupy dominant commercial positions, but also because “the media concentrations threaten media diversity and the human right to receive a range of information and opinions.”

“Put different, information, communication and cultural goods and services cannot be regarded as mere commodities; anti-monopoly rules need to recognise the importance of meeting the information and voice needs of citizens through diverse range of information channels,” stated.

The Peruvian case is one of the most emblematic in the region. At the moment more than 80 percent of the written press is in the hands of the El Comercio Group of the Miró Quesada family, self-described as “the principal multimedia group of Peru.” Besides the El Comercio newspaper, this group publishes other nine newspapers, 11 magazines and a number of weeklies and special supplements. It also owns two television stations and takes part in other businesses such as construction.

According to Roberto Pereira, attorney in the nongovernmental Press and Society Institute (IPYS), in Peru, “there are no norms to regulate the concentration of enterprises and even less when it come to the media. The Peruvian regulations are very generic and that makes it impossible to decide on issues as we lack the legal criteria.”

Violence against journalists
Freedom of the press is also threatened due to the acts of violence against journalists, something that left 14 deaths in the region between January and April.

On May 2, the Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP) denounced that in the first four months of the year seven murders of journalists took place in Mexico, two in Peru, two in the Dominican Republic, one in Guatemala, one in Honduras and one in Venezuela.

“Deaths in the hands of hired killers who are paid with political corruption money and its main ally who today is drug trafficking, without detriment to other powerful business sectors, systematically eliminates journalists who are free of unethical commitments with the complicity of corrupt political systems,  permeated to the marrow by the degradation generated by widespread corruption. All of this is taking place in a region of the world where there is no war and, theoretically, social peace should prevail in the alleged ‘democratic countries’ most proclaimed in this part of the world,” said Ernesto Carmona, president of the Commission to Investigate Attacks against Journalists of the FELAP.

“Journalists feel helpless, they work with fear and wage a silent battle so that self-censorship does not touch deeply or inhibits them in exchange for their own lives, facing the indifference of the real and de facto powers,” added Carmona. “What is more, some media close down to safeguard the lives of their personnel. Other media prefer to ignore the news of the killings. Protection laws are inefficient, particularly the one in force in Mexico. Also, in each Latin American country there are constant attempts and violations to the rights to information and freedom of speech that concern all citizens and not only journalists.”

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), “the murder of journalists and members of the media is the most extreme form of censorship. As the Inter-American Court of Human Rights [I/ACourt] has observed, journalism can only be exercised freely when those who carry out this work are not victims of threats or physical, mental or moral attacks or other acts of harassment. Such actions infringe, in a particularly radical way, not only the affected person’s individual freedom of thought and expression, but also the collective dimension of this right.”

“Acts of violence against journalists (term that should be understood broadly, from a functional perspective)  or media workers for reasons connected to their professional activity violate both the individual’s right to express and impart ideas, opinions and information, as well as the rights of citizens and societies as a whole to seek and receive information and ideas of any nature,” remarked the IACHR. —Latinamerica Press.

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