Journalists Voice Dismay at Inter-American Human Rights Declaration Over Media Concentration

JOURNALISTS from throughout Latin America have expressed concern over a press freedom declaration by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission which, they claim, could encourage further concentration of ownership in the media.

The Latin American regional group (GAL-FIP) of the International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' organisation, said one of the principles set out in the declaration adopted by the Commission at its 108th session forbids governments from drafting special anti-trust laws to cover media.

The GAL-FIP statement said: "The Human Rights Commission has failed, it appears, to recognise the special cultural, social and democratic role of media in society. They have opened the door to new concentration of ownership media. Media products are not just like any other economic goods and the freedom of the market is not the same as freedom of the press.

"This statement will not contribute to building a consensus within the profession or within society on how to defend press rights. The Commission means well, but it has taken the wrong route. Excessive commercialisation and economic concentration also threaten press freedom and undermine the democratic rights of pluralism and freedom of expression."

The GAL-FIP meeting, which closed today in Barquisemeto, Venezuela, was attended by representatives of unions and associations of journalists from 14 countries in the region, representing around 17 per cent of all journalists in the world. The meeting also expressed surprise that the declaration from the Human Rights Commission declaration for suggesting that journalists' groups wanting to impose qualifications for the exercise of professional journalism are a "threat to press freedom".

GAL-FIP said: "We believe journalism must be an open profession and we oppose exclusivity, but groups that want to raise standards by setting academic thresholds are not a threat to press freedom providing they do not block access to the profession.

"The Human Rights Commission appears to be leaning heavily in this declaration towards the position of media proprietors, many of whom oppose the right of journalists to organise in media."

Aidan White, the General Secretary of the IFJ, which is based in Brussels, who attended the Caracas meeting said: "Our members are justifiably outraged. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission appears to be listening only to media employers in the region and, as such, their reflections on press freedom are flawed. We shall seek to change their minds".

The IFJ is writing to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to seek an early meeting to express in detail the Federation's concerns over the Commission's press freedom policy.

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