The reform-minded President of Uruguay, who took office just over a year ago, is ready to force the pace of change within media at home while backing new efforts to protect journalists world-wide.
Meeting with a delegation of the International Federation of Journalists and leaders of Uruguay’s journalists last week in Montevideo President Tabare Vazquez said that he would support efforts to remove threats facing local journalists in the criminal law in Uruguay and press ahead with new laws on open government.
He also gave backing to the campaign of the IFJ and the International News Safety Institute for action at the level of the United Nations to force governments to end impunity and to hunt down the killers of journalists and media staff.
The delegation was led by IFJ General Secretary Aidan White and Manuel Mendez, President of the Uruguayan Association of the Press (APU).
Top of the agenda were calls for action over impunity in the killing of journalists. The IFJ says that around 90 per cent of all killings of media staff worldwide are not properly investigated. Killers go free because of a mix of police corruption, judicial incompetence and political disregard. In Latin America, where media are victims of terrorism, drug trafficking and official corruption, press freedom groups estimate that barely five per cent of the almost 300 murder cases in the region have been solved.
“In Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Brazil it is increasingly difficult for journalists to carry out investigative reporting without intimidation,” said Aidan White. “To combat this crisis we need international action and I am delighted that President Tabare Vazquez is ready to lend his weight to calls for change.”
The IFJ says the issue will be again highlighted on April 8th – the anniversary of attacks by the United States military on media in Baghdad three years ago when three journalists died in actions that have come to symbolise the problem of impunity. Journalists say the absence of credible and exhaustive investigation of these and a further 15 cases where journalists and media staff have died at the hands of US soldiers indicate that impunity is not taken seriously be democratic governments.
Manuel Mendez, who is also President of the IFJ Regional Federation of Journalists of Latin America and the Caribbean (FEPALC), welcomed, too, the President’s commitment to continue his programme of democratic reform by pressing ahead with endorsement by the Parliament of legal protection for freedom of information.
“The President is also ready to support moves to open up the broadcasting landscape to more pluralism and community radio and said he will look at demands to change the penal code which is currently used as a form of judicial intimidation of journalists and media,” he said.
The meeting followed a ceremonial event to mark the opening of new offices for the APU attended by journalists’ leaders from Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and Italy as well as the IFJ’s regional director Gregorio Salazar.
“The pace of change in Uruguay is rapid and the new government has delivered on promises to create fairness at work and to end the victimisation of trades unionists,” said White. “Now there are signs that political leaders are ready to take up the challenge of media reform. That is good news for journalists throughout the region.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries